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Community Affairs References Committee
Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —I would like to welcome Dr Sarah Laurie and Mr Andrew Cox to today’s public hearing. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been given to you. If not, there is a brush-up copy available. Do you have any comment to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Cox —I am a solicitor with Pointon Partners, and I am here today to support Dr Laurie. I am the chairman of the advisory committee to the Waubra Foundation.

CHAIR —We have your submission; it is numbered 390. I would like to invite you to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Dr Laurie —I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to present to you in person. I began this quest for knowledge when I was made aware of the proposed wind development near my home, almost a year ago, and was asked by my neighbour to comment on a study by Dr Amanda Harry, a Cornish rural GP. It was only after reading this study that I really became concerned and decided to look into the matter further and find out what patient research had been done. Prior to this, I had been reassured by the official pronouncements from government health bodies that there was no evidence of health problems.

Like Dr David Iser, the Australian GP from Toora in Victoria who investigated this a number of years ago, I did not want to find a problem. Locally, it has made things awkward for me with longstanding friends, former patients and farming neighbours who have been through some very difficult years. It has also made things very awkward with longstanding friends who are Greens, or who are passionate environmental advocates.

Dr Iser and I have both compared notes on our reluctance to accept that a technology in which we had invested so much hope for the future of the planet could possibly be making people sick. But it is. We urgently need to find out why, in order to site turbines safely so that they will not seriously harm human health.

As I have listed in my submission, there are numerous doctors now, both in Australia and overseas, who have either conducted small studies on their patient populations or conducted larger studies on patients who have developed the same health problems since the wind developments had started operating near to their homes. We are all very concerned that these serious and mounting health problems are being ignored by our respective governments and health research institutions previously held in high esteem.

I realised very early on that any research I did would be immediately seen by others to be tainted, and besides, some of that work had been done and had been ignored. Hence, my acceptance of the position of medical director of the Waubra Foundation and the objectives of the foundation, particularly to collect field observations and use those to ascertain what research is needed, and then to ensure that the best independent researchers in the particular scientific fields were encouraged to investigate the problems.

I have been privileged to get to know and now work closely with researchers around the globe who are trying to help identify and describe the problems, and to work out the scientific mechanisms for the damage being done to health. These include medical practitioners from a variety of disciplines—acousticians, physiologists, physicists, psychologists and others. We are all united in our determination to find scientific answers to these questions.

We all have limited time and resources and we need to ensure that any research which is done can be trusted by all parties, who are now very distrustful of each other. There is a lot at stake for all parties. I am advised by Dr Bob Thorne, one of the independent acoustics researchers who have submitted a research proposal to the foundation, that some very useful information and data could be gathered within six months. If our original request for funding had been granted six months ago, when we asked, we could have had some results by now. There is no more time to lose.

There is absolutely no doubt that these turbines, particularly at some developments, are making nearby residents very sick, and that their symptoms worsen over time. This is resulting in people abandoning their homes and farms, if they can afford to. A recent example of this aired on South Australian ABC Stateline last Friday night. I was told by a local from Waterloo in South Australia yesterday that there are now five households who have left or are leaving Waterloo, primarily because they cannot sleep and because of the resultant health problems they are having.

That wind development seems to be particularly damaging to the local residents’ health but it is not the only one. We need to find out why some developments seem to be worse than others. We need to find out what the mechanism for their symptoms is. We have a strong hypothesis that one of the mechanisms is low frequency sound and infrasound, but these need to be formally tested, with concurrent measurement of infrasound and other indices such as sleep and blood pressure, in the homes of the affected residents while the turbines are turning. We then need to compare this to what happens when the turbines are not turning, which will require cooperation of the industry. Alternatively, we can measure what happens to those residents when they are away from their homes, if such industry cooperation is not forthcoming.

Interestingly, I have been made aware of a number of other sources of industrial low frequency noise which have reproduced exactly the same symptoms as many residents adjacent to wind turbines are reporting, including the elevated blood pressure, the severe sleep disturbance from waking up in a panicked state, and what appear to be the Takotsubo heart attack episodes. One of these is listed in submission No. 389, which is from the Parkville Association.

There is an urgent need for more basic primary physiological research, particularly with respect to blood pressure. The connection between chronic, severe sleep deprivation, which is commonly reported in adjacent residents, and a multitude of illnesses, is well established in the medical literature.

An attachment to my submission clearly establishes that chronic sleep deprivation from whatever cause is directly implicated in significantly increased illness from heart attacks and strokes. This is in addition to the increased risk of accidents, suppressed immunity, mental health disorders, high blood pressure and diabetes. There is an urgent need for the sleep studies across multiple sites, and on a number of occasions, as not every night is a problem and this cannot be predicted in advance.

Similarly, the effect on blood pressure appears to be widespread and alarming. It needs to be properly measured with a gold standard method of doing so—that is, a 24-hour halter monitor, and, again, over multiple 24-hour periods. We have the subjects ready and waiting. We need the funding and we need the best independent blood pressure researchers we can find to go and do the work.

These Takotsubo heart attacks that I have mentioned, where people adjacent to turbine developments are having heart attacks but are then shown to have normal coronary arteries, also need to be properly documented and analysed. The mechanism for Takotsubo heart attacks has already been identified by some Japanese researchers as a surge in stress hormones, particularly adrenaline. This surge in adrenaline is also suspected with episodes of acute hypertensive crises, being described by residents adjacent to wind turbines both in Australia, in Canada and, I am hearing, in Europe.

It is also suspected because it has been shown in animal studies and it fits with the clinical descriptions of people waking up in a panicked state, anxious and frightened, which is happening all over the world, and it is only happening when these people are in their homes adjacent to turning turbines. We suspect that the body’s fight-flight mechanisms are being abnormally stimulated and it is provoking the body to release substantial amounts of adrenaline, probably even while people are asleep. This needs to be properly investigated. I should add that these episodes of sleep disturbance and nocturnal waking in a panicked state are being experienced by people living up to 10 kilometres away from existing wind developments in South Australia and New South Wales.

Mental health disorders are widespread, at times life threatening, with acute suicidal ideation, and they need urgent description and analysis. But most importantly, they need prevention, by siting turbines appropriately. This burden of illness will inevitably place more demands on already stretched rural mental health services.

The effect on children is unknown in terms of peer reviewed evidence, because yet again, the proper studies have not yet been done. But the observations from parents and teachers are alarming, and need urgent and proper further investigation free from politics and spin. Our children’s long-term health and development is at stake because of the particular risk to them from the chronic cumulative exposure while their bodies and brains are developing.

These are just a few of the studies which, in my view, must be done urgently in order to protect rural residents’ health. We have a unique opportunity in Australia. The warning bells are loudly ringing right now. We can learn from what has happened overseas, and we can learn from what has already happened in Australia. If we do not investigate these issues urgently and thoroughly, and decide instead to proceed with the status quo, we are inevitably going to be making large numbers of rural residents very sick and drive them out of their homes and off their farms.

In closing, I want to quote from an interview which a prominent Australian scientist in the climate change debate, Tim Flannery, did with Phillip Adams on ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live. These comments are as relevant now as they were when he did the interview in 2005. It was recently replayed, on 4 March:

Phillip Adams: Before you leave the Lodge and we get you into the White House … any other policy …

Tim Flannery: I would make sure every piece of legislation I was putting in, was put through a humanist sieve … microscope … to reflect … that every individual is a valuable person to be respected, regardless of who they are or where they are from. First and foremost, you’ve got to have that right, otherwise you won’t have a healthy society that will allow you to maintain democracy, and all those other things you need to do …

                …            …            …

… make sure that all of your policy and all of your pronouncements are really focused around that fundamental recognition, that there are a group of human rights that we all possess, and that there is a level of respect we need to accord every single individual, regardless of where they’re from and regardless of whether we are fearful of them or whatever else, we just have to make sure that those things, they’re the underpinnings of our society, are reflected in everything you do. I think if you lose that … if you start breaking down that fundamental respect, then you have lost something that really is your future.

That is exactly what I can see happening around me across rural communities where turbines have been installed, and people are getting sick, through no fault or choice of their own. My perspective, one year on from my previous ignorant position, is that current wind industry practices and government reports, decisions and actions at all levels of government in Australia have directly resulted in fundamental abuses of human rights occurring because the health concerns of rural residents have been ignored until this Senate committee.

This underpins much of the rural backlash globally against wind turbines. Ultimately, I believe the wind industry has an important role to play in the sustainable energy mix for the future—but if, and only if, it is safely sited. By ignoring and denying the current problems, I believe it is doing itself a serious disservice, and risks damaging the brand irreparably.

Individual decision makers in each of the institutions previously mentioned are directly responsible for this situation, and now need to share in the solution to clean up the carnage they have been responsible for, and help some of the shattered lives and rural communities to rebuild.

In closing, I ask the committee to convey the urgent need for immediate funding for independent research to the Australian federal parliament, and to recommend an immediate hold on any further approvals and construction of wind turbines closer than 10 kilometres to housing, until the results of such independent studies are available. Also, when the results of such independent studies are available, there needs to be an appropriate, consultative and fair solution developed to solve the problems which have been caused by the currently constructed but unsafely sited turbine developments which are making people sick.

Australia could lead the world in the safe implementation of this technology, rather than blindly following the mistakes that have already been made, both here and elsewhere.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Cox, do you have anything to add?

Mr Cox —Very briefly, Madam Chair and members of the committee. I became involved with the Waubra Foundation after acting for objectors in planning tribunals. In preparation for those matters, I visited the Waubra area and spoke with about 15 people from nine different properties over the course of a weekend, and I stayed overnight in Mr Dean’s house, that he has abandoned. After visiting those people, I was convinced that they were genuine, and that there was a problem. I then looked into what was being done about it at a regulatory level and at a governmental level and was appalled that nothing seemed to be being done.

As a result, I have accepted the invitation to become a member of the advisory committee, and I support and second Dr Laurie’s request and submission that studies need to be done in order to ascertain what levels of sound people are experiencing and why they are falling sick.

CHAIR —Thank you. Senator Fielding?

Senator FIELDING —Thanks, Chair. Dr Laurie, you have conducted around 60 interviews with residents affected by wind developments in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Do they exhibit similar sorts of problems and can it be linked to the wind turbines or is it linked to something else?

Dr Laurie —Good question. Yes, it can be absolutely linked to the turbines. What people have started to do is actually fill in personal health journals. When I first looked at the list of symptoms that Dr Harry described, I thought they were all pretty vague and non-specific. But what is striking is that, when you actually sit down and listen to people, these symptoms are occurring when the turbines are turning. There are periods of time when, for example, the wind is not blowing or the turbines are turned off for maintenance, and people feel well and they are not getting the symptoms. There is a very direct correlation between symptoms experienced and the turbines turning.

I think the other issue is that over a period of time we are finding that some people who, for example, did not experience symptoms to start with go on to develop symptoms later on. Some people describe a situation where they appear to become sensitised, if you like. They do not notice any symptoms until one particular event where they feel very unwell and, from that time on, they seem to develop the symptoms more rapidly. There is so much we do not understand about what is going on, but we do understand that there is a very direct correlation between turbine operation and people getting sick. Again, not everybody gets sick. There are some people who have been there for some time and do not seem to get any symptoms. But that is quite normal. We expect that, with any disease process, some people are going to be susceptible and others are not.

Senator FIELDING —It appears that most of the industry claim there are no adverse health effects at all from wind turbines, and most of them point to and rely heavily on the National Health and Medical Research Council report that concluded that there are no direct effects from wind farms and that any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines. How do we reconcile the two? You have a whole bunch of people. We heard from a lot of them yesterday and it looks pretty real to me. Then you have the industry relying on the National Health and Medical Research Council saying, ‘Look, there are no problems.’ How do you reconcile the two? You are a doctor.

Dr Laurie —My personal response to this was to actually start looking for the evidence. As I have said, I did not want to find there was a problem; I really did not. But where is the data? Where is the data that shows that patient studies have been done that show that these turbines are safe? There is not any. There is no primary data that shows that these turbines are safe and that people are not affected. There is, however, emerging research and a landmark peer reviewed study by Dr Nina Pierpont, which shows clearly that there are problems. There is her work, Dr Harry’s work, Dr Iser’s work and that of Dr Michael Nissenbaum and Dr Robert McMurtry. There is plenty of evidence out there that there are problems. Everybody is saying that we need to do the research. We have to do it. I just do not see any other way forward given the competing interests. I must admit that when I read the NHMRC document not only was I disturbed; I was a little appalled. There was a lack of recognition about the conflict of interest and the issues which were emerging even then, back in July, particularly in Waubra in Victoria. There were reports emerging then. To just ignore people I think was unconscionable.

CHAIR —I do not know if you were in the room earlier when I asked about the media. Media want to come and film. It is the practice that we ask witnesses if they are happy with that.

Dr Laurie —That is fine.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator FIELDING —I will come to this peer review issue. It appears that the research that has been done showing that there are no adverse health impacts from living near wind turbines is absolutely credible, or has been peer reviewed, and any research with a differing view, which says that there are adverse health impacts from living near wind turbines, is not peer reviewed, is discredited and is just pushed to one side as if it really should not even be considered. What do you say about that?

Dr Laurie —My concern is, again, I am yet to see data from patient interviews and studies that have been peer reviewed that show that wind turbines are safe, because there is none. There are plenty of reports but there is no peer reviewed study of primary patient data that shows that wind turbines are safe. An epidemiological study on that has not been done anywhere in the world, and it needs to be. But there are difficulties with doing it because of the gag agreements and also, I believe, because of the bias that inevitably creeps in when there are financial considerations. I have had first-degree family members of people who are hosting turbines come to me privately and say, ‘Members of our family are getting sick but we’re in a really difficult position because we rely on the income.’ It introduces bias. It is very hard.

That is why my position is that the common problems that are being experienced that are, to my mind, the most serious are the sleep deprivation and the blood pressure issues. The exposure to children and the psychiatric issues are also important. We need to target the research into the areas that are clearly emerging as problems rather than trying to do a population health study, which is going to be problematic because of the gag agreements and because of the other confounding issues.

Senator FIELDING —It would be nice to think that both sides could get together. The energy companies are quite happy to do research. It would be good to give you some money to do that research. That way we get both sides really involved in the same study.

Mr Cox —It is important to distinguish between literature reviews and empirical studies. The literature reviews, which the NHMRC report and the CanWEA report in North America were, are studies of what the literature says, and the literature does not have any studies. So the conclusion is that, because there are no studies saying it is dangerous, it is not dangerous. That is medieval thinking. We really need to do the empirical studies and not rely on the literature reviews to tell us that people are not getting sick when we see that they are.

Senator FIELDING —Who would be the best body to ask about adverse health impacts from infrasound? Is it someone like Australian Hearing? How does this committee get the expertise that is unbiased or independent in some way?

Dr Laurie —There are two different academic groups who have submitted research proposals to us which I have forwarded on to the environmental health committee, which met back in November last year, at which there were NHMRC representatives. It was on 24 and 25 November in Sydney. There were representatives from state and federal health bureaucracies at that meeting.

CHAIR —Could you clarify? That was a meeting of whom?

Dr Laurie —Yes. It was the enHealth committee; I think it is the environmental health committee—

CHAIR —Of which body?

Dr Laurie —It is a national body. Dr Liz Hanna from the ANU presented on this topic to that meeting, and Liz told me that all the people at that meeting agreed there was a need for research. Nothing has happened since. We have two research proposals ready and waiting to go, and have done since October or November last year. One was from Professor Colin Hansen’s group at the University of Adelaide, which is to measure infrasound and audible sound and measure concurrent sleep and blood pressure as well. The other proposal is from Dr Bob Thorne from Massey University and his three colleagues Dr Daniel Shepherd, Professor Philip Dickinson and Rex Billington. That has been ready and waiting to go. That study is the one that could have data within six months, Bob has told me. We have got the subjects ready and waiting to go. They are independent academics who are experienced in their fields and who are just desperate to do the research. The independent academics are there. The subjects are waiting. We just need to get the money to them. If industry is able to contribute to it, I think that would be fantastic—perhaps through the NHMRC. It is a chance for the NHMRC to actually commission some research.

Senator FIELDING —Is there a link between exposure to infrasound and adverse health impacts? Is there a link between the two or not?

Dr Laurie —I believe there is. It is not just a matter of belief. There is some peer reviewed experimental study evidence, particularly in the document from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in America. There are a number of studies that indicate that infrasound does have pathological effects, in animal studies particularly. There is very little data in humans but there is a bit. There was one in particular that I referred to in my submission, the Qibai and Shi one, which was a blood pressure study done in China. They subjected Chinese engineering students to different levels of infrasound at different frequencies for an hour, I think, and found that there were changes in blood pressure and heart rate. There was individual variation and variation depending upon the amount of infrasound, but there is no doubt that the effects were there.

The animal studies certainly show that there are effects on heart muscle and on blood vessels supplying blood to the heart. There is also evidence about increased adrenaline and cortisol secretion from infrasound. There are a whole lot of clues there that infrasound has something to do with this. We need to get out there and measure what is actually in people’s homes when they are getting sick.

Senator FIELDING —For this research that you have suggested be undertaken, what amount of money do you need to get that research done?

Dr Laurie —For Bob Thorne’s study, the quote that includes the work in New South Wales is approximately $500,000. It might be a little bit less than that. That would give results ideally within six months but in a maximum of 12.

Senator FIELDING —That would then put beyond a doubt whether there are adverse health impacts from living close to wind turbines?

Dr Laurie —It would substantially improve our knowledge of the distance that we need to be concerned about at a number of different locations. It is not the only research that needs to be done but it would be a really good start and it would help. There is no doubt that it would help in terms of what the setback distance needs to be.

One of the critical things that the acousticians have taught me is about the setback distance. Talking about fixed distances is useless. What happens is that the length that the sound waves travel varies according to wind direction, obviously, but also the terrain, the height of the turbines, the blade lengths and the climatic conditions. It is fascinating. People’s symptoms are far worse on cloudy days or on the really cold, frosty nights where you have got what they call the temperature inversion effect. It is absolutely classic. All over the world people are describing this. I do not have to ask them; they write it down in their journals, and it is very clear that there is that pattern going on—that the symptoms are worse. The acousticians tell me it is because of the temperature and the cloud acting as a bit of a blanket. At different times, the sound waves are going to travel further. You have to do the studies over a long enough period of time to work out where the issues are.

Bob said six months. That is for that study. Colin Hansen’s work is different and more involved. His recent proposal has asked for, I think, $200,000 or $300,000 over three years, but to more thoroughly study this at the couple of sites in South Australia where there are demonstrable problems.

CHAIR —Can I suggest—I am just conscious of time and we have other senators who have not asked questions yet—that if you have any more suggestions for the funding issues that Senator Fielding raised, you could maybe give them to us?

Dr Laurie —Certainly.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator MOORE —Dr Laurie, it is certainly important to always have the research going on. I am just concerned, and you said in your statement, that people are waiting, ready to be tested. My reading of your evidence and some other medical evidence is that the symptoms are very vague and often linked to things like heart and blood pressure and concern. How do you mediate, in a professional study, people’s pre-existing stress, upset and worry? I reckon that if I had put some monitors around that room yesterday, their rates would have been so high that you would not be able to even make an assessment, because there is already such concern and emotion around.

You might want to take this on notice, from a medical perspective, because I am not a practitioner. If you are trying to get data about the cause and effect and the impact over a period of time, the baseline stuff is really important. The kinds of studies that you have been talking about tend to be with people who are already knowledgeable. They have already found out about what could be happening and are already upset. That is what I am struggling with.

Dr Laurie —I understand what you are saying, but the critical thing is: are the turbines having an effect or are they not? That is really what you are asking.

Senator MOORE —Yes.

Dr Laurie —If you measure what is going on with people’s sleep and blood pressure in their homes when the turbines are turned off, and then compare it to what happens when the turbines are turned on, the only difference is going to be the turbines turning.

Senator MOORE —I do not agree with that just simplistically, on the basis that if people are already significantly upset and concerned, and are wondering about ‘what ifs’, just taking a measurement saying they are off now—

Dr Laurie —Let me make myself clear. There are houses where people do not know whether the turbines are turning. They are blinded. They do not know. All they have are the symptoms that they are experiencing. I was really struck by how clearly they could correlate their symptoms with what we subsequently found out was happening with the turbines. It was absolutely characteristic. It is possible to blind people as to whether the turbines are operating or not. There is no doubt about that. Their anxiety is going to be there, whether the turbines are turning or not. In other words, with the blood pressure effects and everything else, the only difference is going to be between turbines on and turbines off. It is the same people, same houses. That is where, if we could get industry cooperation on this, I think we could actually get some really good data and help solve the problem.

Senator MOORE —Over a long period.

Dr Laurie —Yes.

Senator MOORE —That is the other thing in terms of any research in this area at the moment. To do any immediate research over a short period and then draw results from that would possibly create even more stress. This has to be an extended, long-term research process. Is that built into the proposals you have?

Dr Laurie —The proposal that Dr Thorne has would give instant results, within six months, about exactly what is being measured, particularly in terms of infrasound, and about a correlation with the symptoms and the health problems that people are experiencing. Colin Hansen’s proposal is longer term, and some of the work that he wants to do with the physiologists and the sleep physicians would be over a longer period of time. I agree: there is no instant solution to this. However, the longer we delay it, the more the problems are going to mount up.

One of the critical things for the industry is that we need to get cracking and make sure that renewable energy is built and implemented. We have just got to make sure we are not doing it in a way that is going to make people sick. As an interim thing, I think Bob Thorne’s study would help enormously to sort out a setback distance, with the proviso that I have given and the qualifying remarks about the usefulness of that.

Senator ADAMS —Thank you, Dr Laurie, for your opening statement, which was very good. I would like to go back to a comment you made about a moratorium being held while the research is being done. We have planning guidelines and states are doing some planning and local governments are being landed with the planning as well. How do you see that that would work? We have the national guidelines, which are in a draft form at the moment, and then some states are doing something completely differently, and other states still have local governments doing the planning. I know that in Western Australia the state takes over the planning on 1 July.

Dr Laurie —I do not think it matters who is doing the planning. I think the important thing is that the planning regulations are informed by science.

Senator ADAMS —That is right, but to get the moratorium, how are you going to get all the states to agree that they will not approve any more planning applications before the research results are in?

Dr Laurie —I really do not know how that is going to happen, but it needs to. If it continues the way it is, people are inevitably going to get sick. Clearly, this is something that involves all levels of government and the wind industry. I think there needs to be some discussion about how to move forward in a constructive fashion rather than persisting with the disinformation, shall we say, that is being put about.

Senator ADAMS —Something that is worrying me is that I do not think the research dollars are going to be available in quite the way they were in the next budget. I am not trying to be political, but that is just a comment that I am making—how we as a committee get the research dollars or suggest that we should spend the dollars needed to do the research.

Dr Laurie —I am a practical person. I think it is in the industry’s best interests to get this research done. I would be strongly suggesting that industry members who are keen to see a resolution to the problem might actually decide that it is in their best interests to put forward some money that can then be channelled through to independent researchers so that it is not tainted with bias, and we can just get on and do the work.

Senator ADAMS —The community I come from in Western Australia is undergoing quite a traumatic time at the moment. There is a 74-turbine wind farm proposed between two shires, and unfortunately the community consultation has not been done the way it should have been done. Hence my questions about community consultation and why it is so important. So we have neighbours versus neighbours. The whole town is split. There have been death threats. It has got very nasty. These people will be giving evidence, of course, in Perth.

Some of the comments that have come out are that the people who are having the turbines on their property are inflicting health problems upon their very close neighbours. I think this research has got to be done as soon as possible because we just cannot have these little communities being torn apart. The NHMRC document seems to be the only thing that everyone is relying on, and you can really drive a truck through that. I will not hold the committee up on that at the moment because I made my comments before. I will certainly do it when they appear before us. The research in every direction is so flimsy. We have GPs with a very small cohort of people that they have had as patients. Some have moved away; some are there. It is such a frustration not to have that research here. As wind farms develop, and they are developing so quickly, we are creating so much chaos. Would you comment on that?

Dr Laurie —I completely agree with everything you have said, Senator. I could not agree more. Unfortunately, what you have experienced locally is being replicated across south-eastern Australia. I have direct knowledge of it in each of these communities—and not only in the communities where the turbines are already built; as you referred to, it is a huge problem in communities where there are turbines proposed. It is tearing rural communities apart.

Senator BOYCE —Another witness has referred to the Waubra Foundation as ‘secretive’, and made the point that whilst you say you are an independent organisation, you share a post office box with the Landscape Guardians. Would you like to comment on that?

Dr Laurie —Certainly, I will. The reason we share a post office box—it is actually Peter Mitchell’s post office box address. The reason we do that is because Peter is the Chairman of the Waubra Foundation and until fairly recently we actually had no money at all. My husband has been funding my activities and various farmers who were grateful for my public speaking efforts paid for travel expenses, put me up for the night and fed me. But apart from that, I personally have not received any money from anyone for this work. We had a need, as a national organisation, to have a post office address that was not my rural one in South Australia where I get mail three times a week. Peter very kindly made his office available. I am very lucky to have the services of a longstanding personal assistant of Peter’s who helps me with certain material, but at the moment that is it. We are slowly building a board, and we are very happy that some very influential people have accepted those positions. Shortly we will be going public with the composition of that board. That is why the postal address is shared.

Peter Mitchell was chairman of the technical advisory committee on the Landscape Guardians. He has, I understand, as of yesterday resigned from that position and he is now concentrating full time on the efforts of the Waubra Foundation, and we are absolutely independent of any group that is pro or anti wind.

Senator BOYCE —Thanks, Dr Laurie. There has been a fair degree of evidence around the fact that people are asked by manufacturers, developers in the wind industry, to sign confidentiality agreements around health problems. We have people telling us that, but we have no evidence. Are you able to give us any evidence in that area?

Dr Laurie —I can in camera. Alternatively, I suggest that the Senate committee might like to consider subpoenaing some of the agreements from the companies.

Senator BOYCE —Chair?

CHAIR —We can either go in camera now or we can talk further with the industry. We did ask on Friday, and the industry said that they did not gag—when I say ‘the industry’, we had a number of representatives of various companies, who all said they did not put gag motions on health related issues. Their confidentiality agreements were all related to commercial-in-confidence issues like payment on leases and things like that, but no health gags.

Dr Laurie —I am happy to go in camera, if you would like me to.

CHAIR —Okay.

Senator BOYCE —Could I perhaps ask one question, which would be my last question, and it does not need to be in camera.

CHAIR —I have some as well that are not in camera, and then we will go in camera.

Senator BOYCE —My other question related to the personal health records that were raised yesterday. Is there any way for that material to be supplied to us in a de-identified way?

Dr Laurie —I am sure people would be only too happy to supply it. I suspect, as they have told me that I am to take it to discussions with health bureaucrats with their names on it, that they would be delighted to have their names on it. They want to be recognised as people.

Senator BOYCE —That was part of my question. What is happening with those health records now? They are just being kept?

Dr Laurie —They are being kept. Primarily, it was to help the people themselves to understand what was going on and to see if in fact the symptoms that they were experiencing were related to the turbines, because not all symptoms are. It was really to help them to understand what was going on, and to help their general practitioners understand what was going on as well. I understand from a number of people that as a result of that their GPs have certainly come around to saying, ‘Yes, we believe there is a problem now,’ having not believed it previously. We are also using that to work out what areas of research we might need to target. It is out of that that we realised that there really is a big problem with blood pressure that needs to be looked at. That is where that is being looked at, and people are quite happy for that information to be used in whatever way it can be.

CHAIR —I have several questions I would like to follow up on. One of those was raised this morning. To me, it relates to an adverse comment, so you are afforded the opportunity to respond; you can do it now or take it on notice. That was the issue about whether you are a registered medical practitioner.

Dr Laurie —That is fine. I am currently not registered. I am a legally qualified medical practitioner, and I obtained my degree from Flinders University in 1995. The other details are in my submission. I am actually in the process of reregistering. One of the issues that I have is that I actually have to put out a return to work study plan. At the moment I am furiously doing this work, and I have not actually got time to read the latest in whatever drug changes have been made in the last seven or eight years. When some research is underway, I will be in a better position to put forward a return to study and paid, practising clinical medicine. I, quite frankly, cannot wait to do it.

CHAIR —My other questions—I will run through them very quickly—are: in the studies that you have been undertaking, have any workers in the sector been affected?

Dr Laurie —That is a really good point. I have had some workers say to me that yes, they have developed some symptoms. I have not had a chance to look properly at it, but I believe it is an issue that needs to be looked at. It may well be that there are individuals’ susceptibility just as there is with residents. Given that they are not exposed for as long and they are not exposed overnight, you are not getting the sleep deprivation issues, but I am concerned about the blood pressure issues. I have certainly heard that people have had issues with vertigo and dizziness. I think it needs to be looked at.

CHAIR —I understand some workers do live on site, so I would be interested to know if you have done any studies on workers that actually live on site and have had symptoms.

Dr Laurie —No, I have not. I certainly have had information from people who have worked in the industry who have become unwell and left. But, as I said, there are so many other people that I have not yet had a proper chance to look at. It is an area that needs investigating.

CHAIR —The issue of peer review is as long as a piece of string, to a certain extent. We are going backwards and forwards. You said that Dr Pierpont’s work had been peer-reviewed.

Dr Laurie —Yes.

CHAIR —We have had claims that it has not been, and I am wondering who you are aware of who has peer-reviewed Dr Pierpont’s work

Dr Laurie —If any of you have a copy of Dr Pierpont’s book—in fact, I have it in my handbag—it is clearly in her book who the peer reviewers are.

CHAIR —The point that has been made to us is that it is comments around the work, not actually scientifically peer-reviewed.

Dr Laurie —No, that is incorrect. It was peer-reviewed. Her peers looked at her work, critiqued it, and made certain suggestions. Some of those suggestions she incorporated, but it is peer-reviewed.

CHAIR —Thank you. The other issue, and it is slightly off what we have been talking about here, is that a number of people, when we heard evidence yesterday, raised the issue of wind power and coal-fired power stations. You have made a suggestion or a recommendation that there be a moratorium on wind farms. I am wondering whether you would propose the same thing for coal-fired power stations. For example, in Western Australia, there is a proposal for at least three more coal-fired power operations to proceed, and we are aware of the health impacts of that. Would you make the same recommendation for the installation of coal-fired power stations, for example?

Dr Laurie —You raise a very important point. There is no doubt that there is extensive illness related to coal, in both mining and the operation of coal-fired power stations. To my mind, that does not make it acceptable to then impose another technology on another group of people who are going to get unwell.

CHAIR —I did not ask that question.

Dr Laurie —I know you did not, and I know you probably think I am avoiding the question. I am not saying, ‘Stop building turbines’. I am just saying that when we build them, between now and when the research is done, make sure they are not going to affect new groups of rural communities. Make sure they are at least 10 kilometres away from housing. They might be a little bit further away from the grid but there are plenty of places in Australia where turbines can be put in those locations. I understand the point that you are making, but I just cannot accept that imposing a technology on communities knowing that it is going to make them sick, and have the consequences that we are already seeing, is a sensible way to go.

CHAIR —I understand very fully the point you are making, which is why I was asking about coal and where it has been imposed on new areas. Would you apply the same to all technologies? Let us take coal out of it. Would you apply the same moratorium to any technology that you think is going to have a health impact?

Dr Laurie —We live in the real world. I guess I do not know enough about the particular proposals in Western Australia that you are talking about, or the issues to do with how far away, for example, the coal-fired power stations are in terms of causing a health effect on the population. I am not across that literature at all, so that is why I do not want to commit to that. I do not know enough about that particular area.

CHAIR —Thank you. We will go in camera shortly.

Senator BOYCE —A number of people have made claims that the confidentiality agreements prevented people talking about the health effects of wind farms. Would you like to tell me what evidence, if any, you have got in that area?

Dr Laurie —I will let Andrew answer first.

Mr Cox —Senators, I have seen three agreements: one of which was an operating lease; one was an agreement proposed by a developer with a client of my firm regarding purchase of the property; and the third was an agreement that was signed with some people who sought advice regarding their protections if giving evidence to this inquiry. The three of them in general terms have confidentiality clauses regarding things such as settlement payments, lease payments, and the monetary terms of agreements. But they go on to contain non-disparagement clauses and in some cases prevent or have promises by the people that they will not take planning objections or object to planning panels or give adverse evidence before regulatory bodies. None of the agreements say specifically that people must not comment about health, but the non-disparagement clauses are so broadly worded that people have concerns that if they do say something then they will be involved in legal proceedings by the people entitled to the benefit of those clauses. My view of how people can be protected if giving evidence before the committee was to request that they be subpoenaed, saying that they would have absolute protection and, indeed, the agreements that I have seen have the usual exceptions where people are compelled to give evidence by operation of law.

CHAIR —Could the non-disparagement wording could be interpreted to mean that you cannot talk about the health effects?

Mr Cox —Yes. You are not allowed to make adverse comment about the company, the project or wind turbines—the company and the project, basically. In broad terms, that is what a non-disparagement clause generally says.

CHAIR —This is obviously an understanding of clauses, and when we asked the industry representatives last week we asked generally about health effects. What you have just said is fairly standard—and that is not a commentary on whether it should be in there or not, by the way—and I am wondering why we had to go in camera for that. More importantly, I would like the opportunity to ask industry representatives here today about the adverse comment provisions and the non-disparagement wording. I think that it is important to get their response to that. You have not pointed to any particular companies and we are not after any particular company, rather what happens to communities, and forming a transparent process for communities.

Mr Cox —What I have said to the committee I do not regard as necessarily needing to have been said in camera. I have just responded to the issue as it has arisen. But I think that Dr Laurie may have something to say.

CHAIR —Thank you. We will go in camera now. That means everybody else has to vacate the room please, including the media.

Evidence was then taken in camera but later resumed in public—

Proceedings suspended from 11.38 am to 11.55 am