Can the NHMRC redeem itself?

Ashamed head-in-hands
Australia’s NHMRC – redemption or eternal shame?


In our post a while back: “The NHMRC: Australia’s Great Shame” we tipped a stinking bucket on the NHMRC’s disgraceful 2010 Rapid Review.  A “review” that was so rapid that it completely missed the highly relevant, detailed and exhaustive work carried out by Neil Kelley back in the 1980s.

Kelley was the author of a 1987 study in which he and his team of bright boys and girls from leading American academic institutions proved the link between low frequency turbine noise and the health complaints made by neighbours of a single fan in North Carolina, USA – the subject of this detailed post.

STT readers are well aware that the NHMRC has NEVER carried out any field research of any kind in relation to the impacts of turbine noise on neighbours.

The NHMRC has never done anything more than carry out a literature review on the topic – and, even then, a highly selective “review”, at that.

In putting together its Rapid Review the NHMRC, apparently, sent Tracey from accounts over to the library one day in early 2010 and told her to have a look for stuff with “wind farm” in the title.

girl in library
Tracey returned to the NHMRC later that day – with nothing to report.


Either Tracey wasn’t paying attention or she was just plain bored, but, somehow, she managed to miss the most detailed piece of research ever done on the direct physical consequences of low-frequency turbine noise for human beings – work done by the best of the best in America, over 25 years before the NHMRC knocked out its pile of wind industry backed dross in 2010.

It wasn’t that hard to find Kelley & Co’s work – STT found it.

STT has no confidence in the NHMRC and, so it would seem, our reservations are shared by switched-on members of the Coalition.

The Draft Bill (headed “Inquiry into Health Effects of Wind Farms Bill 2012”) – pressed for by the former member for Hume, Alby Schultz and the member for Wannon, Dan Tehan – is in terms that certainly requires the CEO of the NHMRC to “cause an inquiry to be conducted into the possible effects of wind farms on human health”.  However, the legislation is not in terms that require the NHMRC to carry out the research in its own right.

Bear in mind that the NHMRC is merely a group of government funded boffins who meet occasionally to shoot the breeze about whatever they think it is that currently ails us.

Under the Draft Bill, the type of work to be carried out as part of the inquiry: “includes epidemiological and laboratory studies; and, includes, but is not limited to, inaudible [noise] or infra-sound arising from or associated with wind farms”.

STT thinks that that’s a pretty good place to start.

The NHMRC has no established body of field researchers with the relevant skills for this inquiry.  Under the Draft Bill – as STT reads it – the role of the CEO is to put that team together and ensure that it is properly funded.

The Draft Bill allows the CEO to delegate responsibility for the inquiry to “another person”.  However, the CEO is not entitled to do so unless both the Clean Energy Council and the Waubra Foundation have agreed to the identity of that “other person”.

In the event of a “tie-breaker”, the Minister may recommend that the “other person” nominated by the CEO be charged with primary responsibility for the inquiry.

alby schultz
A proper inquiry at last – thanks to the faultless
former member for Hume, Alby Schultz.


As STT understands it, Alby Schultz was keen to provide a mechanism by which the NHMRC would be bound to handball the work to a properly qualified group with expertise in acoustics, neurophysiology, sleep, and health.  There’ll be no place, of course, for former tobacco advertising gurus – only people with REAL medical qualifications need apply.

The other player with a very keen stake in the Coalition’s planned research is SA’s favourite Greek, Senator Nick Xenophon.

Nick Xenophon
SA’s favourite Greek is ripping into SA’s rotten little EPA.


STT hears that Nick has been ripping into the South Australia’s rotten little EPA over its Waterloo wind farm noise “study” debacle.  Apparently, Nick was less than impressed with the “quality” of the EPA’s work and has challenged it over missing data and the placement of noise loggers next to reflective surfaces (like sheds and water tanks) and in the middle of gum trees, contrary to its own wind farm noise guidelines.

Anyway, back to the Inquiry.  Here’s The Australian’s take on Tony Abbott’s plans to put things right, at last.

Health check on wind power farms
The Australian
Sean Parnell and Pia Akerman
8 January 2014

THE controversy over wind farms is set to flare again with the Abbott government preparing to commission fresh research on the impact the giant turbines have on nearby residents.

The National Health and Medical Research Council – which only three years ago found no evidence of adverse health effects, but a need for ongoing study – has again been tasked with responding to community concerns and will soon make a targeted call for new research.

Almost a year before its election victory, the Coalition seized on the disquiet over wind farms and promised to examine the renewable energy projects more carefully should it win government, if not through NHMRC research then through a specially appointed independent panel.

Health Minister Peter Dutton recently wrote to his Victorian counterpart, David Davis, outlining plans to allow the NHMRC to lead the response, perhaps with other governments and industry bodies contributing to the cost of new research.

The move would appear to be an attempt to have all stakeholders take some financial ownership of the research in the hope they will support the outcomes and resolve the issue once and for all.

Documents obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws show Mr Davis had already written to Mr Dutton – less than a fortnight after the election – to offer $100,000 funding for any such research.

“I receive regular correspondence from Victorians living in the vicinity of wind farms who report adverse health effects,” Mr Davis wrote in his first formal correspondence with the incoming federal minister.

“Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research available to enhance the community’s understanding of this matter and inform appropriate government actions and policy development. I consider that a national approach to research is needed.”

It is understood Mr Dutton has yet to decide on the funding model for the research but is likely to consult further with Mr Davis and other stakeholders.

However, the decision to maintain the NHMRC’s involvement may backfire, with some affected residents apparently wary of the government’s lead medical research agency given its previous findings.

Jan Hetherington watched as the country’s biggest wind farm sprang up 3km from her home in Gerrigerrup, in western Victoria.

The Macarthur wind farm is jointly owned by AGL and the Malaysian power company Malakoff Corporation Berhad.

It is the largest windfarm in the southern hemisphere and generates about 420 megawatts of electricity each year, enough to power 220,000 houses.

Since the first of the 140 turbines began spinning in late 2012, she has experienced headaches, which leave her unable to sleep, nausea, ringing ears and feelings of depression and anxiety.

“I can’t see that it’s psychosomatic,” she said. “If you feel pain, you feel pain.”

Ms Hetherington said she supported further research but had little faith in the NHMRC after sending them numerous emails with no response.

“Do independent testing,” she said. “There has got to be full spectrum noise testing, there has got to be multidisciplinary research done in the field including doctors and acousticians, endocrinologists and psychologists. All of them have to be in a study, and we have to be spoken to.” “

Since its 2010 rapid review, which found “no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects”, the NHMRC has been conducting a broader literature review, and the members of its Wind Farms and Human Health Reference Group have had their terms extended to 2015.

A spokesman for Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane – who has promised laws to require real-time noise monitoring – said it was important for the government to deliver “independent and factual analysis in order to resolve community concerns regarding the impact of wind farms on human health”.

“We have (consulted) and will continue to consult with wind energy providers as the process progresses in the coming months,” the spokesman said.

Tony Abbott’s key business adviser Maurice Newman is a vocal critic of wind farms, and last week said the increased cost of energy, driven by the renewable energy target and the carbon tax, had destroyed Australia’s competitiveness.

However, research by the CSIRO has found stronger public support for wind farms than media coverage and political commentary might suggest, with a vocal minority apparently skewing response to the issue.

Ms Hetherington regularly travels to Melbourne and Port Fairy to stay with relatives and escape the symptoms she experiences at home. She said Macarthur’s owner AGL had refused her request to turn off the turbines while her family visited over Christmas.

AGL has commissioned research, which showed no measurable change in local infrasound levels after the wind farm’s construction.
The Australian

The research AGL “commissioned” on infra-sound was done by the same pet acoustic consultants who made up the “working group” that convinced (without much effort, apparently) SA’s EPA to assert in its 2009 wind farm noise guidelines that:

Infrasound was a characteristic of some wind turbine models that has been attributed to early designs in which turbine blades were downwind of the main tower. The effect was generated as the blades cut through the turbulence generated around the downwind side of the tower.

Modern designs generally have the blades upwind of the tower. Wind conditions around the blades and improved blade design minimise the generation of the effect. The EPA has consulted the working group and completed an extensive literature search but is not aware of infrasound being present at any modern wind farm site.

That piece of classic wind industry spin was quite obviously directed at the work carried out by Neil Kelley & Co – the earliest of which concerned a turbine with blades downwind from the tower – wind weasels and their pet acoustic consultants clearly knew about that work when they “consulted” with SA’s EPA and were obviously keen to keep a lid on it.  Funny about that.

However – contrary to the assertions of the “clever” boys on the “working group” – the EPA did manage to find infra-sound being generated by Energy Australia’s turbines at Waterloo – which probably is a “modern wind farm” – given that it was built at least a year AFTER the EPA published its guidelines in 2009 (see our post here).

The so called “work” done by AGL’s tame acoustic consultants on infra-sound also used filters and weightings to EXCLUDE the vast bulk of the sound energy produced by the fans in question – a standard industry game of acoustic “hide and not seek” – for details on the trick see our post here.

The other ripper that STT can’t let go is this piece of unsolicited dribble:

… research by the CSIRO has found stronger public support for wind farms than media coverage and political commentary might suggest, with a vocal minority apparently skewing response to the issue.”

Australian power prices have gone through the roof and its manufacturing sector is being flogged to death as a result, so we doubt you’d find much “support” for insanely expensive wind power from the thousands of workers facing the axe at Ford and Holden (see our post here).

The wind industry will fold in a heartbeat as soon as the RET is scrapped.  In the absence of $billions in REC tax (a direct transfer from power consumers to wind power generators) there would be no wind industry at all (see our post here).

The CSIRO “survey” referred to is of the same reputable standard as the stuff trotted out by the IPCC to the effect that: “97% of all scientists agree (heartily) that the planet will spontaneously combust within the next 5 years”.

And asking people in the abstract whether they “support” wind power is like asking people whether they “love puppies”.

While 99% of all people go gooey over a doe eyed young pup, a far smaller proportion will ever bother to own one.  That fact has probably got something to do with the cost of feeding a dog; or, perhaps, that not everyone is that keen to have a frisky young fella tear up the furniture and drop his business all over the carpet.

They all say they “love” me but hardly any of them want to own me.


The choices we make quite often depend upon who’s paying.  When the boss is paying for dinner it’s a dozen oysters and the biggest steak on the menu, washed down with a bottle of Grange and a cheese platter, coffee and desert – “thanks boss!”.  But our appetites and tastes soon ease when we have to stump up for the bill ourselves.

Here’s a little survey that was put up by the Mudgee Guardian that asks the correct question: viz, Should wind farms be subsidised by the federal government?


No surprises there.  That’s the kind of response expected when the boss says he isn’t paying and it becomes clear that you’re the one footing the bill.

expensive business lunch
They were all for ordering another bottle of Grange –
right up to the point when the boss said he wasn’t paying.

5 thoughts on “Can the NHMRC redeem itself?

  1. How long before the plaintiff lawyers start sniffing round, coming to farm doors and offering no win/no fee class action law suits to those affected by turbine syndrome? Big wins/fat fees on the horizon, I reckon.

  2. Whether the NH&MRC can redeem itself STT will depend on the integrity and probity of a new leadership team demonstrating the highest ethical standards and independance from vested political, academic and/or commercial interests.

    In your dreams…

  3. I understood that Professor Alec Salt an outstanding otolaryngologist and Neil Kelley of NASA fame had already established that wind turbines produce low frequency and infra sound and that it directly impacts our health one way or another.

    Perhaps the wind turbines in Australia make a different noise to our overseas cousins? Yair right!

    As I type this, I have ear ache, strong tinnitus and irregular pulsing inside my head not the same as my heart beat and it will be much worse when I go to bed – it always is. Yet another disturbed night ahead. No, I don’t lie awake just so that I can hear it. It is most unfortunate that when we go to sleep, unlike our sense of smell, our hearing stays wide awake.

    Not happy Jan!

  4. I do not think that the NHMRC should be involved because they have had evidence that people have been harmed for more than 3 years by these badly placed turbines and have not done a thing about it.

    Dr Norm Broner is a member of the reference group at the NHMRC. He is also practice leader in Acoustic Noise and Vibration at Sinclair Knight Merz and has something like 30 years dealing with low frequency sound.

    Sinclair Knight Merz has been involved with the Waubra Wind Farm, The Macarthur Wind Farm and the Waterloo Wind Farm with all the harm being done to people living in the area of these wind farms. I believe Sinclair Knight Merz’s involvement in windfarm design has had a major part to play in the needless suffering of many people.

    As well as a comprehensive medical and full spectrum sound investigation without filters and using appropriate microphones, I believe the auditing for compliance to the Noise Monitoring Compliance Plan needs to include the complaints procedure to the Auditor General. As soon as there is a problem they need to be turned off. This way, the harm being done to people can be stopped as soon as possible – because waiting for medical and broad spectrum noise assessments just delays the time until the Wind turbine affected people can be free of the unregulated sound emissions.

    Noel Dean.

Leave a Reply to Old Ranga Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s