In the Australia which we all live in today, it would surprise most people to learn that there is a growing group of new refugees. Like the refugees we have seen in the past, this group has been driven from their homes by a powerful invader backed by a government. The difference this time is that these are home grown refugees and the invaders driving them off their land are massive corporations acting with the full support of the very government that is sworn to protect them.
This scenario is being played out time and time again across the country. The Gillard/Brown Government has pinned all of its renewable energy hopes on wind farms, and these mechanical monstrosities are creeping further and further into residential areas.
In October 2011, the Government announced an extra $30 billion worth of funding into renewable energy – a fgure that will increase the number of turbines in this country six fold.
This announcement came a few months after the Government hastily wrapped up its senate inquiry into the Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms.
While the inquiry received more than 1000 submissions, it made only seven mealy mouthed recommendations – all of which have been ignored despite serious community concerns about health and safety risks. It is clear the Government will push on with wind farms, regardless of the human cost.
In the eyes of the Government and in those of the developers, wind farms can do no wrong. When residents complain about health effects, developers tell them that there is no evidence that wind farms make people sick. The Government is onside with this message as well. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) website erroneously states that “There is currently no published scientifc evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects”.
This stands in stark contrast to the messages of people who come into my offce in tears. They can’t sleep and can no longer stand living in their own home because of wind turbines that have been built nearby.
Part of an ever growing group, these people are scared for their fnancial future. They are scared for the health and safety of their families. They are scared because their homes have become uninhabitable.
Adding salt to their wounds, the corporations and government bodies supporting these wind farms simply fob off these health issues by explaining away the myriad of symptoms as being ‘all in their head’ or, even worse, as some ruse in an attempt to gain compensation.
Carl and Samantha Stepnell from Victoria are part of this growing group of refugees – they have been forced to abandon their family home after the Waubra wind farm became operational.
Wind farm corporations offered to put eight wind farms on the Stepnell’s land, but the family’s answer was a resounding ‘no’.
For three generations the Stepnell family worked and lived on that land – battling drought, foods, fres and low prices. Once the wind farm came into operation, it took less than two years for the family home to become abandoned.
The house had six wind turbines between 900 and 1500 metres away and a further six turbines within 2000 metres of their home.
For the Stepnell family – Carl, Samantha and their children Jacob, Courtney and Joshua – the impact that these towers has had on their family cannot be underestimated.
Within twenty-four hours of the turbines operating, Samantha started feeling ear and head pressure, describing the feeling as one similar to fying in an aeroplane. Six months later, Carl began experiencing symptoms similar to his wife.
Ear and head pressure evolved into constant headaches, chest pains, a feeling of heart palpitations and a continuous lack of sleep.
When the family brought up their symptoms with the owners of the Waubra wind farm, they were given the standard line. The company had no evidence that it was the wind farms that were affecting their health. The NHMRC seems happy to agree.
A multi-million dollar company with spin doctors, lawyers and a marketing department on hand can make a case far easier than a family of farmers forced to abandon their home.
For me, this is the crux of the issue. The onus of proof should not be on families running scared. It should be on the company to prove that there are no adverse health effects. If the company believes in its product, it should have no problem defending it.
I know the Stepnell family knows and hundreds of families across Australia know that wind farms have terrible health effects on nearby residents. If the Australian Government cared about the health of the people, it would at least put a stop to any more of these farms blowing ill wind across Australian communities until a complete and thorough independent investigation of these health issues has been completed..
Senator John Madigan is a Democratic Labor Party Senator for Victoria.
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