Question Time – Government response to Wind Turbine inquiry

August 13, 2015

Senator DAY (South Australia):  My question is to the Assistant Minister for the Education and Training, Senator Birmingham, representing the Minister for the Environment. On 3 August, the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines tabled its final report. In chapter 2 it states:

… there has been a clear disconnect: between the official position that wind turbines cause no harm to human health and the strong and continuing empirical, biological and anecdotal evidence of many people living in proximity to turbines suffering from similar physiological symptoms and distress.

The committee noted that evidence from at least 15 countries has started piling up on similar adverse effects and are reported by people with no geographical, linguistic or other personal associations with each other. Does the government accept the committee’s recommendations insofar as they relate to adverse health impacts?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Assistant Minister for Education and Training):  I thank Senator Day for both the question and some advance notice of the question.

Mr President, through you to Senator Day: of course, as you acknowledged in your question, the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines tabled its final report on 3 August. That was just nine days ago. The government will respond in good faith to the recommendations of that report, but of course it will take a little longer to consider the detail of those recommendations. It is worth noting that, while the government is still considering its response to all of the recommendations, we are taking action in a number of ways. The government has agreed to appoint an independent scientific committee to provide research and advice on the impact on the environment and on human health of wind turbine sound and infrasound. The government has also committed to establishing a wind farm commissioner to resolve complaints about the operation of wind farms. While the consideration is taking place the government certainly will make sure that it gives full consideration to the details of the report, which I know you, Senator Day, and other members of that committee worked very hard on, and the evidence that you received. We will make sure that we have all thought and proper consideration and we will respond in the usual way, as the government does to Senate reports.

Senator DAY (South Australia):  Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Australia has over 1,800 turbines in 71 locations, with more on the way. Paul Hyslop, from ACIL Allen, says that Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy pledge by 2030 would require an additional 10,000 wind turbines to be built. Given that the government now knows the potential adverse health effects of wind turbines and bearing in mind the potential future liability arising from that knowledge, does the minister acknowledge that the government must now act. (Time expired)

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Assistant Minister for Education and Training):  As Senator Day and all senators would be aware, the parliament recently passed the revised renewable energy target. The current large-scale target is 33,000 gigawatt hours, which will, by 2020, see around 23 per cent, it is estimated, of renewable energy generated in Australia. It is remarkable, though, that despite having agreed to this legislation and supported the compromise, as Senator Day rightly highlights, the Australian Labor Party now proposes a 50 per cent target. Estimates are that Labor’s 50 per cent target could saddle Australians with about $85 billion of additional costs. When challenged on this, what does the Labor Party say? They say, ‘We don’t know, because we have not done any modelling, we have not done any assessment and we have not done any analysis.’

Senator Abetz:  Oh, yes, they have.

Senator BIRMINGHAM:  You are right, Senator Abetz; in relation to the carbon tax costs, which are even greater in terms of what Labor are seeking to bring back—and they know very clearly that the expense to Australians of that carbon tax will be very, very dear indeed. (Time expired)

Senator DAY (South Australia):  Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The government has directed the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in newer renewable technologies. The Australian Financial Review reported last month that the CEFC is fighting the directive and has sought legal advice. What exactly has the CEFC been directed to do? What will be the real effect? What confidence does the government have that the CEFC will obey that directive?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Assistant Minister for Education and Training):  I have some information in that regard. Matters of the CEFC are rightly matters for the Minister for Finance, but I am advised that the government has been working constructively with the CEFC. Under section 64 of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act, the Minister for Finance and the Treasurer can issue an investment mandate to the board to provide direction on the performance of the CEFC’s investment functions. These responsible ministers must consult with the CEFC board on that investment mandate and, once finalised, the investment mandate is tabled in parliament. A consultation process is underway with the CEFC. The government will not pre-empt the outcome of this process, but our expectation is that the CEFC’s focus will be on its original policy intent when the CEFC was established, so that it is investing in innovative clean energy proposals and technologies rather than more mature technologies, which can be financed by mainstream lenders.