The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Sydney Drinking Water Catchment) Bill 2017 seeks to validate the State significant development consent issued to the Springvale mine extension, which is currently being challenged in the Land and Environment Court. The bill also seeks to clarify the application of the "neutral or beneficial effect on water quality" test for assessment of a development application under an existing development consent relating to the Sydney drinking water catchment. It is this schedule to the bill that would erode and downgrade a key environmental protection—which protects our drinking water—that the Labor Opposition will seek to remove from the bill.
This bill goes to the heart of a wicked problem facing governments across Australia—how best to balance the transition to renewable energy while ensuring that we do not leave vulnerable communities behind. It also exposes the fact that this Government has left New South Wales tied to coal through systemic underinvestment in renewable energy and new electricity generation projects for New South Wales. The Government has so categorically failed to put in place a vision for how our State will transition from coal dependence that it is left to scramble when individual mines or power stations are set to close. Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that New South Wales lost more than 1,000 renewable energy jobs in the 2015-16 financial year. In fact, renewable energy jobs in this State have not grown since Labor was last in office when there were 4,340 full-time jobs in the sector. This Government just does not see the value of renewable energy as a source of job creation.
The Government's own energy plan, the 2016 Renewable Energy Action Plan, exposes that the growth of renewable power has fallen below the Government's own target of 23.5 per cent of our State's total power. That means that, at the current rate of production, this State will not hit that target until 2047. It is clear that this Government is letting New South Wales fall well behind when it comes to renewables. At the same time, this Government is using the cover of crisis posed by the potential closure of the Springvale mine to sneak in weaker regulations when it comes to water quality in Sydney. This bill would reduce important environmental protections now in place for the assessment of projects in the Sydney water catchment.
Instead of using the opportunity to ensure Springvale complies with protections to improve water quality in the Warragamba Dam—which is Sydney's primary source of drinking water—the Government is instead diminishing standards for all mines across the entire State. When assessing continuing development on land in Sydney's drinking water catchment, the "neutral or beneficial effect on water quality" must be taken into consideration. The so-called "Catchment SEPP" demands that the consent authority must be satisfied that the proposed development will have a neutral or beneficial effect on water quality. The key here is that this test has been applied to the baseline quality of water prior to the operation of the mine. This bill seeks to shift that goalpost. If this part of the bill is applied, it would be applied against baseline water quality after the operation of a mine has commenced. A significant risk is proposed by adopting this path. We cannot sit by and allow water quality standards to be threatened in that manner.
The 2016 Audit of the Sydney Water Drinking Catchment, which was released earlier this year, points to significant problems with Sydney's water supply. Sydney's water catchment stores approximately 2.6 million megalitres of water. The audit revealed that the Coxs River flows into a lake that had the poorest standard for surface flows. The audit reveals a significant increase in bushfire-affected lands, with a subsequent negative impact on water quality. The audit also points to increased impacts from coalmining. In response to that audit, the Minister for Resources, Energy and Utilities, noted that:
The government is looking closely at the independent audit and will ensure that whatever actions are required to protect our catchment are taken.
This bill shows that the Government has fallen at the first hurdle. The Opposition will move an amendment to remove schedule 2 to the bill that deals specifically with the water standards issue. Unlike the Government, the Opposition will fight to protect the highest environmental standards and will fight to preserve the quality of our city's drinking water. Indeed, if the Government fails to accept that very sensible amendment to restrict the bill to apply only to Springvale and to protect our quality water supplies, Labor in government will restore the current standards. The Leader of the Opposition made that commitment in this House today.
The Opposition is committed to a bold renewable energy future while at the same time understanding our moral responsibly to transition regional jobs and communities. The Labor Opposition will boost renewable energy investment and will increase solar energy generation on government building rooftops and on schools, TAFEs, hospitals, police stations, libraries, courthouses and depots. Labor will tender for 100 megawatts of battery storage and Labor would invest money from the sale of the State's Snowy Hydro share into renewable energy generation across regional New South Wales—driving job growth in energy production in regional communities—because Labor members know we must transition energy production in a way that respects the livelihoods of working people and because we also know that the path to a renewable energy future must be laid down now, and New South Wales cannot be left behind.