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Thursday, 28 February 2013
Page: 1243

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:31): This bill is certainly one that relates to a topic very much discussed around the Australian community. I refer senators to the speech of Senator Birmingham back in November 2012 which confirmed very serious concerns about the health impacts of the noise coming from wind farms. I understand that since November last year we have proposed some amendments to the bill, effectively calling upon the National Health and Medical Research Council to develop appropriate guidelines for an independent study of the impacts of wind farms and the noise of wind farms on people living in the vicinity.

Mr Deputy President, as you know, I come from the north of Queensland. There are some wind farms up around Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tableland—indeed, they were some of the first wind farms to be established in Australia. There has been concern from residents in that area about health impacts on them from those wind farms. I have to say that, while I am one who believes in renewable power, I have often wondered about the visual pollution that wind farms cause. I remember in the very early days of the Greens political party, they were very vocal about the visual pollution of wind farms. You only have to go out to Lake George near Canberra to see what used to be a wonderful country vista with magnificent rolling hills—

Senator Boswell: I just can't understand the Greens on this.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You're right, Senator Boswell. I cannot understand the Greens on this either. Mind you, I cannot understand the Greens on anything. I do understand this and this alone: that they are a very left-wing socialist party and some of their members like Senator Rhiannon make no bones about that. They are quite open about the fact that they were once members of the communist party and believe in that socialist, left-wing dogma. That much I do understand about the Greens—anything else I do not really.

There is the issue of visual pollution. There is a place for wind farms at times, but one has to wonder why the community has not been outraged just at the visual pollution. Senator Madigan's bill refers more to the genuine concerns that many people have about the impact that wind farms are having on their communities, on their lifestyles and on their health. Neither the parliament nor the government should easily dismiss these concerns. You will be aware, Mr Deputy President, that this bill was referred to the Senate's Community Affairs References Committee, which presented a report on the social and economic impact of rural wind farms in June 2011—almost two years ago. The committee recommended 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.

That recommendation was a unanimous one, and I emphasise the words 'as a matter of priority' to do this research. It is typical of the Gillard Labor government that they understand 'a matter of priority' as almost two years later and have ignored issues which really do concern Australians and which many people would say do have an impact on the health of Australians.

Is our Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, looking at these things as a matter of priority or is she campaigning in Australia's longest ever election campaign in Western Sydney? Mr Acting Deputy President, I will bet you that, as she campaigns in Western Sydney, Ms Gillard is not focused on the health concerns many Australians have about wind farms. I suspect that people in Western Sydney would not have to put up with the impact of wind farms, as I suspect there are not too many around that area—

Senator Boswell interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And you are right, Senator Boswell, I suspect there are not too many at Rooty Hill, but then I am not sure that Ms Gillard is going to Rooty Hill now. One of Ms Gillard’s ministers actually said that it would be high farce to book in at the Rooty Hill RSL. What a joke of a government. It would be funny if it were not serious, because problems that need the attention of the Prime Minister, problems that are addressed in this bill, are being ignored while the Prime Minister embarks upon Australia’s longest ever election campaign.

On 13 September 2012, a year and a half after the committee's recommendations were made, the government responded by saying that they accepted the recommendations in principle. Again, this shows how focused Ms Gillard is on the real health concerns of Australians! Apparently the government then provided an NHMRC literature review. They said, 'Here are a lot of readings on the subject; that is our response.' But that is not the sort of Australian based research, with thorough epidemiological and laboratory studies, that we think is necessary to provide the robust scientific evidence needed to manage this very concerning issue.

Senator Madigan and most of us on this side of the chamber believe that, where it is important, where it is relevant, we should make our decisions based on science. The government have continually ignored science. You only have to look at the bioregional marine plans to see that the government’s decision in that important area for Australians was based on the lobbying of a foreign environment group which has little concern about the Australians who would be impacted, and there was practically no reference to the science on the subject. One aim of the marine bioregional plan was to save fish stocks in the Coral Sea, near where I come from. The take of fish from the Coral Sea over many, many years has been infinitesimal. Even a year 1 science student would have been able to tell the Gillard government that. But they do not make decisions on the basis of science, as they should; they make them on the basis of political necessity, on the importance of getting Greens preferences at the next election and on the fact that the Greens are supported by some very wealthy people, including the Pew Environment Group. That group commenced some years ago in the United States on the back of very big donations from oil companies in the United States that felt they needed to absolve their consciences by doing something 'positive' for the environment.

We believe that these December isions and what Senator Madigan is calling for in his bill have to be based on science. That is why we have proposed an amendment to this bill which seeks a scientific approach. Senator Madigan will no doubt speak for himself later, but I understand there is some support for the idea that we should insist upon proper and adequate scientific research.

I mentioned my interest in wind farms. There are some in North Queensland. I have always been appalled by their visual pollution, particularly around Canberra, and in the north. There was the CopperString proposal up in North Queensland—

Senator Boswell: The Bob Katter proposal?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am not even sure who you are talking about.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! Senator Macdonald, you will ignore the interjections.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Acting Deputy President, I think Senator Boswell mentioned a politician up that way. I am not sure if he is a politician—you never see him in parliament. You never see him voting on important issues. I never take much notice of what the current member for Kennedy says. I do recall, Senator Boswell, that for years he has been talking about development of the north and some water storage facilities on the Flinders and other rivers up that way. When a leaked draft coalition discussion paper on these things hit the newsstands—I do emphasise it is not coalition policy at this stage—all Mr Katter could do was oppose the proposals that I thought he had been calling upon and supporting for a long period of time. But it is always difficult to understand what Mr Katter's view is on anything.

There was a proposal for a power grid in the north. I do not want to go into that; it has fallen on tough times. But part of that proposal was for a wind farm in the plains to the west of Townsville, around Hughenden.

One would think that, if there are to be wind farms, somewhere like that might be a good place—assuming the wind patterns are appropriate there. It is, to a degree, away from population bases, so the sorts of health difficulties which Senator Madigan referred to in his bill would be obviated.

We believe there should be research which, as I said, includes full monitoring and full laboratory and epidemiological studies. It should be research which ensures that the views of industry and community are heard so that areas of concern can be studied and addressed. It should look at audible noise, low-frequency noise—infrasound—electromagnetic radiation and vibration arising from or associated with wind farms, including wind turbines. It should look at transmission lines, substations, telecommunications towers and other structures associated with industrial wind electricity generation. That is why we are moving this motion.

Wind farms and wind power generation are important in achieving the 20 per cent renewable energy target set by the Commonwealth—by the Howard government. As time has moved on, however, more and more questions have been raised about whether that 20 per cent renewable energy target is appropriate for Australia at the present time. I assume Senator Boswell will speak a lot more about that in his contribution to the debate on this bill. Suffice it for me to say that I do think there is a change in community perception and I think that is something the current government and any future government might have to look at very carefully.

In the limited time left to me I will just raise a couple of things. I am a great believer in hydro power. Very often you will hear people from Tasmania—and the Greens political party, for some reason, seem to have a greater following in that state than anywhere else—

Senator Siewert: They are sensible in Tasmania.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is a state which lives on hydro power and yet, when you talk about hydro power in any other state, suddenly it is bad, it is wrong and you cannot have it. You can have it in Tasmania but not anywhere else. Perhaps one of the Greens senators might tell me why it is good in Tasmania but not good in Queensland.

Fortunately, a new government in Queensland is seriously looking at hydro power. The Burdekin Dam has been up for some time—an initiative of the Fraser Liberal government—and now there is considerable money being spent on putting a small hydro-electricity power plant on it. There are opportunities to raise the dam wall and to increase the power supply from doing so. There was also a community meeting, just a couple of weeks ago up in Ravenshoe, at which the Tully-Millstream Koombooloomba Dam extension was discussed at length. Quite a bit of work has been done on that.

Senator McLucas: Not Tully-Millstream again!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I see Senator McLucas mumbling to herself. You would think that, as a senator sometimes based in Cairns, she would be aware of community interest in a baseload power station for Cairns—a power station which relies not on fossil fuels but on water power. Rather than mumbling about it, I would have thought that Senator McLucas, who will no doubt take part in this debate later, would have had some interest in it.

I also mention the idea of using the enormous amounts of water which come out of the mountain ranges of Papua New Guinea to supply power—and perhaps even water in times of drought—to Queensland and Australia. The Queensland government some time ago put in place a memorandum of understanding with the PNG government on that proposal. It is something which shows that there alternatives to fossil fuels, that you can use renewable energy and that you can perhaps do so cost-effectively.

I know Senator Boswell and many other people have been concerned at the cost to Australia of the renewable energy program. I lament always that Ms Gillard broke her promise not to introduce a carbon tax. The carbon tax of course does not reduce carbon emissions. Even on the government's own figures, carbon emissions increase under the carbon tax. Australia is responsible for less than 1.4 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. One therefore wonders why Australia is burdened with the world's largest carbon tax—$23 a tonne. The Europeans are paying either $5 or $10, depending on which day of the week it is. The New Zealanders are paying $1. I think some Chinese provinces are doing it at 20c. Australia is paying $23, going up to $29, going up to $39, going up to $300 a tonne—and the Labor Party wonders why the jobs of Australian workers are going offshore. Time does not allow me to pursue that further except to lament that our Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, as the Labor leader, would promise not to introduce a carbon tax and then make it the first thing she did. I see that she and her ministers continue to say what a great thing the carbon tax is. If that is true, why did she promise not to introduce it? Did she not understand, back before the last election, that it would be as good as she now claims it to be? It just shows what an absolute farce the current government of Australia is.

Needless to say, this is an important bill. I congratulate Senator Madigan for raising it. I will be supporting the coalition's amendments and I hope that means we will actually get somewhere on this very important issue. (Time expired)