Thursday, 23 June 2011
Community Affairs References Committee; Report
On behalf of the Chair of the Community Affairs References Committee, I present the final report on the social and economic impact of rural wind farms, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.
Ordered that the report be printed.
That the Senate take note of the report.
I would like to very quickly make a few remarks, bearing in mind that this was a very controversial inquiry, and I thank the senators who participated and the secretariat for the work they have put into this committee. They received an extensive number of submissions and they did an absolutely wonderful job in helping us through his process. And of course I would like to thank the witnesses and people who made submissions. Because of the time, I will just go through the recommendations that we made. The first recommendation is:
The Committee considers that the noise standards adopted by the states and territories for the planning and operation of rural wind farms should include appropriate measures to calculate the impact of low frequency noise and vibrations indoors at impacted dwellings.
Our second recommendation is:
The Committee recommends that the responsible authorities should ensure that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and that the complaints processes should involve an independent arbitrator. State and local government agencies responsible for ensuring compliance with planning permissions should be adequately resourced for this activity.
We also recommend that:
… further consideration be given to the development of policy on separation criteria between residences and wind farm facilities.
We also recommend, at this is an important one:
… that the Commonwealth Government initiate as a matter of priority thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of the possible effects of wind farms on human health. This research must engage across industry and community, and include an advisory process representing the range of interests and concerns.
This is particularly important. We have found that there have been adverse health effects found in some people near wind farms. However—and this is a very, very important 'however'—we have not found that that is necessarily associated with noise or vibration. That is particularly important, because I do not want people running around saying that we have found that this is associated with some of the claims that are being made. We are saying that there is not enough information but that with people who are feeling possible adverse health effects it could be related to other factors. We had a lot of evidence around stress associated with location of wind farms. I think that is a particularly important point: we found that there is not enough evidence to show that association.
We believe and recommend that the NHMRC review of research should continue, with regular publication, and that the National Acoustics Laboratories conduct a study and assessment of noise impacts of wind farms, including the impacts of infrasound. That is a particularly important point. And we recommend that the draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines be redrafted to include discussion of any adverse health effects and comments made by NHMRC regarding the revision of its 2010 public statement.
I know that Senator Fielding will want to make a quick few comments, and I also thank him very much for the way that he has been involved in this committee.
In the short two minutes that I have got, I would like to say that this inquiry, which looks into adverse health effects from living in close proximity to wind farms, was a very emotional inquiry. We heard from many, many residents who have been adversely impacted because they are living close to wind turbines. The emotional testimony was quite heart wrenching at times. People have even had to leave their homes because of their concerns about the adverse health impacts, and they have clearly got health problems.
I want to highlight that even the developers and the industry are relying on the NHMRC's report, Wind turbines and health—A rapid review of the evidence. When the NHMRC gave evidence to the committee, they had this to say:
We regard this as a work in progress. We certainly do not believe that this question has been settled. That is why we are keeping it under constant review. That is why we said in our review that we believe authorities must take a precautionary approach to this.
That is very concerning. That is from NHMRC. They are saying that this is work in progress, still under review, and we have got the wind farms industry relying on it, saying that there are no adverse health impacts. This is still a concern, and I think that Victoria has taken a lead by increasing the distance requirements for proximity to wind farms. I urge people to go through the recommendations that I made in my additional comments to this report. I have not got time to go through all of those recommendations, but certainly Victoria seems to be tightening up, and I think that across Australia we need to tighten up on the planning controls with regard to how close people and residents are living to wind turbines, given that this is still work in progress and given that there are still concerns about the adverse impacts of living near wind farms.
I want to thank the committee for the conduct of the inquiry. We did go to quite a few places in Australia, even regional areas, listening to people's concerns. It was heart wrenching, and it is a great concern that when people come forward with adverse health impacts from wind farms. I think we need to be done more, and I think that some national guidelines would be a good idea.