Barnaby Joyce rallies anti-renewable and transmission groups for mass protest

Nationals leader, and deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce in parliament. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Maverick National MP and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is rallying anti-renewable and transmission groups for a mass rally on the steps of parliament house.

RenewEconomy has seen messages sent out on Thursday night by Joyce’s electorate office seeking the details for “every group that is opposing a renewables project … solar, wind, battery and/or transmission lines.”

The messages, sent to established anti-wind and solar Facebook groups, say Joyce is “wanting to help coordinate the groups, bring them together, in order to take their concerns to the steps of Parliament in Canberra.”

No date has been set. But if it does take place it will be the first major anti-renewables rally held in front of Parliament House since the infamous anti-wind rally in 2012 fronted by former broadcaster Alan Jones and then aspiring MP and later federal energy minister Angus Taylor.

taylor rally

Joyce – whose political view on energy ranges from pro-coal, to pro-nuclear, to anything-but-renewables – has on numerous occasions called on opponents to wind and solar projects to take their fight to the national capital.

“You’ve got to arrive in Canberra on the Federation Lawn at Parliament House. You know, it really scares politicians,” the former deputy PM told a January meeting in Walcha opposing the Winterbourne wind farm.

He has followed this up this week, telling Sky News that high renewables targets – such as federal Labor’s 82 per cent target for 2030 – are “farcical and dangerous” and promoting, as he often does, nuclear energy.

But it appears that this time around it is personal, with his Facebook posts suggesting that members of his family have been informed they could have a transmission line going through their property.

It prompted a bizarre exchange in parliament earlier this month with Labor’s Josh Burns, with Joyce complaining of “buzzing” from transmission lines and cranking noises from wind farms.

“There’s transmission lines going up all over the place, wind towers going up – solar panels all over the country … it’s a trifecta of idiocy,” Joyce told Sky News this week.

Joyce’s anti-renewables stance is well established, but renewable energy developers say that coordinated efforts to block the progress of certain projects – particularly in the Renewable Energy Zones of New England and Central Queensland, the territory of LNP MP Matt Canavan – are being significantly ramped up.

Some developers, who asked to remain anonymous, don’t sheet all of the blame for the anti-renewables movement in the New England region to political fearmongering alone.

They say the way in which some state government departments have managed the REZ rollout has been rushed and insensitive to local and landholder concerns, and there are fears some projects may not get developed.

Protests and issues over social licence are multiplying across the country, particularly with some of the massive transmission projects planned to boost links between states and to connect big wind and solar projects.

This feeling appears to have come to a head over this week and last, following a number of community consultation sessions held by EnergyCo on transmission projects for the New England REZ.

“NSW EnergyCo have released the proposed transmission lines for the New England Renewable Energy Zone – see if your property will potentially be impacted,” said the Voice for Walcha Facebook page in early June.

“Once again we are wondering where is the social licence and community consultation?”

Another anti-renewables group, ReD4NE Inc, has since distributed a flier advising landholders not to engage with EnergyCo “at this point in time.” Both their web-sites look very well resourced, with typical complaints about solar creating “heat islands”, and the leaking of toxic chemicals.

But the main concern is that any legitimate gripes of communities affected by new transmission lines and large-scale wind and solar farms are not being addressed, but rather are being hijacked for political means.

Another message viewed by RenewEconomy says that “following comments made at a presentation by Barnaby Joyce in Guyra [on Tuesday], the following request comes to help select an appropriate time frame, relative to the parliamentary siting calendar, in which to motivate, coordinate and manage representatives from all of Australia to protest our objection to the facets of the Renewable Energy Targets at Parliament House.”

Developers are also frustrated that the many benefits of renewable energy development in these regions are not being properly communicated to communities.

“The way in which the REZes have been promoted … has created a lot of this,” one source told RenewEconomy. “Fundamentally, the communication hasn’t been there.

“We’ve lost sight of why we’re doing this. We’re trying to deal with climate change, which affects rural Australia really, really badly. But we can’t get that across.”

Meanwhile, a steady stream of anti-renewables propaganda and misinformation is fuelling the fire.

“As a citizen who lives in [the New England REZ], the jobs and the economic development that these projects will bring is needed,”another developer told RenewEconomy on Friday.

“At no point do the LNP say this. It’s pure fear mongering.”

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