Bill Shorten accuses PM of hurting investment in renewables as Abbott says his government is working to reduce the number of ‘visually awful’ turbines
Tony Abbott finds windfarms visually awful and agrees they may have “potential health impacts”, and says the deal on the renewable energy target was designed to reduce their numbers as much as the current Senate would allow.
Speaking to the Sydney radio host Alan Jones – a long-term windfarm critic – the prime minister said: “I do take your point about the potential health impact of these things … when I’ve been up close to these windfarms not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise.
Tony Abbott made the remarks in an interview with the broadcaster Alan Jones, who’s been campaigning hard against the spread of wind turbines.
The Federal Opposition has described the Prime Minister’s comments as completely ridiculous and supporters of the industry say they’re extraordinary.
The Prime Minister boasted the government’s cut to the renewable energy target would limit the expansion of the industry.
“What we did recently in the Senate was to reduce, Alan, capital R-E-D-U-C-E, the number of these things that we are going to get in the future … I frankly would have likely to have reduced the number a lot more but we got the best deal we could out of the Senate and if we hadn’t had a deal, Alan, we would have been stuck with even more of these things …
“What we are managing to do through this admittedly imperfect deal with the Senate is to reduce the growth rate of this particular sector as much as the current Senate would allow us to do.”
The link between wind turbines and health problems has recently been examined by the National Health and Medical Research Council, which found no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects, but said more research was warranted.
A spokeswoman for the Rottnest Island Authority said the turbine produced about 30 per cent of the island’s power needs and had resulted in savings of around $350,000 each year. Asked how many people on the island had complained of health problems due to the turbine, the spokeswoman said: “None that we know of.”
Mr Abbott said state governments should increase the required distance between wind farms and housing.
“It’s right and proper that we are having an inquiry into the health impacts of these things and, frankly, it’s right and proper that we have reduced the renewable energy target because as things stood, there was going to be an explosion of these things right around our country,” he said.
A Senate committee initiated by several independent senators is currently investigating whether a link exists.
Mr Abbott said changes before the Federal Parliament to reduce the RET were designed to prevent wind farms from further spreading across the Australian landscape.
“I would frankly have liked to reduce the number a lot more but we got the best deal we could out of the Senate,” he said.
“And if we hadn’t had a deal, Alan, we would have been stuck with even more of these things.”
On Friday, Mr Abbott said he had formed this view after cycling around Rottnest Island, off Perth, a few years ago.
Opposition slams PM Tony Abbott’s comments
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said the comments would create investor uncertainty. “There’s Tony Abbott at it again,” he said. “Now he’s anti-windmills.”
“Renewable energy is part of Australia’s current energy mix … When you’re the leader of Australia you don’t always have the chance to, I think, just have thought bubbles. You’ve got to create investment certainty. What will the renewable energy investors in wind power now think, knowing Australia is run by a bloke who says he doesn’t like windmills?”
Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler said the prime minister’s “stunning admission” that “his goal was to put an end to the renewable energy industry confirms [his] utter lack of foresight”.
“It’s gobsmacking that Australia’s prime minister can be so short-sighted, and so out of touch,” Butler said. “Tony Abbott is an embarrassment and this will not help Australia’s participation in the negotiations at the upcoming Paris conference.”
The Greens senator Larissa Waters said: “We sort of knew this was his view but he came right out and said it this morning. This is a prime minister who does not like clean energy.”
Abbott set out to destroy viable industry: Australian Wind Alliance
Australian Wind Alliance national coordinator Andrew Bray said the comments exposed the Government’s true intentions on the RET.
“These comments are extraordinary. Our Prime Minister has just admitted to setting out deliberately to destroy a viable industry in Australia, one that could provide jobs to many Australians, investment to regional communities and new income to farmers,” Mr Bray said.
“Not only that but he regrets that he wasn’t able to gut the industry even further.
“The Government has always maintained that it was cutting the RET due to an oversupply of electricity.
“But it’s obvious that rationale was just smoke and mirrors to cover up their real intent: to destroy wind energy in Australia.”