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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3446


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (19:34): I thank the member for Pearce for moving this private member's motion. The member for Pearce is known for her balanced consideration of issues and the way she formulates her motions in a non-political way. I really do genuinely thank her for her contribution today. It is a shame in some ways that we do not get this quality of contribution in the general debate in the lower house. I understand there are political reasons for that at the moment, but it would be a fine thing if contributions such as this were woven into the negotiations in both houses. We would probably be a finer parliament for that.

But here we are in the non-controversial chamber, talking about something that is in fact very important, which is the future of part of the renewable energy sector, which will no doubt be with us for a long time. It has already been with us for decades and it will be part of our future clean energy production. The issues raised by the member for Pearce concerning concerns that some in the community have about health and planning are very real ones. On the planning side of things, the regulation and approval of developments, including the matters of noise and land use impacts, are a matter for the relevant state and territory authorities. Once again, we are in the situation as a federal government of working through the complexities of the Australian political system. Again, while I understand her point in the need for that, it is going to be quite a difficult task over quite some time, while states work out exactly how they do that and how they rationalise and develop the guidelines across state borders.

On the issues of the sound itself, it is a very interesting issue for me. I was studying at the conservatorium back in the late 70s and early 80s, when the field of the effect of sound on the body was really in its infancy. It used to go by the fabulous name of psycho-acoustics. I did a lot of study on it in my composition classes. It was an area of great fascination to me. It is not an unusual idea for me that sound frequencies that you cannot hear can affect the body in various ways, and the mind, for that matter. In fact, people were investigating such sound as weapons at the time. There was quite a bit of research done. Yet I would not go as far as the member for Pearce at this point. I think paragraph 4(b) of her motion, which suggests that there is significant anecdotal evidence, is perhaps an overstatement at this stage. The experts at the National Health and Medical Research Council advise that, while there is anecdotal evidence of concerns about the health effects, it would be inaccurate to describe it as significant. Nevertheless, the moves to have a very serious literature search undertaken is one of the foundations for research. It is one of the basic principles that the first thing we always do is a serious literature search, which helps identify areas for future research. Again, I think that action by the National Health and Medical Research Council to undertake that in-depth study of the literature is a very good first step.

I would also like to point out some words by a man called Professor Peter Seligman of the Melbourne Energy Institute, who has spent most of his working life working on cochlear implants. He has a PhD in electronic engineering and understands infrasound perhaps better than most, because it has been his area of expertise. His statement is that the level of infrasound at the beach is far higher than that from wind farms, that beyond 360 metres the level of infrasound emitted from a wind farm, typically between one and 20 cycles per second, is below the ambient levels near a beach and below that in the central business district of any city. On the other hand, we are all subjected to far higher internally self-generated natural infrasound levels, which clearly are not a problem. So there are competing views out there. I also have read the emails that come into my office from various people who believe that wind farms do create a physical damage. Even though there does not appear to be evidence of that at the moment, we do need to make sure that as we move forward in this incredibly important form of clean energy, we do manage to satisfy the community that there is not an issue in this. The research being undertaken now is a very fine step along that path. But I really do thank the member for Pearce for what is a well-considered motion.