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  • Rikki Lambert

Blowin' in the wind? Wind Farm Commissioner gets an extra gig

The Australian government has given the Wind Farm Commissioner a new added responsibility, but one of the former independent senators who helped create the role says it will become a 'charade' that sees landholders' interests ignored.

On Friday, federal energy minister Angus Taylor declared that the Commissioner would now be known as the Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, saying new energy transmission line projects would fall within the Commissioner's oversight as well:

“As these critically important transmission projects take shape, we want to ensure that any concerns community members have are heard and resolved in the appropriate way, and the Commissioner’s expanded role will facilitate this."

Former Family First senator Bob Day, who resigned his seat due to a constitutional controversy due to a pecuniary interest, leads a startup political party the 'Australian Family Party'. His balance of power position during the time of the Abbott administration saw him form a joint-push with fellow crossbenchers to create the Wind Farm Commissioner position. One of the primary drivers for the creation of the position were evidence given to a select committee on the health impacts of wind farms.

Mr Day says the Greens growing control of the senate balance of power makes the Commissioner's role problematic:

"The whole thing's a charade now. The Wind Farm Commissioner - I don't know about having his hands full, it's now just a front. I've got no confidence at all that any of the concerns now will be addressed."

The full interview with Mr Day is available in the podcast player at the end of this article.

Speaking with FlowNews24, Commissioner Andrew Dyer said:

"Surprisingly, if you go back to why we were created, a lot of it was to do with wind farms and health, but we get very few complaints about the operation of wind farms more generally and a subset of those may have a health component. We've generally had difficulty getting complainants to provide information about their stated health conditions and concerns."
"When we have had that opportunity to work through that evidence, to date we are yet to find a health issue that correlates or is caused physiologically by the wind farm."

The full interview with Commissioner Dyer is also available in the podcast player at the end of this article.

Mr Day said the likelihood that the Greens will replace independents and other minor parties in the Senate balance of power meant proponents of renewable energy and wind farms would have it all their own way:

"They've got in mind what they want to do, they run the show. The people, the local communities are just obstacles in the way.
"That's why you need independents to stand up, stand between, someone's got to stand in the gap, that's what Family First did for 16 years.
"Make no mistake, the commissioner will be pretty much powerless to do anything about it even if he wanted to."'
"We were the ones that insisted the commissioner be appointed. But if there's no follow up, if the commissioner's role is not being monitored or policed by those who insisted that the commissioner be there, then it becomes another tool or function of government. It almost gives the government an advantage, it makes it easier then to ride roughshod over the interests of local communities."

The NSW Farmers president James Jackson said in a statement:

“The process of development of transmission line(s) across NSW has been poorly handled to date, with many members despairing at the poor consultation and lack of regard for the operation of farming businesses.
“There is widespread anger in many areas of the state where transmission line corridors seem to be set in stone prior to entering into consultation with those affected.
“The Commissioner will need to hit the ground running as these projects proceed with haste and without an understanding of what constitutes important and strategic agricultural land.”

Full interview: former Senator Bob Day AO, leader of Australian Family Party

Disclosure: the author is the former chief of staff for Senator Day.

Full interview: Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, Andrew Dyer


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