Senate debates

Thursday, 28 February 2013


Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Excessive Noise from Wind Farms) Bill 2012; Second Reading

11:11 am

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Excessive Noise from Wind Farms) Bill 2012, introduced by me and Senator Xenophon. This bill does not actually belong to Senator Xenophon and I; it belongs to and represents a growing number of people in Australia who are affected by wind turbines placed near their homes in rural Australia. The number of people living with wind farms near their home is increasing and will continue to increase. Permits are currently being granted all over the country.

My stance on renewable energy has been questioned, but both Senator Xenophon and I have spoken of the virtues of various types of renewable energy, including geothermal energy, solar energy and tidal energy. In the course of debate on this bill we have spoken about a lot of peripheral issues but not actually about the bill. Even this morning in this place, people have gone off on various tangents. This bill is about people. This bill is about communities. This bill is about people’s health. This bill is about there being an incentive to act and to comply by the proponents of wind farms. If there is no penalty, there is no incentive to act. If there is no regulatory body that actually regulates, it is a toothless tiger.

Earlier today we heard about campaign tactics of fear. The campaign tactics of fear are very broadly used by some in the green movement, which then brings into contention in the community the motives of some in the green movement. Yet I do know that there are many genuine people in the green movement who do have genuine concerns and raise those concerns in the community in a very honest and open way. But the green movement gets tarnished by the actions of some.

Earlier, in Senator Di Natale's contribution, we heard about the contribution of Professor Simon Chapman. Professor Simon Chapman, along with any other person in the Australian community, is entitled to an opinion.

But, when you use the honorific 'professor' in speaking about health, most people in the community believe you are a medical doctor or a professor in the field of medicine. Professor Simon Chapman, however, is a sociologist. Professor Simon Chapman is entitled to an opinion, as we all are. That is his right in our democratic country. But let us be crystal clear about what he actually is and does—while acknowledging that in the past he has done some very good work on the issue of smoking and its effect on people's health.

We have also heard today about the effect on people's health from coal and other forms of energy generation. But how do we know of these impacts? We know coal and other forms of energy have serious health impacts on people because there has been independent, eminent research on the subject. Research is still being conducted today on what is happening to people. I support such research wholeheartedly, whether it is into the impact of coal, coal seam gas or whatever. To question is to learn.

In the midst of all this public debate and toing and froing, people in the community quite often tell me that they feel disempowered. They feel disempowered because they are presented with predetermined outcomes—people turning up at meetings and doing the old tick and flick. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan comes to mind here, and I think the people of Collingullie, west of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, will attest to that and to their disgust and sense of disengagement with the political process.

As I have said from the first time I raised the issue of wind farms in the Senate, all I want is for there to be independent, rigorous, eminent Australian research under Australian conditions. I want the methodology of and the facts from that research in the public domain so that proponents, opponents and people who are undecided can see how we reached a conclusion. It is important, though, that even when we do reach a conclusion we do not close our minds to new research that may present itself in the future.

I am appalled at how some opponents of this bill have approached this debate. The concerns of men and women around Australia have been belittled, mocked and ignored. Here we are, some 20 months after Senator Siewert chaired the initial Senate inquiry into wind farms, and nothing has been done. I would also like to make it clear that the National Health and Medical Research Council does not itself conduct research. This is something which people in this place fail to be clear about. 'I will hand it to the National Health and Medical Research Council to do it', they say—but the NHMRC does not actually do research itself.

The legitimacy of claims of illness caused by wind farms have been questioned and the people making those claims belittled. We have heard the claims of these people referred to as being the result of 'the nocebo effect' and we heard experts questioned by the inquiry clearly state that a diagnosis of illness caused by wind farms could never be considered until every other possibility had been eliminated. I have always said that the onus of proof should not be on residents to prove that a wind farm is damaging to his or her health; the onus should be on the proponent—the corporation making the profits—to prove that they are compliant and that they are not having an adverse effect on people's health.

I have also raised grave concerns about the way this bill was dealt with in committee. Leading experts on both sides of this argument from around the world gave evidence which, in some cases, was either ignored or distorted. I question Senator Cameron's attempts to explain away all the health complaints by reference to what he also calls 'the nocebo effect'. In doing so, he totally ignores the overwhelming evidence that health impacts from wind turbines can be and have been proven—that they are a legitimate concern.

To date, the objections I and others have received from the wind industry have been about the bill's requirement that they supply the data which will determine whether they are in breach of regulations or not. If they are not in breach, what is the problem? I would have thought that they would be tripping over themselves to provide the necessary information to support their claims that they are compliant with the so-called regulations which govern them.

I find it ironic that the proponents of this industry are the sorts of people who espouse free markets—the so-called level playing field. Yet here we have an industry which is not subject to the same requirements as every other industry in this country. Every other industry in this country is subject to an 'intrusive noise' definition of background noise plus five decibels. This industry is not. When we talk about noise in an urban setting—say, for instance, Redfern in Sydney—the background noise is different from the background noise in a place like Waubra.

People living in the country are used to a different level of background noise from people living in Redfern in Sydney, Brunswick in Melbourne or in the heart of Brisbane. You cannot compare them.

I think the problem is that, like the Waubra wind farm, many wind farms are operating without having been given a certificate of compliance by the state authority, yet they have been accredited by the Clean Energy Regulator and are in receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy certificates. The checks and balances appear to have been pushed aside in the rush to get the turbines up and running and to start the lucrative flow of RETs.

My argument is that this bill is to address people. We are elected by people to represent people. We are not elected to represent corporations and we are not elected to represent an ideology. We, collectively in this place, have a duty of care to people. Today we have heard the economic arguments, but the fact is that we are talking about people. Time and time again this debate has fallen into an economic argument. This debate, this bill, is about people, about their health and wellbeing and about their right to live on their properties and enjoy them the way they have for generations. These people are not political activists, and a great majority of these people are coalition voters. These people, who are also ALP voters and Greens voters, are affected by these things.

I implore all of you to think seriously about this matter and to give this industry the scrutiny that you foist onto other industries—and rightly so—to make them accountable. If this industry can prove that it is compliant, that it is not doing what people claim is affecting their health and that of their families and their communities, I will be the first one to stand up in this parliament and admit that I got it wrong. To date, I do not believe I have got it wrong. Let me assure you that I will stand up here and I will say, 'I got it wrong.' How many people ever stand up in this place and say that they got it wrong? We just carry on regardless. We never say, 'We got it wrong.' But there is a whole group of people whose health is affected. Let us get to the bottom of it, let us stop ignoring it and let us create a real level playing field.


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