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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8641

Renewable Energy

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:48): My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Ludwig. In light of last night's revelations by Senator Back about the content of contracts used by the wind industry, can the minister advise whether he is aware that the wind industry corporations operating in Australia use contracts that specifically prohibit signatories from discussing adverse health effects caused by wind turbines?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:49): I thank Senator Madigan for his continued interest in wind farms. As I understand it, former Senator Fielding was also interested in wind farms and the health portfolio has answered a couple of questions in relation to this matter. The issue that Senator Madigan raises goes to particular contracts that are used by the wind industry, as I understand the import of the question. The first point about the regulations of wind farm functions and approvals is a matter for the minister for the environment, represented by Senator Conroy, in this instance, and his representatives in this place—not that I am suggesting anything in that answer!

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! It is nice to have a light moment, but I do need to hear the answer.

Senator LUDWIG: The government is not able to provide legal advice on the content of contracts between private parties. If a party does feel aggrieved by a particular contract then they do have their own legal recourse. I am not familiar with the contracts. I will ask the Attorney-General's to take the question on notice to see what additional information they may be able to provide. Ultimately, contract law is principally a matter for the states. If the senator feels that there is an issue under current contract law protections, particularly in Victoria, that are inadequate then that also can be taken up with the Victorian Premier and the Victorian Attorney-General.

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:50): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that there are contracts requiring a landowner to consent to the wind farm operating at noise levels that exceed the compliance guidelines of the relevant planning approval authority?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:51): I thank Senator Madigan for his question. Ultimately, it goes to whether I am aware of there being provisions within contracts for wind farm operations at a particular noise level. No, I am not. I will take that part on notice to see whether the Attorney-General can provide additional information. There is a question in my mind whether or not this would be a matter for the Attorney-General or ultimately a matter for the Victorian Attorney-General, more specifically dealing with contract law, or alternatively whether there are other compliance or guidelines relevant to planning approval. If it is in relation to planning approval, that would also be a local government or local authority matter for the state planning authority in the relevant state. Having said all of that, that part which may apply to the Attorney-General I will take on notice and see if further additional information can be provided.

Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (14:52): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In the interests of transparency, common-law rights and the protection of public health as related to relevant planning authorities, can the minister please outline what the government proposes to do about this intentionally deceptive behaviour?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:52): As I have been saying in my answers to both the primary and the supplementary question, that part which is in the remit of the Attorney-General is a matter that I will take on notice. However, I remind the Senate particularly that if there are issues with contracts then these are matters that parties themselves can usually find recourse on, depending on the nature of them.

From the perspective of the Australian government, the National Health and Medical Research Council issued a public statement in July 2010 which concluded that there was insufficient published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects. I think it is important also to put in that context that this is a matter in which the government responded to a Senate Community Affairs References Committee report, The social and economic impact of rural wind farms, which was tabled on 13 September 2012. (Time expired)