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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3444

Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (19:29): I rise to speak to this important motion by the member for Pearce on the need for further studies in the development of international best practice policies for wind turbine planning. Wind energy is a booming industry in rural and regional Australia, generating a substantial part of our nation's renewable energy needs. Australia, the United States, Canada and Europe have invested heavily in the wind industry, with billions of dollars of taxpayer grants and subsidies being poured into wind energy every year across the globe.

While it is important that we explore and pursue cleaner energy solutions, little research has been conducted into the detrimental health and social effects of wind turbines on nearby populations. People living near wind turbines report a range of symptoms: chronic sleep deprivation, headaches, nausea, increased stress and what Dr Nina Pierpont MB has coined 'wind turbine syndrome'. Wind turbine syndrome is a recently diagnosed illness mainly because wind turbines are a relatively new technology. This syndrome is believed to be caused by ultra-layer frequency noises known as 'infrasound' generated by turbines moving through the air. Many within the wind industry construe wind turbine syndrome as a fabricated illness; however, people living near wind turbines all over the world are reporting a uniform set of symptoms.

As the body of evidence supporting the detrimental health effects of wind turbines is still largely anecdotal, the government must as a matter of urgency commence full in-depth studies into the potential health effects of wind turbines, especially low-frequency infrasound. Additionally, the government must fully investigate international best practice in planning policies regarding wind farms, and publish comprehensive updated guidelines. As a nation we are investing billions of dollars in wind energy, which is expected to continue over the coming decades. It is incredibly important that our planning policies ensure that new developments do not adversely impact on the health of our communities. Many of these health concerns have not been investigated. Nor have there been any in-depth studies into the potential health effects of wind turbines, especially low-frequency infrasound. It is poor policy to allow wind farms to be constructed without proper planning guidelines to protect our rural and regional populations.

The Senate Community Affairs References Committee report The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms has called for adequately resourced studies into the possible impact wind farms have on health as a matter of priority. The government has failed to implement any of these recommendations. They have abandoned rural Australia once again. Instead, the National Health and Medical Research Council conducted a rapid review into wind turbines and health. It was only a cursory appraisal of the literature on the topic instead of an in-depth study. There had been no in-depth studies—typical of the government. In fact, the head of the Australian Research Council, Professor Warwick Anderson stated during a Senate hearing that there is simply not enough evidence about the health impacts of wind farms upon communities.

How then can this government be satisfied that this study can be principally relied upon to inform planning guidelines and decisions? This government must commit to funding research to resolve the many unanswered questions surrounding wind farms and health, including the dangers of establishing wind farms in close proximity to residential and future residential communities. Rather than arrogantly pursuing the Green agenda at the expense of hard-working Australian families, the Prime Minister and her government should be listening to the real concerns of people who are being affected by nearby wind farms. The health and well-being of these communities must be given consideration. That is why this motion calls on the government to fully investigate international best practice in planning policy regarding wind farms. These policies should be developed in conjunction with state and territory governments and used to publish comprehensive up-to-date guidelines that take into account much of the new information arising from international experience of wind farms.

This motion also calls on state, territory and local government authorities to adopt cautious planning policies on wind farms, implementing an adequate buffer zone between wind farms and towns and rezoning residential areas, farm buildings and workplaces. As with any large infrastructure project, we must ensure that all levels of government are working for the same standards and guidelines to preserve the health and wellbeing of our current and future communities.

Lastly, this motion calls for planning of approval processes to require wind farm developers to indemnify themselves against any potential health issues arising from infrastructure before development approval is granted. This section of the motion is important as it ensures that when any detrimental health effects are established the developer, not the state or the Commonwealth, would meet the cost of treatment of subsequent healthcare needs.

What a great motion. There is no doubt that renewable energy and green energy has a good future in Australia. However, this does not mean that we throw caution to the wind when developing planning guidelines for the future. It is important that we get the right balance between our renewable energy needs and the wellbeing of our communities, which the coalition has concerns about. More research needs to be undertaken to understand if our communities close to wind farms are suffering, and to ensure that their health is not put at risk. This motion calls for a balanced approach to developing good planning guidelines in order to ensure a positive future for our green energy sector and our rural communities. I urge all members to support the motion from the member for Pearce. It is a well thought out, great motion.