Question without notice- Coal exploration


Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — My question is for the acting Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water. Recently the Premier wrote to all federal Senate party leaders asking them to support an amendment to remove section 7C from the renewable energy target act; however, when the Greens moved that amendment the federal Labor Party did not actually vote for it. Can the minister tell me when he first became aware that the federal Labor Party would not be supporting the removal of section 7C?

Mr JENNINGS (Special Minister of State) — I thank Mr Barber for the question. That unhappy realisation may have actually come crushing down on the state Labor Party. Perhaps we did have some warning of it, given that our position was based upon trying to fill a gap between the negotiated outcome in the federal jurisdiction about the renewable energy target that had received a level of agreement between federal parties but which fell short of state Labor's aspiration to try to bridge that gap. We continue to advocate a position, and we will continue to advocate a position, but unfortunately, as Mr Barber would know, through the political process sometimes our federal brothers and sisters may be party to voting outcomes and agreements that may fall short of aspirations that we may have in the state. This may be one of those.

That does not actually mean that we have given up pushing for an increase to the renewable energy target. It does not mean that Victoria will give up on looking for opportunities to support renewable energy being generated in this state, and the Andrews government will be very determined to try to achieve that outcome in future. We will continue to be an advocate to not only the member's federal brothers and sisters but also our own in terms of trying to encourage them and the federal Parliament to increase the size of the renewable energy target that has been agreed to and to provide some support across Australia for the renewable energy industry. Certainly in Victoria we will be seeing what we can do to get on with it, and we urge other parties to support us in that endeavour.

Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — In terms, then of having drawn a blank with the federal Labor Party and in terms of getting on with it at a state level, will the minister now commit to a renewable energy target but by another means here in Victoria, such as the method that has been adopted by the ACT Greens-Labor government?

Mr JENNINGS (Special Minister of State) — I thank Mr Barber for the entrapment he has embedded within the question. I acknowledge the entrapment within the question. Regardless of the entrapment within the question, I say to Mr Barber that we will be exploring ways in which we can achieve greater renewable energy in Victoria. We are very keen to drive that industry in Victoria. We have fairly strong legal advice that in fact the course of action is not available to us in Victoria, but I will encourage my colleagues, particularly the Minister for Energy and Resources, to explore all avenues — by legislation, by programmatic outcome, by industry support — through which we can achieve a better outcome for Victoria and Australia in relation to renewable energy. We will work with it, and hopefully we will actually get a broader coalition than the one Mr Barber identified, because ultimately we would hope even the other side of the chamber — notwithstanding the crossbench, because they may get the program already — the coalition, may get with the program eventually. We would have a broad-ranging coalition.

Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, also the Minister for Regional Development, Ms Pulford. Four new coal exploration licences were granted last week across some of the prime farmland in Victoria, including in Mirboo North in South Gippsland, plus a retention licence over the Gelliondale area. Did the minister know these licences were to be granted before the information became public?

Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I thank Mr Barber for his question. The matter he refers to is a matter for the Minister for Energy and Resources, Ms D'Ambrosio. I can refer that matter to Ms D'Ambrosio for a response.

The PRESIDENT — Order! The question was not about Ms D'Ambrosio's knowledge; it was about Ms Pulford's knowledge. To then seek a written response from Minister D'Ambrosio as to her knowledge is not within the context of the question. Does Ms Pulford wish to readdress that in some way?

Ms PULFORD — I was not aware of that prior to the announcement, no.

Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — I thank the minister. The other minister she refers to has wide discretion to set exemptions over areas of land in Victoria from mining. Is the minister concerned about the continued granting of these coal exploration licences on prime farmland without seeking her input into what could be a decision to in fact protect these farmlands and both the social and economic value of them to the state of Victoria?

Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I wonder if Mr Barber is seeking an opinion on this matter, but if I could perhaps answer in a broader and more general sense, this government is very committed to the protection of prime farmland. This is an $11.6 billion industry that is absolutely critical to Victoria's future prosperity. I will work with all of my colleagues whose responsibilities in government interact with agricultural production, and this is a very long list of colleagues indeed: the Minister for Planning, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, the Minister for Public Transport — the list goes on quite a long way.