Thursday, 10 November 2011
Questions without Notice
Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Arbib. Can the minister advise when the government will act upon recommendation 4 of The social and economic impact of rural wind farmsreport, which recommends:
… the … Government initiate as a matter of priority thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of the possible effects of wind farms on human health.
I thank Senator Madigan for his question and his real concern and interest on this issue. I understand that most of Australia's wind farms are in Victoria, so it is obviously an issue that is important to his constituents. It is also an issue that many senators in this place have spent a great deal of time looking into, including the government's Senator Moore and Senator Carol Brown. I am aware that there are some concerns about the health effects of wind turbines. As senators will know, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee conducted an inquiry in March into the social and economic impacts of rural wind farms at the request of former Victorian senator Steve Fielding. The report of the inquiry was released at the end of June. As senators may be aware, the community affairs committee found that there was not enough evidence to establish a direct link between wind farms and poor health. The government is in the process of considering the recommendations from the Senate inquiry and will respond shortly.
It is important to remember that the government already receives scientific advice on health issues in Australia from the National Health and Medical Research Council. The council has looked into the health impacts of wind turbines. The National Health and Medical Research Council was involved with the scientific forum involving the wind farm industry, Australian researchers, international experts and consumer representatives in June. The council issued a public statement in July 2010 which concluded that there was no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects. I am advised that the council is currently updating its review of the literature and will advise on updating the public statement. I can advise the Senate that there is much work being undertaken on this at present.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that these studies will comply with recommendation 4 by ensuring that the research will engage across industry and community and include an advisory process representing the range of interests and concerns?
There has been a great deal of engagement already with community and industry this year. I note that the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry earlier this year received more than 1,000 submissions from a range of interested communities, individuals and doctors and also industry. The National Health and Medical Research Council scientific forum in June was attended by: environmental health experts; acoustic engineers and scientists; environmental health researchers; representatives from state and territory health, planning and also environmental departments; members of the public living close to wind farms; major public interest groups; Department of Health and Ageing representatives; and also international experts from countries with substantial experience in wind turbines. As an outcome of the scientific forum, the council will systematically review the literature, focusing on the possible health impacts of audible noise and infrasound. The National Health and Medical Research Council is establishing an expert reference group to advise— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister assure the Australian community that all recommended research into the effects of wind farms on human health will be completed and released before the government invests any further taxpayer dollars in the further extension of wind farm development in and near residential areas?
The National Health and Medical Research Council is establishing an expert panel, as I said, to advise on the literature review and to inform any update of the public statement. Using the results of this review, the council will advise on updating the statement early in 2012 and on the need for further targeted research. I should also add that, as senators may be aware, decisions about the placement of wind farms near houses are the responsibility of the local planning authorities. As I have said, the council has conducted a review of the scientific literature to determine if there is a link. The literature review considered the potential health impacts of infrasound noise, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker and blade glint produced by wind turbines.