Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2020 | Bill

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan) (14:59): I am delighted to have the opportunity to make my contribution to the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2020. This bill will make important changes to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to exclude noise and emissions from wind turbines and wind energy facilities from the nuisance provisions. This bill will assist the government with meeting its renewable energy targets by addressing a particular risk to investor confidence in constructing wind energy facilities in Victoria.
Since getting elected in 2014 we have been providing reliable, affordable and clean energy for Victoria. Renewable energy is on the rise across Victoria. People from the Western Metropolitan Region and other regions have adopted renewable energy with open arms. Solar and wind farms are being built at a fast pace across the state. Since 2014, 26 projects providing 1177 megawatts have been completed and six projects providing 1326 megawatts are undergoing commissioning and are already providing clean energy to the grid. Eleven renewable energy projects totalling 1744 megawatts are currently under construction. Because of this success we have hit our renewable energy target of 25 per cent renewables by 2020, sourcing more than 25 per cent of our electricity from renewables last year. The previous government handed us almost nothing when it came to renewable energy. Since getting elected we have delivered great renewable infrastructure. People from the opposition destroyed the renewable energy sector when they were in government through destructive planning laws and archaic ideological opposition to action on climate change.
The massive investment has seen Victoria become a leader in renewable energy jobs. The Clean Energy Council’s Clean Energy at Work study showed that more jobs were created in renewables in Victoria than in any other state. The survey was comprehensive across the renewable energy sector. In fact 30 per cent of jobs in renewables were in Victoria, more than in New South Wales, which had 24 per cent, or in Queensland, which also had 24 per cent. The Victorian renewable energy target 2030 will create 24 000 jobs, drive an additional $5.8 billion in economic activity and reduce prices by $32 a year for households, $3100 a year for medium businesses and $150 000 a year for large companies, and we are not slowing down. We recently announced a market sounding to bring on line another 600 megawatts of renewable energy through a second VRET auction. This auction will be linked to government usage, meaning we can use the power to run our trains, hospitals and schools.
This bill will allow for a much-needed appropriate regulatory framework for dealing with noise complaints in relation to wind turbines. The nuisance provisions in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act are an important tool for councils to deal with local health risks. However, these provisions were not drafted with the complexity and size of the wind energy facility industry in mind. Nuisance laws take inspiration from the early 19th century. Victoria’s Public Health and Wellbeing Act today defines a nuisance as being something that is liable to be, or is, ‘dangerous to health or offensive’. Some examples of nuisance include smoke from burning off, odours from uncollected rubbish, damaged drainage or water run-offs from a neighbour’s property, unhygienic enclosures for birds or other animals, and buildings or other structures that are in disrepair.
Councils are the responsible authorities under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. Councils deal with the nuisance if it is raised. These local nuisance laws work fine when you are dealing with disputes among neighbours or, for example, the incidents that I highlighted, because councils can act on them. But it is a different framework when it comes to wind farms. This means that councils are required under the act to investigate complaints relating to noise or emissions from wind turbines at wind energy facilities, even if the wind energy facility is compliant with the noise requirements of the planning permit that authorises it. There is currently no way that a council can refer a complaint about wind turbine noise to another regulator, which creates a significant cost and resourcing burden on those councils that are home to wind energy facilities.
Wind farms are highly regulated. There is a meticulous planning process when a wind farm is being set up. The process includes consideration of the noise and environmental impacts. All planning permit applications for wind farms are subject to extensive notice to enable neighbouring communities to have their say about a proposal before it is determined.
Applications are required to be accompanied by a predictive noise assessment that demonstrates the proposal will comply with the relevant noise standard—the New Zealand standard. If a permit is granted, conditions also require that the post-construction noise assessment of the operating wind farm is undertaken to demonstrate the project complies with the noise standard. A wind farm can be entirely compliant with its planning permit, demonstrating that it is operating within those noise requirements that have been clearly set out, but can still be subject to additional complaints through this provision. This creates uncertainty for wind farm operators and the community alike. Councils are not properly equipped to deal with these complaints. The current noise regulations cover the wind farm noise, and complaints about that can occur through the EPA. This amendment will reduce the duplication of the process.
Local councils believe that the responsibility to investigate complaints about wind farm noise is unduly burdensome. It is costly for ratepayers and communities. Noise and emissions investigations require a high level of technical expertise. Councils may not have the necessary expertise in house. These assessments are long and expensive. It is a very specialised evaluation. Professional acoustic consultants use complex analytical tools to do the assessment. It takes months to finalise it. There are significant costs. Spending resources and capital on these complex compliance activities is not reasonable. More being spent on noise assessments means less money being available for roads and rubbish. This is a large resource burden for the councils and their local communities. Councils have to investigate nuisance complaints, regardless of whether the wind farms are operating in accordance with the planning permits. It is very inefficient, and the impacts are felt by residents, farm owners and investors. This is why councils are asking us to change this law. Glenelg shire, Moorabool shire and Corangamite shire have all written to the Minister for Health requesting changes to the nuisance provisions of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. Councils have cited the unsustainable cost to ratepayers of having to undertake acoustic and health assessments of wind farms in response to complaints made under the nuisance provisions.
The Municipal Association of Victoria, MAV, also support this change because they know that the state government is better placed to manage wind farm noise through its dedicated environmental regulator. In fact the MAV passed a motion asking the government to address the inconsistency between the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and the Planning and Environment Act 1987 in relation to wind farm enforcement. The wind farm commissioner, Andrew Dyer, also supports changes to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. The commissioner, appointed by the federal coalition, has played an important role in helping mediate disputes across wind farms. He has publicly supported changes to this act to bring it into line with best practice. As wind and solar farms have become larger, the permit burden has become more significant.
A person who is affected by noise or emissions from a wind turbine at a wind energy facility will still have the option of notifying the EPA, who will be able to investigate. If the person is not happy with the EPA’s decision, they can go to the Victorian Ombudsman, who can review the decision. The EPA will provide a consistent statewide approach and technical expertise, building on its responsibilities since 2018 in the auditing of wind farm noise assessments. This will mean that the EPA will have a central regulatory role as the responsible authority for enforcing the general environmental duty and unreasonable noise provisions under the Environment Protection Act. The cornerstone of the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 is the GED. The GED will focus on Victorian businesses, industry and the community, on preventing harm. The general environmental duty requires any person who is engaging in any activity that may give rise to risks of harm to human health or the environment from pollution or waste to minimise those risks so far as reasonably practicable.
Victoria is a leader in environmental leadership. We were one of the first jurisdictions in the world to establish environment protection legislation and an Environment Protection Authority. The Andrews Labor government was elected with a commitment to commission an independent inquiry into the EPA to examine whether the EPA has the right powers and proper resourcing to tackle the current and upcoming environmental challenges. The Andrews Labor government has allocated significant resources to the EPA to rebuild it after a period of neglect during the previous government’s term of office. The government has now committed an additional $190 million over five years to deliver these reforms. This is a massive investment in ensuring Victorians have the EPA we need to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of pollution and waste. This massive investment will boost the EPA’s ability to detect, prevent and respond to illegal activities and waste crime, including establishing a waste crime prevention inspectorate, introducing an electronic waste-tracking system and a waste crime intelligence committee with co-regulators and emergency service agencies.
The opposition does not want Victoria to have the progress that renewables have brought. Besides the positive environmental impact, the renewables sector has brought many jobs to Victoria and Australia. Renewable energy sources are affordable and reliable and are helping reduce emissions. The objective of the bill is to exclude noise or emissions from wind turbines at wind energy facilities from the nuisance provisions, bring certainty and clarity to the wind farm industry and councils, provide communities with increased confidence in the regulatory framework for wind energy facility noise and address duplication in regulatory schemes whereby a nuisance complaint can be made under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 about wind turbine noise even if the wind energy facility is compliant with the noise requirement of the planning permit that authorises it. This bill will assist the government with meeting its renewable energy target by addressing a particular risk to investor confidence in constructing wind energy facilities in Victoria. I commend the bill to the house.