The Australian territories backing wind farms and the premier of Queensland on Labor’s surprise comeback.
It has been a demoralising year for Australia’s renewable-energy sector. In May the federal government lowered the country’s Renewable Energy Target before forcing the publicly funded Clean Energy Finance Corporation to stop investing in wind farms and rooftop solar projects. Ministers seem especially allergic to wind turbines, which the prime minister has described as “visually awful”.
Yet that hasn’t stopped South Australia from soldiering on with its latest multimillion dollar wind-farm project. The region is already a world leader in wind power: if it were its own nation-state, its per capita use would be second only to Denmark. At last count, wind-powered electricity accounted for more than a quarter of the state’s supply.
Now construction has begun on South Australia’s Hornsdale Wind Farm, which will provide wind-generated power for another territory altogether: the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), home of the capital,
Canberra. Roughly 250km north of Adelaide, the Hornsdale project will consist of 100 wind turbines and, when completed in November 2016, will provide enough wattage to power 180,000 homes.
“Our project will supply about 20 per cent of the ACT's needs,” says Mark Schneider, head of Australia’s Megawatt Capital, which has partnered with French renewable energy firm Neoen to construct the Hornsdale site. While the federal government’s enthusiasm for renewables lags and sags, the hunger for it at state, territory and local government level continues to compensate.
As Australia continues its efforts to close the societal gap between its Aboriginal community and the rest of the population, its Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has released the nation’s first policy to aid the world’s indigenous peoples.
Importantly, the strategy will encourage indigenous Australian representatives to participate in promoting trade across the wider Asia-Pacific region. DFAT secretary Peter Varghese says: “We see real opportunities for indigenous Australian businesses to become part of global supply chains and to play a role in promoting Australia as a premium tourism destination and in the economic development of northern Australia.”
But Robert Taylor, chairman of Western Australia Indigenous Tourism Operators Council, says while Aboriginal tourism from Asia is important, Australia shouldn’t lose focus on European tourists who travel many miles to experience indigenous culture. “It’s the Europeans that immerse themselves in the experience: they travel deep into the desert to rural communities to witness first-hand indigenous practices such as smoking ceremonies and cave painting,” says Taylor.
Queensland has something of a reputation for political extremes. At its last election, Annastacia Palaszczuk led the centre-left Labor party from a record low seven seats to win a total of 44, enough to form a government in the state’s 89-seat parliament and become the first woman in Australia to win premiership from opposition.
You led a small opposition of Labor politicians and won back government with an additional 35 seats in 2015. How did you do it?
Listening. It sounds simple but at the end of the day, Queenslanders elected a leader and a party that listened to them. My team and I spent three years travelling the state, listening to those concerns and consulting on policy.
Queensland’s high unemployment and slow population growth is causing its economy to lag behind other states. What are your plans to address this?
Our plan includes funding successful programmes like Skilling Queenslanders for Work, which empowers the long-term unemployed, indigenous workers, older workers and many others to get back in the workforce. We are also working with the private sector to facilitate major projects like the Queen’s Wharf development, which will transform Brisbane’s cbd and create more than 8,000 jobs.
What are Queensland’s biggest challenges heading into the future?
Queensland’s enduring challenge is to diversify our economy. We have so many natural strengths, including a strong resources sector, attractive tourism destinations and world-class agricultural producers. Queensland has the potential to be a world leader when it comes to innovation and new technologies. I would encourage any European investors reading this to come to Brisbane to see for themselves.
New Plymouth – on the west coast of New Zealand with a population of 75,000 – is best known for its oil and gas fields. Now, the city is hoping for a Bilbao effect after opening the NZ$11.5m (€6.4m) Len Lye Centre, the country’s first gallery dedicated to one artist. It has been designed by New Zealand architect Andrew Patterson and it is hoped the striking building will double visitor numbers and cement recent investment in tourism infrastructure and festivals.
Lye, a pioneering kinetic sculptor, forged his career in London and New York. He left his collection to the New Plymouth-based Len Lye Foundation on his death in 1980.