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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Matthew Kelly

Peter Dutton demands more community consultation for Hunter Offshore Wind Project

Opposition leader Peter Dutton has called on the federal government to reopen community consultation for the Hunter Offshore Wind Project.

Mr Dutton and Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor met with tourist and business operators and commercial fishers at Shoal Bay on Wednesday to discuss concerns about the project's potential impact on the environment and wider economy.

"The consultation process just hasn't been up to scratch. I think this is another project where (Climate Change and Energy Minister) Chris Bowen has misread the community and he is acting against the best interests of this region," Mr Dutton said.

"This project needs to be put on hold until a proper consultation process can be undertaken."

"The residents here are desperate to save Port Stephens."

The government opened the consultation process in Newcastle in late February and received about 1900 submissions by the time it closed on April 28.

As a result, the project's size was reduced from 2810 square kilometres to 1800 square kilometres. The southern end of the proposed zone near the Central Coast was also cut off.

A community rally against the proposed offshore wind project is scheduled to be held on Saturday October 7. Picture by Jonathan Carroll.

However, some Port Stephens residents said they did not become aware of the project and it's potential impacts until the consultation process was almost over.

They have raised specific concerns about the impact of wind turbines on whale migration and east coast currents. They have warned this, in turn, will have a devastating impact on the area's tourism and fishing-based economy.

Wednesday's meeting with the Coalition's leadership followed a meeting between Mr Bowen and concerned community representatives at Nelson Bay last week.

Despite protests that the consultation process had been flawed, Mr Bowen refused to reopen the process.

A community protest against the project is due to be held in Port Stephens next Saturday October 7.

A spokesman for Mr Bowen said on Wednesday that the government would only licence projects that work well with existing industry and the environment, and deliver meaningful, long lasting community benefits.

"Before a project can commence, proponents must seek and receive approval for feasibility licences and comply with strict environmental regulations," he said.

"These processes will give the community three further opportunities to have their say on individual projects."

Business Hunter chief executive Bob Hawes said community consultation was vital to ensuring the project aligned with business and community needs and values. He encouraged both sides of government to work together to maintain the project's momentum.

"There is a long way to go before any work starts on any part of an offshore renewable project let alone commissioning and operating a plant. The opportunity for detailed consultation has not been lost and we must get a balance between the need to move forward on the process for these projects and meaningful consultation at the appropriate time," he said.

"Large-scale renewables are critical for our energy evolution and offshore wind is an important part of the mix. There's no question we are currently a long way off the pace, with traditional assets retiring before renewables arrive to replace them. The market volatility this creates wreaks havoc on pricing and investment decisions, placing terrible pressure on businesses and households," said Mr Hawes.

In addition to generating five gigawatts of power, the project's supporters argue that it will be a catalyst for a new clean energy manufacturing industry in the region.

It is estimated the project could create about 3000 construction and 1500 ongoing Jobs.

Hunter Jobs Alliance coordinator Justin Page. Picture by Marina Neil.

"With the right government policy and framework settings we have the opportunity to create permanent secure, quality union jobs, local apprenticeships, training and transition opportunities for energy workers,"Hunter Jobs Alliance coordinator Justin Page said.

"It will maximise Australian manufacturing for offshore wind, including wind turbine components, floating structures cables, and vessels, maximise local supply chains, provide benefits for First Nations people and use regulated Australian Vessels and Australian crew."

But Mr Dutton suggested there were other renewable projects that could generate a similar amount of jobs.

"There are solar projects and other onshore wind projects that can be looked at," he said.

"We don't need to destroy the environment of Port Stephens to create jobs on the mainland.

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