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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
31/03/2011
Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —Welcome. We are going to get started because I do not want to rob you of time to present to us. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been given to you. Is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear today?

Ms Bignell —I am the neighbour of a proposed wind farm and a health professional.

Mr Bilney —I am a neighbour to a proposed wind farm.

Ms Atkins —I am an owner to neighbouring people who want to have a wind farm.

CHAIR —So people are aware, if you want to give in camera evidence at any stage—it is confidential evidence where we clear out everybody but us and the witnesses—let us know. The opportunity is always open to any witness. We have your submissions before us. They are 95, 826 and 827, respectively. If any of you would like to make a brief opening statement, I warmly welcome you to do so. Then we will ask you some questions. Who would like to kick off?

Ms Bignell —I would like to thank you for inviting me to appear today. I qualified as a physiotherapist in 1979, worked in Western Australia and London and have worked in a private and public capacity. I am now married to a farmer and work as a farmer and physiotherapist in Kojonup. A 47- or 74-turbine wind farm has been proposed on neighbouring properties, with turbines possibly being as close as 800 metres from two inhabited dwellings on our farm. We have several areas of concern, as noted in our submission, the main ones being health. As a health professional, the adverse effects of wind farms have been well documented. They include but are not limited to sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, visual disturbances, tachycardia—rapid heart rate—irritability, problems with concentration and memory, and panic attacks. This similar cluster of symptoms has been reported in countries worldwide by some people living near wind farms, including in the United States, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Denmark, Holland and France.

An epidemiologist, Dr Carl Phillips, who is a professor of public health policy at the University of Texas Medical School, says:

There is ample scientific evidence to conclude that wind turbines cause serious health problems for some people living nearby.

The action of people choosing to leave their homes at considerable inconvenience and financial loss rather than enduring the adverse effects of the turbines provides an objective measurement in epidemiology of what would otherwise be subjective phenomena.

Inadequate sleep has been associated not just with fatigue, sleepiness and cognitive impairment but also with an increased risk of obesity, impaired glucose tolerance (risk of diabetes), high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, depression and impaired immunity as shown by susceptibility to the common cold virus. Sleepy people have an increased risk of road traffic accidents. Sleepiness, as a symptom, has as much impact on health as epilepsy and arthritis. It is not insignificant.

That is a quote from Dr Christopher Hanning, a medical specialist in the UK.

As a clinician I have over the years treated people with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and repetitive strain injury and have known people who suffered from postnatal depression. These syndromes have similar features, and there is considerable overlap. In many cases there is not one single medical diagnostic test to show what condition these people suffer from. In many cases it is simply a matter of excluding all other disease processes. According to Dr Charles Lapp at the Hunter-Hopkins Centre in Charlotte, North Carolina, most people who complained of symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome before it was officially defined in the late 1980s ‘were considered to be hypochondriacs or crazy, because there are so many symptoms and so many systems involved.’ Dr Lapp specialises in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. People with chronic fatigue syndrome are often high-functioning individuals. Then something happens and suddenly they are wiped out. There has also been considerable literature written on the effects of infrasound, and cortisol is now being proposed as a possible problem and link with these syndromes and symptoms of wind farms.

The second area of concern is the siting of the wind farms. I would like to read from a document, Wind farm siting issues in Australia, from the Australian government. It comes from the Australian Greenhouse Office, and a grant was given to wind energy Australia. On page 8 of the 26-page document it states:

Community Acceptance: An important criterion is landowner support and general acceptance by the local community. Having a majority of the community in support of a proposal is important in the planning stage of a wind farm to maximise local benefits through constructive negotiation.

This certainly did not happen with the wind farm application and proposal in our district. Twenty immediate neighbours of the proposed wind farm were opposed to the application. All of them signed a letter voicing their opposition. The letter was published in the newspaper of the three local shires. We only attended a meeting regarding wind farms in September 2010 because a concerned community resident rang us to let us know that it was on and suggested that we ought to go because it would have a big impact on us. Up until that point we had no real knowledge of anything happening and the effects of a wind farm. Our neighbours were like us. We did not really know anything about wind farms until we started to look into it ourselves, and we were quite disturbed by what we read. We got together and talked about it, and that is where we found that people were similarly opposed to the application as we were.

The community effect is one thing that really concerns us. Rural communities really rely on their neighbours. It is the glue that holds our communities together. There is dissent amongst neighbours. It has already been levelled at us that we are against progress because we are opposed to the wind farm in this situation. As someone who has a 26-year-old house based on passive solar principles, who recycles and who does whatever she can for the environment, I find that a bit offensive. There is a lot of secrecy surrounding the agreements, and that has been part of the concern. It has been very difficult to get information in the early stages because of the clauses in the confidentiality agreements people had to sign.

We cope with many things in rural communities, and it would be a shame if wind farms were to cause the division, strife and polarity that has been happening in communities around the world where wind farms have been sited. It is often argued that the adverse health effects of wind farms would disappear if enough money were thrown at those who complain. I, for one, know what symptoms wind turbine hosts might complain of given the opportunity if it were not for the confidentiality clauses.

I am not against wind farms per se. I think that in the right area—large holdings where there are few nearby neighbours who would be affected by them—they are possibly a good idea. I believe it is a fairly expensive form of electricity, but I do not know enough about that. But to site a wind farm in a small community where there will be possibly 30 inhabited buildings within two to five kilometres of the proposed wind farm seems to me bad practice if it could be sited elsewhere, where it would have less impact on people. The push for renewable energy should be a multipronged attack. While we are looking for other sources of renewable energy, I think we should also be considering how we can consume less as a society—not just going greener but also going leaner.

Mr Bilney —Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to address this committee. I would like to say at the outset that I am not opposed production from wind turbines at all but I am very much opposed to the externalisation of the social and economic cost of wind farms presently being borne by neighbours to these developments. My submission to this inquiry has detailed the reasons for our business rejecting the approach from Moonies Hill Energy to host turbines. Those reasons included unacceptable alteration to present and future land use, negative impact on land values and the risk of health problems for ourselves and our neighbours. These are the same reasons that four other neighbouring farmers rejected similar offers—farm businesses that range in size from a few hundred hectares to many thousands of hectares owned by a large corporate entity.

The lack of public awareness for this project convinced me to raise the issue of a wind farm in our community in our local paper, the Kojonup News. The article encouraged people to do their own research, form a view and make that view known to the shire council, which at that stage offered only 21 days for comment on the planning application before them. A shareholder of Moonies Hill Energy in a subsequent issue of the Kojonup News suggested that I was a nimby and that any health concerns should be dismissed. The shareholder offered the National Health and Medical Research Council document Wind Turbines and Health as proof of this.

The reliance on the National Health and Medical Research Council document as the cornerstone for the safe development of wind farms in rural Australia, along with the prompt from Moonies Hill Energy, led me to find and read that paper. The statement that to date there is no peer reviewed evidence to support claims of health impact from wind turbines simply and clearly illustrates that no research has been done to prove that they are safe.

I have also recently read the letter from the Waubra Foundation written by Peter Mitchell that was dated August 2010 and sent to the council, which clearly asked that this research be done. The onus of proof must lie with those promoting these industrial complexes, be they government or developers. It should not lie with individuals or doctors treating them to prove that this harm is being done.

I originally farmed 1,200 hectares with my father and brother, but the farm area grew to over 5,000 hectares by 2001, when my brother and I split the business and my father retired. We have, in the last decade, grown the operation from our half share to its present area of 5,100 hectares through hard work, honesty, a willingness to explore new business opportunities and a clear understanding of risk. It is the issue of risk management that I will use to conclude this presentation with regard to the proposed wind farm in our district. The knowledge of the risks our business faces and the management of those risks has been of paramount importance to the successful and steady growth of our farming operation. We have well developed strategies for volatile commodity prices, currency movements, interest rates and seasonal variations but the two greatest and hardest risks to manage that we face are the health of our family members and the asset value of the farmland that our borrowings are secured against. It is the strong belief of our family that the present planning guidelines for the placement of wind turbines in WA, if applied to the Flat Rocks wind farm will expose our business to both health issues and the loss of asset value.

The book written by Anh Do titled The Happiest Refugee is a true story of a remarkable journey of a Vietnamese family arriving in Australia as refugees. Anh often talks about decision-making at crucial moments, where his father once told him, ‘There are two times in life: there is now and there is too late.’ I believe that this Senate inquiry is at one of those pivotal moments and hence urge you to act now before it is too late for the neighbours of the many proposed wind farms around Australia. There is an immediate need for research to be done into why and how people living near turbines are becoming unwell, and until such detail is known the precautionary approach of siting turbines no closer than 10 kilometres from dwellings should be implemented. Australia has both the time and the space for this moratorium.

CHAIR —Mrs Atkins.

Mrs Atkins —Thank you for inviting me here today to give evidence to this committee. First I will summarise my views on wind farms. Wind farms should be in wide open landscapes with no homes anywhere nearby. Good locations would be on government owned land or national parks. In such a location they would not interfere with any resident’s lifestyles or their health. They could be an interesting tourist attraction. The government could receive an income from them and be seen to be doing something for climate change.

I am here today because I have put a submission in to the Kojonup Shire objecting to my neighbour’s application for a 74-turbine wind farm. The word ‘farm’ has developed a whole new meaning—a wind farm. Our family has had a 3,200 acre farm in Kojonup since the early 1920s. It is a sheep farm, producing wool and cross-bred lambs in an area zoned rural. Now we might have different farm neighbours, wind farmers, with income from wind turbines. Their plant would be 74 wind turbines, and 34 of those wind turbines will be very close to half of our 20 properties. In fact, part of that half would be no more than two kilometres from a wind turbine. They would be constantly in our view, moving around and around. There would be a very different view to the beautiful landscape with the Stirling Ranges in the distance that we have enjoyed for nearly 90 years.

I worry to think how we would get on with wind farmers as neighbours. My accountant from Bird Cameron has informed me a wind farm as a neighbour would devalue our land. Who would choose to live so close to wind turbines? I have observed one wind turbine at Rottnest from six kilometres, where it is visibly going around and around and I observed it from as close as I could get to it. Downwind there was a hissing noise that kept hissing. The annoying thing is that a wind turbine does not stop. To have to live with 34, which would be close to our properties, will reduce dramatically the enjoyment of our beautiful properties. The turbines will be there always going around and around.

I worry to think how we would get on with wind farmers. There are issues which are discussed in newspapers and on websites which concern us. If it were not for the quality and fertility of our farmland and our long association with it—my great-great-grandfather took up the first lease of  Yarranup Pool, our land, in the 1860s so he knew it was going to be good land—I guess we could even consider selling up if the wind farm went ahead, because we do not want to become wind farmers. Thank you very much for hearing my views.

Senator ADAMS —To start with perhaps I should explain that I have lived in Kojonup until two years ago 10 kilometres from the proposed site, so all the people from Kojonup who have appeared here are very close acquaintances of course. I am trying to remain neutral and just talk about what the committee has done, where we have been and the questions I am asking are for the record so that we have the evidence that we need. These questions are not particular to Kojonup. I have been asking them for the last four days. Consequently, I can hardly talk now. Mrs Bignell, could you tell us how long you have farmed in Kojunup and when you became aware of the Flat Rocks wind farm proposal.

Ms Bignell —We have been farming for 26 years on 13 April. We first became aware sometime in September 2010 when there was a proposed meeting in the Kojunup Shire. We received a leaflet in the mail which advised of a public meeting about wind farms I did not take much notice. I recycled as I do—I did not throw it in the bin. Then a concerned resident in the community rang us and said, ‘Have you received a notice about the public meeting on wind farms?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and they said ‘Are you going?’ and I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘I think it would be in your best interests to attend the meeting.’ I asked why and they said, ‘I just think that you should attend the meeting.’ Before the meeting, I cannot remember whether it was a couple of nights before, Sarah Rankin rang and said that there was a meeting, were we thinking of attending because it would probably be a good idea to attend. Up until then I really was not aware of anything to do with wind farms.

Mr Bilney —I might add that I was the person who rang Helen and she was kind enough to not say that. I was actually bound by a confidentiality agreement at that stage and I did not know the limits of it. I think, if I had taken it to a solicitor, I would have found that I could well have talked to her. My reaction when being asked to sign that originally was that I did it to progress the consultation we were having with Moonies Hill and then felt obligated not to tell anyone about anything. That included feeling not able to openly ring my neighbours to say, ‘Do you know about this, it’s going to be very close to your house?’ Helen was kind enough not to mention my name but I was the source of that information.

Our family has been on that farm since the 1890s, the sixth generation is about to be born. I first learnt of a wind farm I suspect it was back in 2008 when a fax came through to say there was a meeting at Ben and Sarah’s place and, if we were interested, we should come along. I had no interest, did not go and did not expect to hear any more of it. I noticed that the mast went up and was comfortable thinking that they could do as they wished, that was their business and it was not going to involve me so I did not have to be bothered by it.

In May 2010 I was contacted again by Moonies Hill to tell me that they had a plan where a number of turbines were to be sited on some of our properties and was I interested? I was a bit taken aback to think that they had developed a process to plan having turbines on our property without even asking us in the first instance if we were interested, given that we did not attend the meeting. However, we did have a chap staying with us from New Zealand and he said he was about to have them installed on his property and that they were a good thing. With that in mind I proceeded to open negotiations with them and signed that confidentiality agreement on that basis.

At the end of that meeting I said to them that my inclination was that we would not be involved. I talked to them about the things that we would want if we were going to be involved and basically that is where the meeting ended. Subsequent to that they asked me again and I said, ‘No, the family has made a decision that they will not be involved.’ Further to that another offer was made of an increased amount and we rejected that as well.

Senator ADAMS —Mrs Atkins?

Mrs Atkins —What would you like to know from me?

Senator ADAMS —Mrs Atkins, firstly, for the record, how long have you been farming at Yarranup? When did you first become aware of the Flat Rocks wind farm?

Mrs Atkins —My great-great-grandfather took up the lease of Yarranup in the very first instance in the 1860s. He then gave it up and took up leases elsewhere. Then my father was bought the land in 1920 and he farmed on it until he died in 1982. I grew up on Yarranup and I still own one-third of it and the family company owns the other two-thirds. We just thought it was a wonderful place to have a property. The land is good and fertile and we would like to continue sheep farming there.

Ms Bignell —I have been on the farm for 26 years, but my husband and his parents have been on the farm just gone 50 years.

Mrs Atkins —As to when I heard about the wind farm, on the weekend of 28 and 29 November, there were some interesting articles in the Australian about wind farms. I said to my family, ‘Have you read these articles? You wouldn’t want a wind farm next door to you, would you?’ On the following Monday, I got a letter from the Kojonup Shire with a copy of the submission that the wind farm people had put to the Kojonup Shire. I was absolutely devastated. I rang my farm manager, Paul Durack, who has been with us for a very long time, and his father was with us even longer, so Paul grew up on our property. I said, ‘I hear there’s a wind farm down here. What’s it all about?’ Paul said, ‘I did ask them if there was anything in it for Yarranup and they said no.’ Paul has been a very good farm manager. If the neighbours had said, ‘We’ve got lice,’ or, ‘We’ve got footrot,’ or, ‘The sheep have got into your paddock,’ Paul would have told me. But he perhaps did not know that there were going to be 74 wind turbines in the whole scenario, so he had not told me. That was the first I knew about the wind farm, my neighbours being wind farmers, not sheep or crop farmers.

CHAIR —Mr Bilney, when you signed the confidentiality agreement, what did you understand you were signing and what did you understand you could talk about?

Mr Bilney —It was put to me that I needed to sign it to further the discussions. Basically, I had a phone conversation, they asked me if I was interested and I said, ‘Yes, we’re always interested in business propositions.’ They said, ‘To further the discussions we need you to sign a confidentiality agreement,’ which I subsequently did. I might add that I would not ever do it again, but we did it at that point. I believed from that that I was not able to disclose anything that could have been harmful or confidential to that business. That is why I felt unable to openly ring Helen and say, ‘A group of turbines are likely to be within 800 metres of your boundary,’ because I could not deem whether that was a sensitive piece of information. So I basically sat on my hands until that sort of information was put out into the public. Then I felt able to talk about it.

Senator FIELDING —What did you get in return for that confidentiality agreement?

Mr Bilney —The opportunity to further the negotiations. They would not discuss the project with me until I signed that agreement, because it included what they were offering in terms of turbines.

CHAIR —In terms of leasing the turbines and a commercial return to you?

Mr Bilney —Yes, that is right. I might add, in the process of forming my paper, I have been to Verve Energy. I wanted to understand how electricity was traded and the process. I talked to them about confidentiality agreements and they said in fact they had them. But at the other end of the equation they had them simply to protect the leaseholder payments; it was not to stifle discussion. The stifling of discussion may not have been the intention but it was perhaps an unintended consequence.

CHAIR —Is that how you understood it?

Mr Bilney —That is certainly how I interpreted it. I said and did nothing to anyone. The interesting point is that all the other people who either decided to be involved or not to be involved did so in an isolated way. That is why we have got four people who have said ‘no’ and two people who have said ‘yes’. They all had to make that decision in isolation. They could not all get together and say, as neighbours, ‘What do you all think?’ I believe, if we had the opportunity to do that we may well have a different outcome.

CHAIR —There has been a lot of discussion over the last four days about confidentiality. I am trying to enable the committee to have a clear understanding of what is said in the confidentiality agreements, what is implied and what people interpret them to mean et cetera because they are a major bone of contention.

Mr Bilney —That is right.

Senator BOYCE —Did the contract include specifically any prohibition on adverse comment by you or a more general non-disparagement clause?

Mr Bilney —It was a more general document. My recollection is that it was a more general document. When we decided we were not going to be involved, in a naive way I kept my office clean and said, ‘I do not need this any more.’ I now reflect on that and I do not know when that confidentiality agreement actually ceases to operate. In some ways I may still be bound by it even though I am on this side of the table and they are on the other side.

CHAIR —You have got rid of the original?

Mr Bilney —I do not have the original one. All I can speak to is the effect of it. The effect was that it to stifled discussions. My recollection is that it was non-specific. There may well be further confidentiality agreements that have developed since that original one that may take care of people who do actually sign with them. I believe the one I signed was of a very general nature.

Senator MOORE —There was no discussion between you and the person who offered the agreement about what it meant?

Mr Bilney —There was no discussion other than to say that I was not to divulge confidential information.

Senator MOORE —And there was no further discussion about what that meant?

Mr Bilney —No.

Senator MOORE —There have been lots of claims made about what these confidentiality agreements are. I think it is important to work through it.

Mr Bilney —No.

Senator MOORE —You have been involved in business a long time?

Mr Bilney —Yes.

Senator MOORE —So confidentiality agreements around commercial-in-confidence stuff is common?

Mr Bilney —No. I have not signed one before.

Senator MOORE —Have you been asked to sign one before?

Mr Bilney —No.

Senator MOORE —Have you been involved in one of these processes before?

Mr Bilney —No. The really important point here for me is that these were, and still are, friends of mine—neighbours, and we have been neighbours for a very long time. If it was a Pacific Hydro or someone like that who came to me and said, ‘Here, we want you to sign this,’ I would have been far more suspicious and perhaps a little less naive in simply signing it and saying, ‘Yep, that is okay. What do you want to talk about?’

Senator MOORE —So the people from the company were friends and neighbours?

Mr Bilney —As I understand it, the four directors of Moonies Hill Energy are our immediate neighbours, yes.

Senator MOORE —I certainly did not know that from the previous discussions.

Mr Bilney —As I understand it, this is not a proposition being put by a multinational or a large wind company. This is a proposition being put by our immediate neighbours. That is why I am very careful to say that I suspect the intent of their document was to keep confidential the amount of money.

Senator MOORE A —That would be my expectation.

Mr Bilney —The consequence of it was that I felt unable to talk to anyone. I know for a fact that the other people who ultimately have said no that have come to me have said the same thing. They have said things like, ‘Look, I know we should not be talking but what are you going to do?’

Senator BOYCE —Earlier, you mentioned Ben and Sarah. Are they two of the directors? Who are Ben and Sarah?

Mr Bilney —They are behind us now.

Senator BOYCE —Who are Ben and Sarah?

Mr Bilney —Ben and Sarah Wilson are shareholders of Moonies Hill Energy.

Senator MOORE —This could have been a great deal of misunderstanding?

Mr Bilney —In terms of?

Senator MOORE —In terms of what was confidential and what was not.

Mr Bilney —I took the view that anything that was not in the public domain was confidential.

Senator MOORE —But that was not actually clarified.

Mr Bilney —No.

Senator MOORE —We are talking about documents which have allegedly had been given—are you sure that the same documents were given to the other people, identical ones?

Mr Bilney —No, I am not.

Senator MOORE —We have a statement that the documents were given and then people interpreted what they meant and that was not clear. The point is that there was no clarity between those involved in this contract about exactly what was confidential.

Mr Bilney —That is correct, yes. I took it to mean anything that was not in the public domain.

CHAIR —We need to move on. This has been replicated in all the hearings we have had, so I wanted to make sure we had a good understanding of it.

Mr Bilney —It has been the most decisive part of this process. That is all I need to say.

Senator FIELDING —Did they suggest you saw a lawyer or a solicitor before you signed the agreement?

Mr Bilney —No.

Senator ADAMS —Moving on from the confidentiality agreement, as we have moved around, community consultation has been the biggest bone of contention in all the areas we have visited. In Ballarat we had in excess of probably 200 people at a community forum and community consultation was their biggest issue. With a number of the developers it is the same thing—they have their ideas of community consultation but unfortunately, coming from a rural area, it is not our idea of community consultation and they just do not understand that. I would like to know what community consultation has been available to the whole of the catchment.

Ms Bignell —Roger mentioned a meeting he went to at the Wilsons’ in 2006.

Mr Bilney —No, I did not go.

Ms Bignell —Sorry—there was a meeting. We knew nothing about that meeting.

Senator MOORE —Did you say in 2006?

Mr Bilney —I think it was in 2008.

Senator MOORE —That is why I asked—I thought it was in 2008.

Ms Bignell —I apologise—it was in 2008 and we nothing about that. Given that, if the proposed development goes ahead, we are going to be right next door to it, that was a bit of a concern. I have spoken with two neighbours who were quite upset that they knew nothing about the process. We attended the meeting in September, which Roger kindly rang to let us know about and which we otherwise probably would not have attended—and not knowing anything about wind farms, like most people, we thought, ‘What is a couple of turbines?’—but two other neighbours close to us, whose name I will not mention, were most upset that they did not even know about the meeting in Kojonup. One thought they had not even received a leaflet when I said we had received a leaflet. They were pretty sure that they had not received a leaflet and they were most annoyed that they were not even in on the process.

Senator BOYCE —The 2008 meeting, in your understanding Mr Bilney, was with the people who are going to be invited to potentially have turbines on their land. Is that correct?

Mr Bilney —My recollection is that a fax said that there was a meeting with regard to a proposed wind farm, to investigate the possibility of a wind farm. It came from Sarah. I looked at it and said, ‘I’m not interested so I’m not going.’ The fax certainly did not canvass people to host turbines, no. In fact, it led me to believe that it was a project they were going to put on their own property.

Senator ADAMS —Mrs Atkins, have you been involved in any community consultation?

Mrs Atkins —I have said that I read the article in the Australian on 29 November and on Monday I got a copy from the Kojonup shire of their application. So I was concerned and I have spoken to my farm manager about that. He said he had been told that there was going to be nothing in it for Yarranup—that is our farm—so he did not further the conversation in that regard. I did ring the Kojonup newsletter people at that time, at the beginning of December, and asked them whether they knew anything about the wind farm. I get the Kojonup News regularly and I had not see anything about the wind farm in it. I thought, ‘If there is a wind farm going to be developed in Kojonup to the extent of 74 turbines, it would surely be something the Kojonup News would be covering. It would be very newsworthy.’ The people at the Kojonup News said they did not know anything about it.

Mr Bilney —That is why I wrote the letter to point out that the turbines were going to be there, how high they were going to be and what that impact had been on the Eastern states. I also pointed out that this group of people had received royalties for regions money to fund this operation which I found disappointing that public moneys would be used in that way. I wrote to the Great Southern Development Corporation asking them what the community benefit was that as associated with that, and their reply was that it was for the electricity that was put into the grid. So there is an enormous lack of awareness right through all the communities, and Kojonup was no different. That is why I put in the newsletter.

The other thing you will notice in the Moonies Hill submission is that they claim to have consulted, to have wide neighbour and community support and been in touch with everybody within a 10-kilometre radius. That is simply not true. Elizabeth is a classic example: she did not know about it until she received the planning submission from the shire asking for her comment. Their sense of community consultation is way different to what I think is adequate.

CHAIR —Ms Atkins, can I just clarify: did you get the leaflet that Mrs Bignell got—or did the farm manager? When you say your farm manager had initially contacted Moonies Hill—I think that is my understanding, and there was nothing in it for your farm—was that in response to the leaflet about the community consultation?

Ms Atkins —I think that was just a conversation over a cup of tea and wondering whether they might be able to do our harvesting or whether the fence was done or what have you.

CHAIR —To your knowledge, you did not get a leaflet about the public meeting?

Ms Atkins —No.

CHAIR —And your farm manager did not either.

Ms Atkins —I think my farm manager might have but he did not go. I do not think being a farm manager that it was his business. He did not go to a meeting. I think he had a family health problem.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator FIELDING —I will probably cover some of the adverse health impacts that I think, Mrs Bignell, you have got in your report. Do you know why your area has been selected for a wind farm?

Ms Atkins —I would like to say something about that. My farm manager’s wife said that the neighbours were having trouble paying the school fees. It was a very windy day. They were having trouble pegging the clothes on the line and they thought that perhaps a wind farm might be able to put their children through boarding school. That is the sort of conversation I had with my farm manager; just chit chat.

Senator FIELDING —I am sure there is someone in Fremantle, someone in Melbourne and someone in Adelaide Terrace with the same views. I am trying to work out how country communities are selected. Is it because they are on a transmission line, a high-voltage access line very close by?

Mr Bilney —In this instance, our property is at the top of the water catchment. One of our properties is over 400 metres above sea level. It is very high, and when you get there it is the windiest place on earth. There is a wind resource there and it is a logical place for one to be.

Senator FIELDING —I am not sure I know why but I am wondering whether some planning authority could say: These are the most likely places for them to be. You know in advance where a freeway is going to be, and people know when they buy property whether it can be compulsorily acquired and all those sorts of things. They may not want to stay there. It is a thought provoker for some other time because I want to focus on health. I am saying it would be nice to know in Australia, no matter where you live, what the possibility of a wind farm coming near you is because quite a few people are now worried about one coming near them next.

Mr Bilney —The key requirements are a transmission line and an asset. If there is no transmission line, there may well be an asset.

Senator FIELDING —This is not whether you are for or against wind farms. It think communities would like to know. There are probably a lot of people out there who have signed confidentially agreements and their neighbours know nothing about a wind farm coming. All the other people in the area just do not know. So the question for all of us is: is that the best way forward from here or should we come clean with the broader community about where wind farms are most likely to be in Australia so people can start to get used to them earlier if they are going to come?

Mr Bilney —Whilst the subsidies are in place, they will end up in places they ought not to be.

Senator FIELDING —Is not for you to answer that question. It is one that I have generally put out there about where the wind farms are most likely to be.

Ms Bignell —Interestingly, in Denmark they are tending to go more offshore because they have had problems onshore. Denmark is one of the leading exponents—

Senator FIELDING —We have had different views on that issue. We just do not know where that one is coming from. If someone is travelling somewhere, maybe we can find out.

Senator ADAMS —I am going next week.

Senator FIELDING —You raised that a couple of law suits are pending in Ontario and in the United States. Residents living close to wind farms are claiming adverse effects. Do you know more about that? I think the committee may need to find out a bit more about those lawsuits.

Ms Bignell —Unfortunately, I have not—

CHAIR —The Ontario one, as far as I understand, as of last week had been rejected. That is as much as I know.

Ms Bignell —I am in contact with Dr Sarah Laurie, whom you probably know, from the Waubra region.

Senator BOYCE —She has given evidence.

Ms Bignell —She was just a GP and now she is looking further into people claiming adverse effects. Last year there were enough medical professionals concerned about it that they held the first international symposium on the adverse effects of wind turbines in October 2010.

Senator FIELDING —You say that in Ireland a criminal suit was brought against a wind farm owner for noise violations. Is that something you know more about?

Ms Bignell —No, it was just a reference point. I found some of the points—

Senator FIELDING —Again, maybe as a committee we can look at that a bit further.

Senator BOYCE —We had not heard before about the international symposium on wind turbine syndrome. Can you tell us what you know about it, please?

Ms Bignell —Only what I have got off the internet. Dr Michael Nissenbaum and Dr Christopher Hanning—

Senator BOYCE —Where was it held?

Ms Bignell —In Canada or the USA. Michael Nissenbaum was one of the main ones. And there was Dr Salt. They spent a few days discussing the adverse effects. A lot of people around the world are claiming similar symptoms. As I pointed out, it was the same with fibromyalgia. Chronic fatigue syndrome used to be called the yuppie flu in the 1980s until there was a body of evidence. Enough people got it so the medical profession decided to look at it and give it a name. In this case, Dr Nina Pierpont has done some work.

Senator BOYCE —She has also given evidence.

Ms Bignell —Yes. She has coined the phrase ‘wind turbine syndrome’. I have read through the symptoms. In the 1980s when I was a clinician and just starting out I treated people with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and repetitive strain injury. They were sent by doctors with quite disparaging notes such as, ‘This person may have pain,’ or, ‘This person complains of pain.’ These people came to us and their pain was real. They were suffering. When people denied there was anything wrong, it added to their problems. Some of them suffered depression as a result of some of these things. They were often people who had good jobs. They were not people who did not want to work. They had to take medication and take time off work. Over 20 years the medical profession has decided that some of the symptoms actually do form a cluster and then they put a name to it. There are clinics now just for chronic fatigue and physiotherapists in Perth who treat just fibromyalgia, yet for years people with these conditions were regarded as perhaps having an overactive imagination.

Senator FIELDING —Also in your submission you quote Dr Christopher Hanning as saying that:

… there is now a large body of evidence proving beyond any reasonable doubt that sleep is disturbed and health impaired by wind turbines at distances up to 2km …

Do you know more about that at all?

Ms Bignell —He is a clinician in the United Kingdom. I am not sure if you have found it, but he runs a sleep disorder clinic and has run it for 30 years. He has got quite a body of evidence, apparently, and somewhere I have one of his submissions that runs to several pages about the ill effects of sleep disturbance. I can probably find that for you in my file of evidence and give you a copy.

Senator FIELDING —Yes, if you could forward that to the committee that would be great, thank you.

CHAIR —Before I go back to Senator Adams, we have got five minutes. Does anybody else have burning questions or will we follow up anything that we need to following on from Senator Adams?

Senator MOORE —My question is to all the witnesses and certainly most clearly to you, Ms Bignell, because you have been running the health argument. There have been a number of statements made by different places about the fact that no scientifically proven empirical evidence has been put forward about the health impacts. Mr Bilney, you have said that you think there should be some research done, and lots of people are saying that. What kind of evidence would meet the concerns of people who are claiming that they have been made unwell? If you have, at this moment, a lot of anecdotal things from around the world saying that people are having a syndrome, we have not got anything that has been put in the scientific sphere that has been recognised as proving that. What kind of evidence is required to actually prove it one way or another?

Ms Bignell —Two things. I personally think cortisol, which I will not go into—

Senator MOORE —I have no idea what cortisol is.

Ms Bignell —Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted and it gives you the fight-or-flight response. So when you have a fright, your heart rate increases, your breathing increases and those sorts of things. Personally, if I were younger, I would do the research into that, because I think the secretion of cortisol is the problem. In America, a doctor is starting to look at that, because I mentioned this with Dr Sarah Laurie. He has done only one or two people. He has actually measured their cortisol levels when they were close to turbines when they were turning, and then measured them when they have either been on holiday or not turning and there is quite a discrepancy, but it is only one person or two people, so it is not really a big thing.

As to infrasound: there is beginning to be some evidence about the effect of infrasound. People talk about the sound of the turbines. I tend to think—and I am not an expert, but it is my feeling—that perhaps it is more the vibration than the noise. You can measure noise but you cannot measure vibration, If you have ever sat on a tractor seat or a ride and you have gotten vibrations, if you suffer from motion sickness it is actually the vibration not the noise that causes the problem. There is some research being done on the effects of infrasound on the inner ear—not the cochlea but the otolithic organs that actually affect balance and nausea, vertigo and tinnitus. So that could explain some of those symptoms. Raised cortisol levels could explain the rapid heart rate, and I believe Dr Sarah Laurie has said that some people in Waubra have increased blood pressure. So I suspect cortisol may play a role in that.

For me, it is cortisol and infrasound. But, as I said, with RSI, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue there is not a single test that you can do. You can have MRIs and everything. They are now defined medical syndromes accepted by the medical fraternity but there is not one test that you can do to prove it. It is actually, as I said, a process of exclusion. You exclude all other disease processes which might cause that and then you say, ‘Okay, you have possibly got fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue.’

Senator MOORE —You are using that as an example rather than a link to turbines?

Ms Bignell —Yes, that is right.

Senator MOORE —Mr Bilney, any idea of research that is in your claim that you want researched?

Mr Bilney —I have mentioned the research. I think your question was more along the lines of: what would convince me?

Senator MOORE —Yes.

Mr Bilney —What would convince me is if the research was done by totally independent people. And when a national health document like the one we have read about takes a deal of their information from wind energy associations, they are not independent.

Senator MOORE —So taking evidence in itself is not independent?

Mr Bilney —They have used the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association, and both those documents have been reported on as being conflicted. So I would require the research to be done, and it needs to be done on a basis of proving that they are not harmful rather than the other way around. At the moment there is no evidence to say that they are harmful, and that is why they have all been brought in close and people are now trying to push them out. I think that in the near future we should position the turbines at a considerable distance and when the evidence proves that they can come closer then we can bring them in. The research needs to be completely independent.

Senator MOORE —Mrs Atkins, to complete the argument, do you have any views about what is needed to assuage the health concerns?

Mrs Atkins —I have not got a medical background so I would have to rely on other people there. But for me, those windmills just going round and round would be enough to perhaps upset me mentally. They just go round day in and day out, and if you had 34 of them around your immediate property I think that you would get very upset. You cannot turn them off.

Senator MOORE —From your perspective, Mrs Atkins, the psychological aspects are as important as the physical health aspects.

Mrs Atkins —For me it would be the psychological aspects.

Ms Bignell —I do not believe there is any peer reviewed research to show that they definitely do not cause health problems. Everyone is saying there is no peer reviewed research to show that they do cause problems, but I have not seen any peer reviewed research to show that they definitely do not cause health problems. People have said that there are no adverse affects at the base of a turbine, but I believe that it is exponential—so it is further away from a turbine that you can hear the sound and feel it. A lot of these people have lived there. In my submission I talked about the vibroacoustic condition which they have done a lot of research on in Portugal. It is a dose dependent rate of low frequency sound. The longer you are exposed to it the more the symptoms show. Perhaps, if people really want to do the research, they need to go and live there for four to six weeks, or something—which it is probably not possible to do—to see what the effects are. It is very easy to go somewhere for half an hour and say that there is no problem, it is not loud and it is not this and it is not that. But to live there day in and day out would probably give you a much better idea of what is happening.

Senator ADAMS —As we have gone around the country we have found that each state, of course, is responsible for planning. At the moment the Commonwealth is preparing some national guidelines on wind farms. With regard to state planning, we were in Victoria yesterday and the day before and that state was doing the planning but they have now handed it back to local government. Local governments have met at Ballarat; I think we had five giving evidence there that they do not have the expertise to do the planning. It seems to be very difficult to determine how that planning will go. At the moment you have got local governments, state governments and now federal government involved, but federal government can only do national guidelines. The federal government cannot make sure that those guidelines are adopted because of the Constitution. Have you got any comments on how the planning has gone for this particular project?

Mr Bilney —My thoughts are that the shires are not well equipped to handle this decision making. Furthermore, they are even more poorly equipped to manage guideline breaches and to know how to measure those breaches. In my submission I noted that the Kojonup shire needed to make sure that they had the skills, the power and the capacity to enforce the guidelines that they might put in place. I think that initially they have got a real vacuum in knowledge in terms of planning. Moreover, there are even bigger problems for them to manage the guidelines about noise and setbacks.

Ms Bignell —I have spoken with a couple of councillors on one of the particular shires, and they said they were all at sea. They said, ‘We get all this information and we are supposed to make a decision, and we really don’t have the expertise.’ Roger has mentioned the precautionary principle. Wind farms last for at least 20 years. Once they are up, they are up. I said: ‘Preferably, invoke the precautionary principle’—as Roger said—’and site them further away so that, if adverse health effects or any other effects are found, then you have covered yourself. If you have put them up 500 metres from a dwelling and it is found in the future—in five years or 10 years—that it adversely affects the health of people living close, what do you then do? Do you say to those people, “I’m sorry; you’ve lived here for 50 years but you’ve got to move or you’ve got to put up with the problem”?’ A lot of shire councillors to whom I have spoken have said they simply do not have the expertise. They are getting information from people for wind farms and against them. They are thinking about economical issues and about the shire but they do not want to adversely affect people’s health. They are all at sea really.

Senator ADAMS —When is the decision on this one going to be made?

Mr Bilney —I spoke to some staff at Tambellup recently, and they said that the decision certainly would be made in April. They were still waiting for more information. They are thinking it is most likely to be done in May.

CHAIR —We are on a very tight time line. I think some of you took some extra homework to send us in further details. Ms Bignell, you were going to send us some further information.

Mr Bilney —I do not think you had given me any at this stage, but I am happy to do it if you can think of some questions. I would be more than happy to answer them.

CHAIR —If there is any further information that you want to send in, you are very welcome to do so. Thank you.

Mr Bilney —I have a copy of what I said today and of the letter that Peter Mitchell sent to the national health council. Can I leave a copy of this for everyone?

CHAIR —You certainly can. Thank you very much. We very much appreciate your coming up from Kojonup. Have a safe trip back.

Mr Bilney —Thank you.

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