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Wind farm projects a burden on south-west councils says Senate inquiry

Councils have been unfairly burdened with handling wind farm projects after higher levels of government handballed responsibility, the head of a Senate inquiry has claimed.

A panel of some of Australia’s best-known senators took part in a public hearing on wind turbines in Portland yesterday, with dozens of witnesses called.

Independent senator John Madigan led the inquiry and said the huge volume of complaints and criticism regarding south-west wind farms was a large burden for local government to carry.

He said state and federal governments should have been more involved in the planning of many of the region’s wind farms, given the scale and impact of such projects.

“One of the key points I’ve found is that local government is seriously under-resourced and that isn’t just contained to one council,” Senator Madigan said.

“Local councils are having to deal with economic development on a large scale when it comes to wind farms yet they’re not given the funding and the staff to cope with these massive projects.

“When you stretch resources like that, obviously, issues such as the ones that have been discussed today are going to occur and that’s not good enough.”

Officials from Glenelg, Ararat and Pyrenees shires made presentations at yesterday’s hearing at South West TAFE’s Portland campus.

It was the first session of the Select Committee on Turbines which was established by crossbench senators six months ago to investigate the renewable energy source.

Aside from Senator Madigan, other members of the panel include senators David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democratic), Matthew Canavan (Nationals), Anne Urquhart (Labor), Chris Back (Liberals) and Bob Day (Family First). Independent senator Nick Xenophon was also part of yesterday’s hearing via telephone from his Adelaide office.

Senator Canavan said the inquiry highlighted the depth of concern within south-west communities located close to wind farms.

“Social views and scientific understanding is forever evolving and wind farms aren’t exempt,” the Queensland senator said. “I use the example of sunlight and UV radiation. A generation ago, people would go to the beach, get sunburnt and think that was healthy. Our views on the impact of sunlight have changed and I think the same is occurring for sound. Just because it can’t be heard audibly does not mean that it isn’t doing damage.”

Other witnesses who spoke to the panel included engineer Steven Cooper, Pacific Hydro representative Andrew Richards, Penshurst resident Keith Staff, Macarthur artist Jan Hetherington, Darlington farmer Hamish Cumming and Macarthur farmer Annie Gardner among others.

Moyne Shire councillor Jim Doukas said there had long been a lack of transparency around wind farm developments and the impact on nearby residents.

“The senators have really done their homework,” Cr Doukas said. “On the other side, some of the wind farm companies didn’t bother to show up and the ones that did were not very clear in the message they were trying to get across.”