Thursday, 9 February 2017
Select Committee on Wind Turbines; Report
I rise to speak on the government's response to the final report of the Senate select committee report on wind turbines. I was a member of that committee and contributed significantly to both its interim and final reports. I have taken a keen interest in ensuring that those reports did not gather dust, like so many other reports have done. In fact, we had some success in getting the government to respond to the interim report. But I regret to say its response to the final report has been anything but praiseworthy.
The committee submitted its final report to the Senate on 3 August 2015. On 16 March 2016, the chair of the committee, Senator John Madigan, moved a motion signed by the Senate crossbench calling on the government to respond by 10 May 2016. No response was received, and parliament was dissolved the day before that. On the first sitting day of the 45th Parliament, 30 August 2016, I lodged a motion signed by every single member of the new Senate crossbench asking for the government's response to the inquiry to be laid on the table by 21 November 2016. On 21 November there was still no government response. In fact, the government did not respond until 8 December 2016—16 months after the report was tabled. The required time for responding to Senate reports is three months. This is a mockery of our Senate process.
Now that it has responded, there are several aspects about its response that warrant comment. One of the priorities of the inquiry was to examine the impact of wind farms on those living and working in close proximity to them. The committee heard how some of these people were suffering ill health, that their health improved when they moved away and deteriorated when they returned. It heard how these health effects were not understood by the medical world, were commonly dismissed and that the suffering of those affected was made worse by their shabby treatment. It heard how the wind industry and its cheerleaders in the media, academia and health belittled those adversely affected. One retired academic with no qualifications or even expertise in medical matters promoted the lie that only people in English-speaking countries were claiming to be adversely affected.
Some plausible explanations were put forward to explain the ill-health effects, mostly relating to infrasound or very low-frequency soundwaves. Evidence was given that infrasound is a known cause of ill health in humans and that wind turbines emit infrasound. What we do not have is confirmation that the infrasound emitted by wind farms is sufficient to cause adverse health effects. Not everyone is affected, and those affected are not always invariably affected. As one who is easily affected by seasickness when others are not, I did not find that very difficult to understand. But, apparently, it is good enough for the wind industry, or 'big wind', as I describe them and their shills, to discredit those poor individuals who are made ill.
The committee also heard how the process for approving wind farms was a farce, with state policies ranging from non-existent to something that might as well not exist. It heard about: buck-passing between state governments and local governments, with nobody accepting responsibility for outcomes; how, once a wind farm is built, nobody is interested in whether it complies with its approval conditions; and that those approval conditions do not even include infrasound.
Some of these problems were highlighted in the interim report of the committee. Based on that report, I led a crossbench delegation to see then Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, to accept some of the recommendations. That led to the creation of the position of wind farm commissioner, the establishment of an independent committee to advise the minister and the commitment of funds to a proper scientific investigation of the health effects of wind farms. The wind farm commissioner has made some progress towards dealing with some of these issues. Complainants now have someone who will listen, and at least some wind farm operators now realise they should cooperate in investigating why people are getting sick. I understand they might even agree to release their operating data so that it can be correlated against symptoms. That would, indeed, be progress.
But, beyond that, very little has changed. In particular, there were some very important recommendations in the final report that have not been treated seriously by the government in its response. The government has observed that wind farm approvals are a matter for individual state and territory governments and that it, therefore, cannot address the manifest inadequacies in their regulatory regimes. This is profoundly wrong. Unless a wind farm meets Commonwealth requirements, renewable energy certificates cannot be issued. Without the certificates, the wind farm cannot sell them to electricity retailers. And selling certificates is its source of revenue. A wind farm needs the Commonwealth government more than it needs a state government. The Commonwealth is abdicating its responsibilities.
The government response says state government planning regulations require a noise monitoring regime as part of wind farm development approvals for both approval and operational stages. This is not always true. And, in any case, no state requires monitoring of infrasound. The response says the government is moving to develop national wind farm guidelines. This should be a priority, given its significance to state governments. It is a golden opportunity to address the impact of wind farms that were raised in evidence. And, yet, the government is dragging the chain.
The response says the government does not want the Productivity Commission to examine the impact of renewable energy, of which wind is the main component. Its impact on electricity prices was discussed by Senator Back in the previous address. The government says that the Australian Energy Market Commission produces an annual report on retail electricity price trends and that it does not believe further analysis is required by the Productivity Commission at this time. When is the right time to find out how much this utterly indefensible policy is costing the Australian economy or what the social harm being caused by energy poverty is? Do poor people have to die of cold or heat exhaustion before the insanity of ever-rising electricity prices is stopped?
Australia's postwar prosperity is attributable to the fact that we had a reliable source of cheap energy. Cheap, coal-fired power is what has kept the lights on and people in jobs for over a century. It also ensured that everyone could afford to stay warm in winter and cool in summer, no matter whether they were poor or rich. That is no longer the case. How many dead people are an acceptable price for Australia's contribution to combating climate change? I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.