A fishing industry group that has become one of the most vocal critics of offshore wind farm plans is chaired by a former Liberal politician who claims that the turbines threaten Australia’s national security by providing places for foreign submarines to hide.
Offshore wind farms proposed for near the Illawarra region and Port Stephens have become a hot-button issue with the emergence of anti-wind farm organising. One of the major existing groups that have come out in opposition to the plans is the Australian Fishing Trade Association (AFTA),
A Greenpeace investigation provided to Crikey found that the AFTA is chaired by former Liberal federal MP Bob Baldwin, that the organisation has republished Liberal Party press releases to its website and that it only ramped up its campaigning after the NSW election and after the wind farm plan’s consultation process had ended.
Baldwin did not respond to a media request from Crikey, but AFTA president Michael Starkey said the association was representing its members by advocating on the topic irrespective of whichever party was in power and that Baldwin has never promoted partisan views.
“AFTA is a non-partisan association. Our board members represent a huge range of independent political views,” he said in an email.
Fishing groups have opposed the offshore wind farm plans out of fear that the projects would hurt both commercial and recreational fishers. But AFTA was not one of the groups that made submissions during the consultation process between February and April this year.
The first time that Baldwin, as AFTA’s independent chair, mentioned the plans was just before the NSW election in March where it was noted as a “matter of concern”. It was only after the NSW election that month, when Labor was elected, that AFTA began to step up its advocacy.
Starkey notes that AFTA did not lodge a response to the consultation but said that this was because the consultation was not adequately publicised. “AFTA believes that as the national peak representative recreational fishing industry body, we should have been invited to submit to the government on this important issue.”
By June, the group was claiming that “all are unified in opposition to Offshore Wind farms and the detrimental impacts on marine life, fishing, shipping, tourism, defence, and aviation”.
One area of focus has been fears that the wind farms would influence Australia’s national security. A week after Dutton gave an address to the Liberal Party that linked national security with energy security, Baldwin gave an interview to community news organisation News of the Area. The article mentioned his former career in politics and quoted him arguing that the offshore projects would provide a place for underwater surveillance by foreign powers.
“If you are a foreign power wanting to pick up intelligence the wind farm would be a great location for a submarine and it would be effectively undetectable,” he said.
There have been other links between AFTA and the Liberal Party. AFTA ambassador Brent Hancock stood alongside Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton and shadow energy and climate change minister Ted O’Brien as the opposition leader gave a press conference criticising Labor for their progress on the wind farm plans. The association has also reposted Liberal Party press releases directly to its website at times.
Starkey told Crikey that AFTA has republished media releases from many different levels of government and parties in the past based on whether they align with their members’ interests.
“We are in unison in pursuing issues important to the recreational fishing sector, irrespective of which party is in government,” he said.