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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10185

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Furner ) (10:44): Senator Cameron, I will remind you to address your comments through the chair.

Senator CAMERON: I apologise, Chair. My view is that Senator Madigan's position is not about wind turbines; it is not a concern about the people who have got a problem. Underlying his position is his fundamental denial that there is a problem with changing climate around the world; I am convinced of that.

This week the International Energy Association in an article for PlanetB magazine discussed how energy efficiency and renewable energy technology will play a vital role in the transition to a secure and sustainable future. Even some of the sceptics' views are changing. Ben Cubby wrote a most interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 31 July 2012, where he outlined that prominent sceptic scientist, Richard Muller, had changed his position. So things are changing. Surely scientists are starting to deal with the issues and we will hopefully get to a position where most of the senators in this place can believe that there is a problem, that it has to be dealt with and that wind power is an important part of dealing with it.

The bill before us today, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Excessive Noise from Wind Farms) Bill 2012, which I have described as the 'Stop the planet I want to get off bill', aims to give powers to the regulator to ensure that accredited power stations that are wind farms either in whole or in part do not create excessive noise. I do not have a problem with that position. All I say to you is that we have some of the most strict environmental controls on wind farms anywhere in the world—that is a fact—and the controls are subject to state environmental laws.

In Australia, we currently have 59 wind farms, consisting of 1,345 turbines with 2,480 megawatts of capacity. The evidence given to the committee was that right around the world—I have described how much wind power is installed around the world—it is only in English-speaking countries where there is this so-called wind turbine syndrome and these problems starting to appear. So I do not think that the Waubra Foundation have actually got enough translators to get their message out to the rest of the world—hopefully, they do not, because around the world there is not an issue with wind turbines. There is not a problem of this so-called wind farm syndrome anywhere else in the world, but there is in some areas in Australia—not everywhere where there are wind turbines—and in some areas in Canada and also in some areas in the UK. If you draw the link between the groups that are agitating against wind turbines that link eventually goes back to the climate change sceptics and the climate change deniers.

There are issues there. I do not for a minute deny that there are people who feel genuine concern about wind turbines appearing in their backyards, especially if their neighbour is getting a financial gain from it and they are getting no gain. I do not for a minute underestimate the problems that individuals feel, that they genuinely feel that the wind turbines are making them sick, but there was absolutely no evidence to link either infrasound or the sound of the wind turbines to the various complaints and illnesses that were brought before the committee.

Our conclusion is consistent with every analysis that has been made on this around the world—that we should not simply accept the arguments; that there are problems there. We should take a precautionary approach, which the committee has said we should do. We should continue to do the scientific evaluation that Senator Madigan wants. I think that is appropriate and that is being done. We should continue to ensure that we can make a contribution to renewable energy through more wind turbines.

Senator Madigan spoke about the nocebo effect. We had evidence that the nocebo effect is a well-documented part of medical and scientific literature around the world. The National Health and Medical Research Centre have reviewed some of the literature available and they said that no adverse health effects other than annoyance could be directly correlated with noise from wind turbines. There is limited and contested published evidence that wind farm noise may be associated with annoyance and sleep disturbance in some individuals, but the causes are not clear and that has been considered by the NHMRC.

The committee was provided with recent research that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by the leading health journal Health psychology. That research has not yet been publicly released. The research comprises a controlled double-blind study in which subjects were exposed to infrasound and sham infrasound. Healthy volunteers, when given information about expected physiological effects of infrasound, reported symptoms which aligned with that information, during both exposure to infrasound and sham infrasound. This is a scientific study that is basically saying that if you tell people this is what will happen to you through this infrasound which you cannot hear and you cannot see and you can expect that this might happen to you, people will say, 'Yes, I have now got the symptoms.' People in the scientific study had sham infrasound—there was no infrasound—and they reported the same conditions that they were told to expect. That is called the nocebo effect and it is well known.

I am not saying that, if you are suffering the nocebo effect, you should be ignored, that we should simply walk away and say, 'Well, that is bad luck; it is psychological and not physiological.' The view is that the wind industry have a responsibility to deal with this issue, and so they should. But dealing with it is not stopping the world and getting off, as Senator Madigan would want. It is about understanding the importance of the wind industry and of individuals who feel that they have been affected by the wind industry, ensuring that we continue to have strong state based environmental protections in place and that we continue to research and put regulation on the industry as far as practical, and ensuring that monitoring continues to go on.

After listening to all the evidence, I just feel that, when you weigh up the scientific evidence against the anecdotal evidence that we got, we must go with the scientific evidence but we must also have care and consideration for people who are suffering because of wind turbines. There should be more transparency in the industry, but that should be through an independent auditor because you cannot provide what is being asked without having a real influence on the cost of power. So I recommend and support the recommendations in the report. I think it is the sensible way to go. I reject and do not support the Madigan-Xenophon bill.