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‘Sound judgment’ strips anti-wind Waubra Foundation of its low-tax status

A prominent anti–wind farm group has been stripped of its status as a tax-deductible charity status in a potentially landmark legal decision that could affect treatment of other groups claiming to promote health.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Adelaide affirmed a decision by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), first issued in December 2014, to remove the Waubra Foundation’s registration as a “health promotion charity”.

The foundation, set up in 2010, has been active in seeking to raise concern about purported health effects of infrasound or low frequency noise produced by industrial sources, particularly wind farms.

A range of international health bodies, including Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, have investigated the effects of wind farms on human health and found little evidence of such links.*

The tribunal’s ruling was the first made for the ACNC since its inception in 2012. Murray Baird, the ACNC’s acting commission, said the decision added to its “understanding of the concept of a health promotion charity and of the purpose of promoting or protecting human rights”.

“The ACNC places great importance on sound judgment and decisions and will use this case to guide considerations about future charity applications,” Mr Baird said in a statement.

A spokesman for the commission said only certain charities were entitled to an endorsement as Deductible Gift Recipients, with health promotion having a category of its own.

As a result of the ruling, the Waubra Foundation would lose that endorsement, he said.

‘Noise-sensitised’

Fairfax Media sought comment from Sarah Laurie, chief executive of the foundation. In a website posting, Ms Laurie said her organisation was “seeking legal advice about our options for an appeal”.

“We will be continuing our work helping noise-sensitised people, and supporting independent research efforts to identify the acoustic triggers for the physiological stress, sleep disturbance and other symptoms reported by those living and working near industrial noise sources,” Ms Laurie said.

The foundation would “remain a registered charity with the ACNC for the purposes of ‘Advancing Health’ and promoting or opposing ‘a change to law, government policy or practice'”, she said.

The ACNC spokesman, though, said such a registration would likely have fewer tax-deduction benefits.

Simon Holmes a Court, a senior advisor to the Energy Transition Hub at Melbourne University, welcomed the tribunal’s decision as “the final nail in the coffin for the Waubra Foundation”.

“It’s hard to think of any organisation that’s done more to foment community division and frustrate the development of clean energy in Australia,” he said.

The Waubra Foundation were able to harness the early conflict between developers and wary communities “to perpetuate division, in their case over an invented medical condition, in the hope that some projects would be stopped”, Mr Holmes a Court said. “Communities, the wind sector and the medical fraternity have moved on.”

According to financial statements lodged for the year to June 30, 2016, the foundation had donated funds of $83,790 frozen while it appealed the ACNC’s original decision.

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*NWW: This statement is not accurate. Paragraph 470 of the decision states: “We consider that the evidence justifies the following conclusions: … There is an established association between WTN annoyance and adverse health effects (eg, this was established by the Health Canada study).” And paragraph 477 acknowledges: “In addition, it is evident that the matters bearing on the existence of a possible relationship between wind farm sound, annoyance and adverse health outcomes are poorly understood. There has to date been no large scale study comparing the actual sound generated by wind turbines, on the one hand, with the annoyance and objectively measured health effects apparently produced by that sound, on the other.” And paragraphs 480–481: “We also accept the evidence of most of the experts that, given there is a plausible basis for expecting adverse health outcomes associated with annoyance caused by WTN, there is a need for further studies to determine in particular the levels and types of WTN which are associated with annoyance, as well as the extent to which wind turbine annoyance is associated with adverse health outcomes. … It follows in our view that the applicant has established that there is a plausible basis for thinking that wind turbine sound (mediated by annoyance) may lead to adverse health outcomes, such as to warrant further investigation.”