Second Reading Debate – Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2020

I rise to speak on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2020, a bill that effectively takes away from the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 the ability for noise complaints to be made against wind farms and moved under the Environment Protection Act 2017.

We oppose this change in the bill. Basically, it will take away the ability for any person to make a complaint under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act that wind farm noise is affecting their health. There is not the provision in the Environment Protection Act to actually deal with health; it is only about noise, so effectively it shuts down a person’s ability to complain anywhere when there are noise complaints around wind farms.

It does not take from the health and wellbeing act the ability to complain about other noise, such as nightclubs, or noise from an industrial site, such as a quarry that is making a lot of noise; the councils will still have to deal with that.

it makes little sense to me that this has been taken out when what we really need is investment made in the EPA that can give those resources when needed to the councils to be able to assess the wind farms in their electorates and so that locals can talk to locals and have their right to be listened to and heard respected by the government. This bill effectively takes that right away and stifles their ability.

I will just take you back a bit. My electorate of South-West Coast has many, many wind farms, planned or built, and this has been going on for well over a decade. I lived in the area where a lot of those wind farms were being proposed. In fact I had a wind farm proposed on the boundary of my farm, and I would have looked out of the window and looked at it.

I never put in a complaint. I am not against wind farms. This is not a comment here about being against renewable energy. This is about the right of the community members in South-West Coast, when they have a problem—a noise complaint—around wind turbine noise, to be heard respectfully, and this effectively takes away that right.

I know that the other side will say, ‘Oh that means that the Liberals don’t care about renewable energies or don’t want wind’, and I just find that really quite offensive to the community members who have made the effort to come to me over many, many months about the challenges they face. We have got 16 wind farms proposed in the Moyne shire area alone.

I am not suggesting that the Moyne shire pay $80 000 to an acoustician every time there is a complaint made about the noise to assess that, but what I am saying is that the EPA should be able to assist them to do that, and it should not be at a cost to the ratepayer or to the shire council. It is effectively the same thing if they are going to be putting this into the EPA anyway.

That cost will be there, so it can be facilitated in a manner such that we can still have locals able to talk to locals who represent them—their local councillor and the locals in the role of management in council.

Effectively some years ago, when a lot of these wind farms were proposed, there were one or two. Now we have got so many wind farms that there are literally going to be hundreds of turbines. Initially when the plans were proposed, they were a lot shorter than they are and there was not the cumulative effect that we are now going to be seeing as a result of so many.

There was very little respect for the planning, because when you look at the transmission lines, particularly if you drive from Warrnambool through to Mortlake, you will see this cobweb of transmission lines. We have all seen that was inappropriate, but it is there now, and it is the same with the wind towers.

People are concerned. They are worried that they are not going to have the ability to express that they cannot sleep, that they are struggling with the noise, because if it goes to a bureaucracy like the EPA, they will not feel they have the ability to be listened to. I think they have come to me with some fairly reasonable comments around that. They have said, ‘We’ve had dealings in the past with departments, and they don’t treat us like a customer; they treat us like an inconvenience’.

That is coming from the ministers down. It is not the people in my local communities who work in these departments; it is the culture that exists from the government, who are doing exactly this and saying, ‘We’re taking away their ability to actually complain’.

At the bill briefing we asked the minister’s advisors what the process would be if the EPA received a complaint. We actually were not able to be given the information around that. We had no information around what would be the case if they did not agree with the decision made by the EPA—would there be an appeals process? What would the time line be?

Now, when I think about some of the people in my electorate, John Boss comes to mind. John has been trying to get information from the minister, and I have been helping him—from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning actually—for 14 months.

He has been waiting for a response for 14 months just to ask questions about the Hawkesdale wind farm. He lives in the heart of Hawkesdale, and he is trying to understand some of the issues that will occur.

If that is the sort of process that exists in bureaucracy, you can understand people like John, and Paul and Jenny Lewis, who I converse with a lot, Neil Blain, Annie Gardner. Annie just had so many challenges. And there are people who have actually moved away—Jan Hetherington, who could not live on the farm anymore; Ron and Chris Jelbart, who could not live on the farm anymore.

They had to buy somewhere else to be able to get rest—I think it was Ron who used to tell me four nights a month, or four nights a week, I cannot really remember. Now, Ron I have known since I was probably five. He was a great football player, a great contributor to the community, in the fire brigade, all those things.

These people in the Hawkesdale community who are concerned they have all contributed. They are not anti-renewable, they are not anti-community, they are not anti-progress.

They just want to have their right to be listened to and heard respected. And by taking it out of the Health and Wellbeing Act, no longer being able to say it affects our health, only being able to go through to the EPA, where they will only have the noise tested to a certain level and then they will not actually be able to say, ‘It’s actually affecting my health’. It might comply, but it might actually be affecting the health of the person, whether it be the mental health or the physiological health.

If I were a sceptic, I would be saying the government is not interested in really getting the balance right for people like the Howleys, who are concerned about their right to stay on the farm when they are absolutely inundated by wind farms all around them.

I think the government is so hell-bent on getting their renewable targets met that, at the expense of communities, they are just saying, ‘Bad luck’. There are so many more landscapes where there are less dense populations, as the member for Lowan just discussed, and where, if they put up a proper electricity line and had the ability to feed in, we would actually be able to get this balance right. We are not against renewable energy. We are not against wind farms, but we are against totally inundating people and then gagging their ability to speak.

I think about if I was in Melbourne or if I lived in Werribee and there was a big 42-storey building going up, like the Sofitel, I reckon there would be a few people complaining about that, and under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act they would be able to do that. However, if they have a wind farm put up in South-West Coast, in their backyard, that maybe 10 years ago when the permit was approved was going to be 120 metres high but is now going to be about 180 metres or 220 metres from tip to the ground, that is quite an imposing structure looking out at their horizon. And they are concerned, so why haven’t they got the same right to complain or put in a suggestion that they would like to be considered? Why do people who have less density in their regions have less rights?

That is the question. Once we get into the EPA, it will be very much like a David and Goliath situation. And the people in my area that I have mentioned—Jan and John Murphy, who have been trying to just get some consultation around this—these are people who are feeling like the government is just ignoring them and not listening.

We are not anti-wind farm. I continue to say it. We have wind farms being built in our electorate. If the government was serious and it was not just a rush to ride roughshod over people and get all these targets met, then they would make sure that Keppel Prince had the ability to make them. They talk about local content, yet we have got ships coming in from overseas with wind turbines on the back of them going straight past Keppel Prince to be unloaded and off to wind farms.

Civil engineering companies from Portland and the region are totally ignored, and companies are coming down from Queensland to do the site preparation. I mean, there is something really wrong with this. I know it looks good to have lots of renewable energy, but it also is important to respect the people.

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