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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
25/03/2011
Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —I invite you to make a short opening statement, if you wish to do so, and then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Bailey —I will give a slightly abbreviated version of this written statement. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has responsibility for the renewal energy target, the RET, and the coordination of activities to finalise the National Wind Farm Development Guidelines, which we generally refer to as the guidelines. Wind farms supported by the government’s RET scheme have an important role to play in achieving the government’s commitment, with an equivalent of at least 20 per cent of our electricity coming from renewable resources by 2020. Through the RET and the guidelines, Australian government policy is supporting wind farm development at sites that have wind availability and that are sensitive to the concerns of local communities.

The RET guarantees a market for additional renewable energy by legislating annual targets and using a tradeable certificates mechanism to ensure the targets are met in a cost-effective manner. The RETs support the deployment of large-scale renewable energy power stations, such as wind farms, as well as small-scale renewable energy technologies, including rooftop solar panels and solar water heaters. The RET is a key transitional measure. In the longer term, a carbon price is expected to be the primary driver of ongoing investment in renewable technologies.

Wind power installed and operating in Australia has grown from just a few megawatts of capacity, prior to the commencement of the mandatory renewable energy target in 2000, to around 2,000 megawatts in 2010, generating about 6,000 gigawatt hours. The RET is projected to drive around $16 billion of investment in renewables by 2020. Wind power is currently amongst the lowest cost renewable energy technologies available. As such, projections currently suggest that wind energy will constitute a significant proportion of large-scale renewable energy generation under the RET, possibly a third of renewable generation by 2020. Assessment of wind farm development proposals is a matter for states and territories, with the exception of matters of national environmental significance, which are assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities administer this act.

The draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines 2009 was released for public comment from 28 October 2009 to 16 December 2009. After conducting an extensive review of over 70 public submissions, the revised draft guidelines had some substantial differences to those released for public comment. In July 2010 the EPHC released the draft guidelines 2010 for a period of 12 months to allow further consultation with relevant stakeholders. The draft guidelines do not set environmental requirements. They aim to outline best practice for industry and planning authorities on how specific impacts of wind farms can be assessed. They are not intended to be mandatory or change existing jurisdictional statutory processes.

CHAIR —Because the Senate is sitting when the bells go, you will see us get up and leave. I apologise in advance if the bells go while you are here with us. I will make sure that I inform all the other witnesses of that as well. Senator Fielding.

Senator FIELDING —Thank you for your opening remarks. Obviously the renewable energy targets are one of the key drivers for renewable energy being used, and you have outlined that by 2020 $16 billion, or roughly around that investment level, is expected, and you think that possibly 30 per cent will come from wind farm energy for that renewable energy target, which is quite a sizeable chunk—is that right?

Mr Bailey —Yes.

Senator FIELDING —We are not going to see fewer wind farms, are we? Are we going to see a lot more?

Mr Bailey —We expect so. Let me make a comment about expectations of the mix of renewable energy sources under the RET. The RET is set to be specifically technology agnostic. It does not say how we are going to slice it up.

Senator FIELDING —I am not trying to trap you to say that you can guarantee that it will be 30 per cent. What I am trying to portray is that the number of wind farms is going to increase reasonably rapidly, given that, as you said, wind is one of the lowest cost options at the moment.

Mr Bailey —Yes, indeed.

Senator FIELDING —It is envisaged that it would represent about 30 per cent of renewable energy by 2020.

Mr Bailey —Yes. That is the rough—

Senator FIELDING —I am not trying to trap you to say that you will guarantee that, because there could be something in five years time that may be renewable that may take over, but at the moment we would believe there will be a lot more wind farms in the foreseeable future. Is that correct?

Mr Bailey —We expect to see a growth in that area.

Senator FIELDING —The reason behind a lot of inquiry is that there is a concern about the health effects of living nearby wind farms or wind turbines. I was wondering what research the department has done on this particular issue. Can you outline what you have done and what you know about the adverse health effects of living near wind turbines?

Mr Bailey —The responsibility of this department is not to be the specialist in health effects. Our responsibility was to set the guidelines. In the process of setting those guidelines there was extensive involvement with the states and also extensive use of health experts so that the guidelines themselves end up taking a risk based approach, which means specific health issues will vary site by site. This department does not have ultimate responsibility for the approval of wind farms. That is a state matter and, therefore, our involvement in those matters stops at the level of the guidelines themselves.

Senator FIELDING —To me, this is the heart of the issue. No-one knows where to go about living so close to wind farms and the adverse health effects. Everybody says, ‘We’re just applying the guidelines.’ I will come back to that in a moment. It is not a question, it is just a statement. People are very confused about where to go to complain. We will hear from a lot of people through this inquiry about those sorts of issues, about where you go from there. Are you aware of the term ‘wind turbine syndrome’?

Mr Bailey —I have heard of it, but I could not say that I know a lot about it.

Senator FIELDING —So you would not know a lot about Dr Pierpont’s Wind Turbine Syndrome? Have you seen that?

Mr Bailey —I know of that academic and understand that she favours larger scale research on health effects.

Senator FIELDING —Do you know whether that was part of the considerations in setting up the guidelines?

Mr Bailey —I will ask my colleague Mr Tonna to answer that question, because he was involved in that process more than I.

Mr Tonna —The guidelines draw on the work of the National Health and Medical Research Council in regard to the health impacts of wind farms. We are aware that the work examined the work of Dr Pierpont. The work in developing the guidelines with the states and territories did not explore that directly; rather it referred to work of the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Senator FIELDING —I have had a look at the National Wind Farm Development Guidelines and, frankly, there is more concern about bats and wind flicker than there is about other health issues in regard to wind turbine syndrome in that whole report. I was surprised when I read it how much was focused on other issues—road widenings and all sorts of things—and not much about people’s health.

Mr Bailey —At the time those guidelines were developed it was absolutely a collaborative effort with the states. I think the guidelines reflect the profile of issues felt to be important at the time.

Senator CAROL BROWN —I know you have talked about the discussions with the states and territories, but are you able to take us through the process that led to the areas that you looked at in terms of these guidelines? You have listed community and stakeholder consultation, wind turbine noise, visual and landscape impacts, birds and bats, shadow flicker, and electromagnetic interference. Is that the full list?

Mr Bailey —I will ask Mr Tonna to field that question.

Mr Tonna —The process for arriving at the eventual scope of the National Wind Farm Guidelines arose from a report that was commissioned by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council of COAG, and that report was delivered to the Environment Protection and Heritage Council in November 2008. The report was to look at the social and environmental impacts of wind farm developments. That report was developed by a working group of state and territory officials, supported by a stakeholder reference group. The report concluded that the assessment and approval processes in jurisdictions were generally robust and working well and that many issues identified in the report were being adequately addressed by existing procedures. However, it identified and categorised a list of areas where there was scope for further work on methodologies. Rather than proposing approaches to set limits or other regulatory aspects, it looked at the particular methodologies that we use to assess some of the technical aspects that were not covered by other regulations within the states and territories.

Obviously there are a number of aspects of the development that are common to all developments and not just wind farms, and those were considered to be well addressed, but there were some specific aspects relating to wind farms that, while the jurisdictional processes were robust, additional methodologies would assist. That is what led to the list of areas for development in the National Wind Farm Development Guidelines as specific areas. There are two categories of areas mentioned in the guidelines. There are those for which a subsequent methodology is developed and there are those that are assessed as being significant but not requiring a detailed methodology within the guidelines.

Senator BOYCE —I would like to follow up on that. You pointed out that the guidelines set out a list of best practice methods. Do you assess how close to best practice wind farm developers perform?

Mr Tonna —During the assessment processes conducted within jurisdictions there is a stage where the jurisdiction planning authority considers the development proposal before it. They are able to draw on a range of resources in conducting that assessment, and the methodologies provided in the guidelines are there to provide a methodology that they can draw on to conduct that assessment.

Mr Bailey —The Department of Climate Change does not have as part of its responsibilities in this area the checking up of developments. The approval process sits in every case at the state level. Our contribution to that is chairing the process for the development of the guidelines in an effort to get best practice and reasonably uniform approval processes. The power is always with the states.

Senator BOYCE —You would have no way of percolating up, so to speak, how well developers are conforming to these guidelines?

Mr Bailey —That is correct. We do not look at that issue. That is a state issue.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Was there any community consultation?

Mr Tonna —In the process of developing the guidelines an initial draft was developed. That was released for public comment with over 70 submissions received. Also, a stakeholder reference group was consulted, which contained stakeholders from both the wind industry and some local community groups. The working group made significant changes to the guidelines and those significantly changed guidelines were progressed to the Environment Protection and Heritage Council of COAG.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Thank you.

CHAIR —Senator Fielding.

Senator FIELDING —Many submitters have argued that the siting of wind farms is too close to residential areas or people living close by. What is in the guidelines about the minimum setback and distance in regard to being near a wind turbine?

Mr Bailey —Mr Tonna may be able to add some more detail to this. The guidelines take a risk based approach, which specifically acknowledges that different wind farms will have different considerations in regard to se backs. It depends upon topology and city versus rural. There is no mandatory national standard on setbacks.

Mr Tonna —Just to reinforce that, the guidelines recognise that different layouts of wind farms would have different degrees of impact and also different wind turbine or blade technologies might have different impacts at different distances. The guidelines take the risk approach that the impacts should be measured and then decisions made.

Senator FIELDING —Has the department done any work in this area? For example, if there was a minimum setback of, say, five kilometres on a wind turbine from any residents living nearby, what impact would that have on the size of the market for wind energy in Australia?

Mr Bailey —I do not think that is a matter that we have looked at.

Senator FIELDING —That is an important consideration. The concern that I have is that there is a lot of momentum behind wind energy. I am not going into whether the renewable energy targets are right or wrong, but it is obviously quite a sizeable business and there are good incentives to go down that market. It is going to be an even bigger business. I am worried that there is not enough being done in regard to looking at minimum setbacks. I am interested to know if you had minimum setbacks of, say, five kilometres—some may argue less, but say it was that level—what impact would that have on the market of being able to put wind turbines in? I am interested to know what it will do.

Mr Bailey —Arguing from first principles, the bigger any setback the more difficult it will be to find wind sites that comply with that.

Senator FIELDING —I can well imagine that the industry will be fighting against those minimum setbacks.

Mr Bailey —I do not know the view of industry on that. I would come back, though, to the way the guidelines were set. This issue was looked at quite closely and in the consultation document that preceded the guidelines the view was taken that state approval and assessment processes were working well. That would lead us to take the default view, which is reflected in the guidelines, that the issue of setback should be judged on a site-by-site basis, because it will depend upon some quite specific factors that Mr Tonna mentioned.

Senator FIELDING —Has the department been in touch with residents who live in close proximity to wind farms?

Mr Bailey —We have not proactively done that. We would regard that as an issue for the states because they have the responsibility for the relevant planning processes. We have received a small amount of correspondence on the matter, but that is it.

Senator FIELDING —What have you done with that correspondence?

Mr Bailey —We would have replied to them. The figure that I have in my head is that in 2010 we received nine letters across the whole year relating to wind farm health effects. Other departments may have received correspondence, but I am not aware of that.

Senator FIELDING —Thank you.

CHAIR —Senator Adams, do you have any questions?

Senator ADAMS —Yes, I do. I would like to ask a question about the cost of wind farm development. You said earlier that it was one of the cheaper means of renewable energy. Are there any government subsidies available to wind farm developers?

Mr Bailey —Yes, there are. That goes to the mechanism that was set up within the renewable energy target. Under the target, renewable energy’s generation is associated with the creation of a renewal energy certificate. One megawatt hour gives rise to one certificate and then those certificates can be sold. The subsidy for renewable energy is centred on the sale of those certificates. That is one side of it. The other part of the renewable energy target is that it places an obligation on individuals, and most importantly energy retailers, to be purchasing a certain amount of renewable energy. Retailers and people like AGL and others fulfil their obligation by purchasing certificates. It is a market based mechanism and the market sets the price.

Senator ADAMS —In comparison with, say, solar where does wind sit?

Mr Bailey —In what respect?

Senator ADAMS —As far as the renewable energy commodity and just the cost? I am trying to get an idea of the cost of wind versus other renewable energies.

Mr Bailey —I do not have an easy answer for that, because it turns out that it is a complex question. The way that we would think about this is: what is the cost of power that is being sold into the national energy market? You would really be best to go to the experts, such as the Australian Energy Market Operator, because they could give you that information. Power is generated and sold into the grid on quite short timeframes. As to the issue of cost, we can look at issues like that with the concept called the levelised cost, which is the cost of a megawatt taken over the life of a power infrastructure, such as a wind farm or a coal fired power station, and that gives you a sense of average costs. Based on those calculations we know that wind is more expensive than, say, coal but it is also one of the cheaper forms of renewable so it is certainly efficient in that category of renewable energies. The question on the actual cost of wind, as it is supplied into the national electricity market, would be better presented to the Australian Energy Market Operator, because they would have that data, more so than this department.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Are you aware of Australian research into health impacts?

Mr Bailey —Yes. I believe the National Health and Medical Research Council have done a study into the health issues associated with wind farms.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Are you aware of any other Australian research?

Mr Tonna —No. The National Health and Medical Research Council work was a literature review of available literature. I cannot recall whether that dealt with any specific Australian primary research on the subject. It may do so. As that is not our area of direct expertise and involvement, I am not across the detail of which particular research they consulted in doing that particular review.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Are you able to tell us basically what they found?

Mr Tonna —Yes. If you bear with me for a moment I can read out to you their primary conclusion.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Of course.

Mr Tonna —The primary finding of that National Health and Medical Research Council review is:

There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Thank you.

Senator FIELDING —From my understanding it was a rapid review. It was not thorough at all. The word ‘rapid’ is rapid. I have been through the report. I have actually looked at it. Given the level of concern there is I think we need more than a rapid review. Who is responsible for looking at the adverse health effects of wind farms? Who is accountable? Where does someone go and who is responsible for looking at that issue?

Mr Bailey —Ultimately one has to go to each state government and their relevant planning body, because they have responsibility for the planning and approval process.

Senator FIELDING —That is the biggest issue. There are studies done and in this committee a lot of submissions have come through on the adverse health effects. We are trying to find out where people go with those concerns and where they raise them. Rather than a rapid review we actually need an exhaustive, in-depth worldwide review to start to look at not just wind shadow but what I was talking about before with the issues of the wind turbine syndrome.

Mr Bailey —I would go back to where we are in the finalisation of these non-mandatory guidelines. They are in fact in the middle of a consultation process that is running for about a year. We are just over halfway. I would expect that if groups have significant concerns they raise them at the state level, because that will feed into the finalisation of commentary on the draft guidelines and their finalisation.

Senator FIELDING —Looking at what we have here, I am not sure I would like to live close by to one. I do not know anyone in any sort of senior positions anywhere who does lives near one, by the way. I have no further questions.

Senator CAROL BROWN —I would like to follow on from that. You mentioned earlier that in 2010 you received nine pieces of correspondence with concerns about health impacts. Is that correct?

Mr Bailey —Yes, in this department.

Senator CAROL BROWN —In the discussions that you had with the states and territories or the group that feeds into the draft guidelines do you know of any other substantial concern that has been raised by members of the public to states and territories?

Mr Bailey —I will ask Mr Tonna to respond to that, because he was involved in the development of the guidelines and all of that work. I would emphasise that there was a lot of attention paid to the health issues at the time.

Mr Tonna —We are aware that people have made representations to state and territory governments about health impacts and we were exposed to some of those representations during the consultation process in the development of the guidelines. The focus of the guidelines, particularly on noise, looked at the available evidence in relation to the noise impacts of wind turbines, and that is what shaped the material that appears in the guidelines regarding those characteristics.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Do we know how many people live in close proximity to wind farms in Australia?

Mr Bailey —I do not have that information.

Senator FIELDING —Are you responsible for the National Wind Farm Development Guidelines?

Mr Bailey —Yes. Our role was really to be the chair of the process. I will emphasise that this was not a Commonwealth-only exercise, it was a genuinely collaborate exercise with the states, and their involvement was essential because ultimately they have the jurisdictional authority to make these planning decisions.

Senator CAROL BROWN —It came out of COAG?

Mr Bailey —That is right.

Senator FIELDING —What is the status of these guidelines?

Mr Bailey —The guidelines were released for comment in July 2010, and I believe it is a 12-month consultation process.

Senator FIELDING —The consultation process is still going on, so if people still want to submit to that they would have until July 2011; is that correct?

Mr Tonna —As Mr Bailey previously indicated, the process for making comments into the guidelines is to be done through the jurisdictions, the states and territories who are collating information on the guidelines. Given that there was previously a public consultation process that was more general and directly focussed back on the working group, the current draft release of the guidelines is primarily designed to allow jurisdictions to assess how the guidelines will work in the context of their planning provisions and, through their interactions with normal stakeholders, gain further input as to how the guidelines will operate and what the capabilities of those guidelines are.

It is not an open public consultation process in terms of the fact that a central repository of submissions will be received, but we expect that the states and territories, through their engagement with key stakeholders, will gain an opinion of how the guidelines could work in their jurisdiction. Some of the jurisdictions have conducted consultation sessions about the draft guidelines with key stakeholders, and that kind of information will ultimately be collated in terms of a recommendation to the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, or the relevant COAG ministerial council, for a decision about the draft status when it comes to an end at around the middle of 2011.

Senator FIELDING —So, for anyone listening to these hearings across Australia who wanted to have a say about the National Wind Farm Development Guidelines, what do they do?

Mr Tonna —As Mr Bailey has previously indicated, they could contact their relevant state and territory authority and make approaches through them.

Senator FIELDING —Could you provide a list of those? You are already dealing with them. Could you provide a list and some contact details?

Mr Bailey —We can take that on notice and provide that.

CHAIR —Any other questions?

Senator ADAMS —I have. The officials at the table keep referring back to the states. What is your role? I can see everything that you have said has to go back to the state for their guidelines, and yet you are going to have this national guideline. Can you give us a better definition, now that we have had this discussion, on exactly what your role is?

Mr Bailey —Let me see if I can put it in the context of the renewables energy area. When the renewables energy target was set in 2010 it was clear that with a much higher target there would be more development of renewable energy from various sources, and wind farms prominently amongst those. The thinking at COAG was how we get better uniformity across all the states so that, while there is still scope for each state to make the planning decisions that it feels most appropriate, we can give the wind farm industry greater certainty and greater uniformity of regulatory approach. The idea behind the guidelines was, without overriding states’ regulations, to set out what the collective states and Commonwealth believe to be best practice in each of the constituent parts of the regulations and then use that in a non-mandatory way to have states, as best they could, achieve greater uniformity in their approach to assessing the sorts of issues that we have been talking about this morning.

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency’s role in that was really to chair the consultation process and the development of the guidelines. That is where our responsibility starts and finishes. We do not get involved in trying to make representations to states about particular planning matters. That is their jurisdiction and we stay out of it.

Senator ADAMS —So, if they are having problems with developers in the way that they are going about things or anything like that, you would not get involved with any of that? Is that still the states’ problem?

Mr Bailey —As far as I am aware, I think the states feel comfortable about executing on their own regulatory processes. If they wish to consult us on specific issues, we would be happy to help where we could.

CHAIR —It is the same situation for any development, I would presume. If there is a development in a state that impacts on national legislation, for example, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, it would go off for assessment in the same way that any other development—a coal fired power station, a gas development or a road development—would go off? I presume wind farms are no different from any other development.

Mr Bailey —That is correct. There have been a number of wind farm developments that have been looked at.

CHAIR —We are aware of some famous ones. Senator Adams, do you have any more questions on clarifying the role?

Senator ADAMS —Not on the role.

CHAIR —Do you have more questions?

Senator ADAMS —Yes, I do have another one. Have you done any work on emissions from wind farms and with the backload, when the wind stops, especially in some areas where they need to use diesel?

Mr Bailey —Wind power is close to being a zero emission source of power. The debate, as far as I am aware, has been more around when wind power gets contributed to the national grid and whether there is a one-for-one saving in emissions from the power that wind power displaced on the grid for the period that power was going on to the grid from that particular source. That is a topic of debate. I think it is a complex area. Our understanding of the matter is that, yes, there are significant savings in emissions. But if you wanted to explore that issue further, it becomes quite technical very quickly. I think it would be better to approach the Australian Energy Market Operator.

It comes down to quite specific questions around, say, when power comes on to the grid from the wind farm, what was the source of power that the wind energy displaced? Different sources will employ different technologies and each of those technologies will have different emissions characteristics. There has been a debate about whether back-up energy needs to be continually running because of the intermittent nature of wind power. We believe that is not the case, but again I would encourage you to take those more detailed questions to the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Senator ADAMS —The other part is the emissions. We have had some evidence about the actual building of the towers and also the manufacture of the towers. Is that calculated as well?

Mr Tonna —We have seen some studies into that. From what we have seen, as I recall, there was a relatively quick payback, if you like, of those emissions during the operation of the wind turbine. In a relatively short space of time the renewal energy generated by the turbine had offset those emissions used in its construction. I do not have the details in front of me of how long that might be. I am happy to establish what those sources are.

Senator BOYCE —A life-cycle assessment, if there has been one done.

Mr Tonna —That is right. There have been life-cycle assessments done.

Senator BOYCE —What is the average life of a wind turbine, as a matter of interest?

Mr Tonna —I forget what the guidelines say.

Senator BOYCE —Perhaps we could ask the manufacturers.

Mr Tonna —Yes.

CHAIR —Presumably you have done life-cycle analyses of other sources of energy generation as well—solar, wind, coal fired power stations and so on.

Mr Tonna —Yes. The Australian energy resource assessment report looks at the levelised costs and the life cycles of a number of these.

CHAIR —We will have a look at that. I understand Senator Fielding has one last question. Senator Adams, have you finished?

Senator ADAMS —Yes.

CHAIR —Senator Fielding.

Senator FIELDING —Returning to the National Wind Farm Development Guidelines, they are yours, are they not? You actually won them?

Mr Bailey —We have responsibility for their development, but we would regard them ultimately as a COAG document equally shared by ourselves and the states.

Senator FIELDING —I understand the states do feedback, but I think someone should be doing feedback on the total document, the total guidelines, nationally. Does that make sense? It worries me that you are basically just the collator. I am sorry for putting words in your mouth, but I worry about that a fair bit. There needs to be ownership of this stuff. If you folks own it, you are producing it, then I think before they are finalised there should be consultation on the document before it becomes final. You are relying on the states. I think it is a national document and that you folks should be doing consultations publicly on those guidelines.

Mr Bailey —I will ask Mr Tonna to address the question of the process that we are following.

Mr Tonna —To be very clear about the ownership, the guidelines are owned by what was formerly referred to as the Environment Protection and Heritage Council of COAG, and the working group that developed the guidelines was reporting to EPHC. They are the owners of the guidelines. In considering how to respond to the draft guidelines that were presented to that council by the working group, the council considered the fact that a public consultation had relatively recently been conducted, which received a very wide and full range of views. It is my understanding that the EPHC had a good understanding of what the public views were on the issues and that it did not require a subsequent full public consultation to be conducted on the draft that was released as an interim document to enable an assessment to be made of its applicability within the different jurisdictions. We will work closely with the states and territories to collate their feedback on the draft guidelines as they have been released. We will play an active role in pulling together their comments. I think we have made it clear this morning that the actual hands-on responsibility for assessing wind farm developments rests with the states and territories and they have the expertise in that respect.

Senator FIELDING —What role do you play in the development of these guidelines?

Mr Tonna —Our role is chair of the working group that was commissioned by the EPHC to develop the guidelines.

Senator FIELDING —That is correct. So, why would you not, as the chair, make sure that once you have your final draft done, recheck with the public and other interested groups, to make sure these guidelines have had proper consultation, rather than just saying it is a bottom-up process?

Mr Tonna —I think that is a decision for the EPHC. When you talk about the ownership of the guidelines, they own the guidelines, so that would be a decision for them.

Senator FIELDING —Why are you involved if you are not going to own them?

Mr Tonna —We coordinate the work.

CHAIR —I think that you are now at a point where the department cannot answer, because they are doing work for another body. As I understand it, they are not the body that owns them, it is the council. I think you are not going to get any further in re-asking the same question.

Senator BOYCE —Just call COAG as a witness.

Mr Bailey —I agree with your comments, but I would emphasise that we want to be respectful of the role of the states in this matter. They are the approval authorities. Therefore, they have the expertise to make these decisions and to take on board the sorts of concerns that you are pointing to.

Senator FIELDING —The point I was trying to make is that they are a collection. As the national part of it, I would like to believe that those national guidelines, in themselves in totality, when they have been finalised, have gone through a rigorous public consultation process. I am trying to work out who should be doing that. You are playing a role and I thought that you had produced them, albeit relying on everybody else’s information. I would have thought that you folk would have done the public consultations when they were finalised.

Mr Bailey —I come back to the original report that gave rise to these guidelines. That was a very rigorous process. As Mr Tonna mentioned, it involved extensive public consultation and extensive use of experts, including on health effects, and it is a relatively recent piece of work.

CHAIR —Can you remind me of when that was?

Mr Bailey —That impediments report was released in November 2008.

Senator FIELDING —Following this inquiry, I am wondering whether a review could be done of those guidelines. I do not want to pre-empt anything.

CHAIR —Yes, you are. You are going to pre-empt what the committee may decide to put in its report. With all due respect, I think we have gone far enough. I do not think that you will get anything from the department on that. Is this a special process the council has done? When they do guidelines and things like that for other things, do they do the same process or is there something different between what has happened with this process and what has happened with any other process the council has done?

Mr Bailey —The process of consultation in the formation of guidelines is quite standard. Mr Tonna might have some more details.

Mr Tonna —I am not that familiar with the broader work of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council. As I am aware, this is the only aspect of that council’s work that has been taken on by this department. From my very loose understanding, it is consistent with the processes used by EPHC for its other work.

CHAIR —We may clarify what other processes have been undertaken to see whether this is different for some reason from other work that it has done. Would that help, Senator Fielding?

Senator FIELDING —Yes.

CHAIR —Are there any other final questions?

Senator FIELDING —It might help, but it might not allay my concerns.

CHAIR —Yes, I take that point. Thank you very much for your evidence. I think Senator Adams gave you some homework.

[9.53 am]