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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10195


Senator BACK (Western AustraliaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (11:38): It is disappointing for me to hear in this place from Senator Milne, the leader of a party which is part of government, a disappointing, insulting and dismissive presentation. I am deeply disappointed by it, but at least I have learnt now just from the last few seconds what astroturfing is all about. I had absolutely no idea and I am sure that, in his contribution, Senator Macdonald is going to tell us more about it.

I do congratulate Senators Madigan and Xenophon for the work they are doing. I cannot understand why Senator Milne would be attacking particularly Senator Xenophon, who seems to support her in so many areas, but I am sure he will speak to that. I want to recognise the late senator Judith Adams, who was very passionate in this area, and now past senator Steve Fielding, who were both participants in the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry chaired competently by Senator Siewert, from the Greens.

For somebody who, in Senator Milne's case, speaks of the fact that she has such an interest in rural Australia, it is so disappointing that she would be so derisory and so dismissive of people in rural Australia who themselves believe there are health effects. What is equally disappointing is that the collegiality of this Senate is in the fact that we participate in Senate hearings, where we listen and learn and ask and form views, but at the hearing that was held only last Wednesday week Senator Milne was not a participant, and much of the nonsense that we have just heard from her would in fact have been answered had she been a participant—comments like, 'Those who earn an income from wind farms don't get sick whereas those who don't earn one do.' I point Senator Milne to the evidence of a Mr David Mortimer, himself a retired naval engineer, whose area of specialty, strangely enough, was the movement of sound and electromagnetic waves through different media, including air, ground and water. He and his family are recipients, are hosts and do earn an income, and he, for one, has come out and said recently, 'Yes, we are suffering ill effects.'

That is the disappointment of Senator Milne, because she is an intelligent person. Why she would expose herself to ridicule with a statement like that is beyond me. I am very pleased that she did not link me to any of these astroturf and other organisations, because I have no links to any of them. What I can say is that in my time as Chief Executive Officer of the Rottnest Island Authority, off the coast from Fremantle, we were the hosts of the first wind turbines in Western Australia, and it was from that work that the Albany and the Esperance wind farms were developed. When it comes to solar energy, Senator Milne, in case you are listening, I am proud to say that my organisation was in fact the developer of no less than six applications of solar energy, including solar hot water systems, solar based remote lighting, solar based navigation markers and, interestingly, solar based electric fencing for the small marsupials such as the quokka, from which the island derives its name, and I believe the world's first ever solar powered remote composting toilet.

So I will not stand in this place and listen to ridicule from Senator Milne or anybody else about my interest in renewables. We all know that in Western Australia, in Cockburn Sound, there is some tremendous work going on with the use of wave energy for generating power. I, for one, am very interested in it. Our former colleague in the other place Wilson Tuckey was always a great advocate for the value of tidal power from the north of our state, where we have 10-metre tides twice daily. So do not come in here, through you, Mr Deputy President, Senator Milne and start criticising me for the concern I have.

There are two elements that are of concern to me in this issue. First of all, I want to be satisfied that there are no adverse health impacts from any technology that is introduced into this country. Second, I want to see technology that is commercially viable and realistic, or has the capacity to be. I make the point as an arch federalist and of course as a Western Australian that I have no interest at all in the federal government removing from the states and territories their inherent constitutional right to govern whatever it is they do under the Constitution. But, equally, I say to you that as a senator of this Australian parliament I do have an obligation to ensure that there are not adverse health effects over which we can have some control. I do not want to see the expenditure of vast sums of taxpayers' money on development of any sort, including wind turbines or wind farms, if indeed they are not shown to be commercially viable. That has been the motive that has caused me to pick up the work of the late Senator Adams and in fact to participate with Senators Xenophon and Madigan, by telephone with Senator Birmingham and with the chairman of the committee, Senator Cameron, in the hearings recently.

If there are such concerns from the wind farm developers about noise, why do they not do two things? Firstly, why do they not make publicly available the information that they receive on audible noise? Secondly, why do they continually refuse to evaluate low-frequency infrasound and other effects that may be having an adverse health effect.

As we know, and as I brought out recently in the hearing in Canberra, we have real-time aircraft noise monitors over all of the major airports in Australia and by going on to a website called WebTrak anybody listening, anybody in this chamber, can watch it now—as indeed the chairman, Senator Cameron, did while I was asking my questions the other day. He and the secretary went on to the WebTrak site for Sydney airport. He interrupted me to say: 'Yes, what he says is right. I am watching in real time noise over Sydney airport.' I say if we can do that for every airport in Australia, why can we not do it for the wind farms or those in the vicinity of them?

I also asked the question, and I have not yet had adequate answers: why is it that the contracts that the wind farm developers demand of the hosts have these particular clauses? One of them is:

The operator will generate sound pressure levels of a maximum of 50 decibels auditory and the operator consents to the proposed operation of a wind farm—

listen to this, Mr Deputy President—

despite its non-compliance with noise guidelines sound pressure levels set out in a clause of the deed.

I am reading from a contract that wind farm developers require land owners to sign. Furthermore, the organisation uses a contract to include a clause that shifts liability for health effects due to noise from the developer to the landholder. It says:

The landholder releases the developer from any liability for loss, damage or injury occurring in the premises or on the land arising from the tenant's breach of the Environment Protection Act 1970 due to noise emitted from wind turbine generators.

Well, if Senator Milne does not have any concern about those clauses in those contracts, I certainly do. Remember these contracts tie people up for 50 years. Neighbours are being asked to sign them to say that for a 50-year or more period they will not complain. I asked the question, and I have asked it of the developers themselves: what are you trying to hide?

We had evidence on the day—and it was a shame Senator Milne was not there because she would have heard it—from Professor Hansen, who has received Australian Research Council funding to have a look at some of these aspects of ill health. The wind farm developers will not release their data to him to undertake independent research. I ask: why not? If I had confidence in my technology, firstly, I would be out there very proudly saying it; secondly, I would not be tying people up to confidentiality agreements that prevent them from actually stating if they do believe they have adverse health effects; and, thirdly, I certainly would not be denying scientists access to review these circumstances.

It is this that brings me to the conclusion that for the first time ever—whether it is in English or Dutch or Danish or Norwegian or Swahili, I do not care—I want to seek independent research undertaken into issues associated with the question of adverse health effects of people affected by wind turbines. Senator Milne, I am not paid by anybody, I am not in anybody's pocket and I do not know what or who astroturf organisations are. What I want to see is a proper literature review, and I have questions and I have raised concerns over the independence of those who undertook the so-called rapid review by NHMRC. I asked questions recently in the hearing about that. The very term 'rapid review' of itself was a most unfortunate term. I urge yet again NHMRC to remove from their website the outcome of that rapid review, because simply there is a question as to its adequacy and its validity.

What the coalition wants to see, as I heard my colleague Senator Birmingham spell out, is an independent undertaking by credible scientists who can have full access to all noise data, who can undertake epidemiological studies, who undertake adequate funding to do the research and the laboratory studies, who can actually go to industry and go to the communities totally independent of bias—be it my side, be it Senator Xenophon's and Senator Madigan's side, or indeed Senator Milne's side—and undertake this work. I want to see studies undertaken of audible noise, low-frequency noise, infrasound, electromagnetic radiation and vibrations associated with all aspects of the technology.

This is the effect that is happening in rural communities around Australia and Western Australia at the moment. This is what amazes me. Perhaps Senator Milne does not get out into rural Australia; I know Senator Siewert does. We have communities in Western Australia, and the absolute cornerstones of communities in Western Australia and around rural Australia are the Country Women's Association and bush fire brigades. Those two are the absolute foundations. We have circumstances in our rural communities now—I am sorry I am keeping Senator Collins awake—where there are people who are not attending CWA meetings because of anger and discord. There are people who are not turning out at rural fires because of their concerns and because of the community discord.

I certainly am interested in the legislation that has come forward. At this stage there are deficiencies in it, but I am very, very hopeful that the coalition may in fact be able to contribute actively and sensibly to resolving this question.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Time for the debate has lapsed.