| Pilliga |
Camden | Northern Rivers
| Wollongong |
Woop Woop March |
Aussies Against Fracking
GENERAL PURPOSE STANDING
COMMITTEE No. 5 27 MONDAY 31 OCTOBER 2011
STEVEN ROBINSON, Psychiatrist and resident
of Gloucester, affirmed and examined:
CHAIR: Are you representing an organisation or appearing as an individual?
Dr ROBINSON: I am appearing as an individual.
CHAIR: Would you like to make an opening statement?
Dr ROBINSON: Yes. I am a retired psychiatrist. I have been retired for about
three years. For the last
10 years of my working life I had a practice in Gloucester.
The adverse health
impacts of mining enterprises are
a great public concern. Coal seam gas mining is in its infancy and it is
acknowledged that its precise adverse
health impacts are poorly worked out.
Doctors for the Environment Australia have
stated that a health impact
assessment is essential. Surveys of affected coalmining communities show mental
health impacts feature highly,
though this is not reflected in legislation, consent conditions, monitoring and
harm minimisation activities.
community anger and stress about coal seam gas exploration reflected in the
formation of Lock the Gate et
cetera, leads me to expect an increase in mental disorders in the affected
The recent community
survey in Gloucester, where coal seam gas mining has been approved, by
Gloucester Council of Exploration and
Mining showed 85 per cent of respondents thought mining should not occur in
scenic areas such as Gloucester
and 70 per cent believed the health impact to be very high with stress rating
The Government is
acting contrary to the wishes of the people; hence, I believe, much of the
My hope is that since coal seam gas mining is a new industry the opportunity
will be taken to include
mental health specialists amongst those designing a new framework for
legislation, consent conditions,
monitoring and harm minimisation.
It will be essential to screen the affected
community prior to commencing
any mining so that any noise and fine diesel particle-induced decline in
cognitive skills and emotional
abnormalities will be detected.
The failure to match the health screening that
is mandatory from miners prior to
working with a health screening of the potentially affected community has made
it very difficult to prove health
damage in individuals in the community.
Consequently, extreme anger exists in
the community at the failure to
recognise and compensate for their suffering. This anger further exacerbates
adverse health effects.
cumulative effect with coalmining-related health damage and the difficulty in
determining what amount came
from which source may mean any compensation should come from a fund contributed
to by every mining
company and an independent tribunal should be set up to manage compensation for
health and property damage.
CHAIR: Very erudite. In budget estimates hearings in Sydney last week we were
Minister for Resources and Energy. Under the Mining Act an amount is
hypothecated into a fund to account for
restoration works should a mining company go broke. Currently it is about $1.2
billion we are told.
health is equally important, if not more important, from a restorative point of
What sort of resources do
you believe should be made available for the types of studies you would like to
Bear in mind that this
process could be repeated over and over again in different parts of the State
and different localities over the next
10 or 15 years.
Dr ROBINSON: There is a need to do basic studies, as you say and, at a guess, it
would cost a few
CHAIR: Probably a million, would it not?
Dr ROBINSON: Maybe a million, I do not know.
CHAIR: And in your view, would those studies be done by an independent
organisation such as a
university? Who would conduct those sorts of studies?
Dr ROBINSON: Yes. I know at Newcastle University there is a department that is
interested in just
such a thing and they have written various papers about the effect of mining on
CHAIR: Are you aware of other jurisdictions anywhere in the world where that
sort of thing has been
Dr ROBINSON: No.
CHAIR: No reason why we should not be first?
Dr ROBINSON: Well, that is right. I think the mental health impact is
substantial and it does need a
lot more work put into it. I am aware that there are a few suicide epidemics and
certainly when I was in practice
I saw lots of individual cases where the stress of mining appeared to be a
But one person's
private practice is not enough to prove it. It certainly made one suspect that
mining is a major stressor and I
believe people should be compensated for that.
CHAIR: We had a hearing in Casino where again it might have been a retired
practitioner who made
similar comments to yours. Even though you are no longer in practice, have you
been able to ascertain any
trends in your own community or have you seen aberrations? How do you see this
as being expressed in your
Dr ROBINSON: I retired three years ago and, as far as coal seam gas in
Gloucester Valley is
concerned, it was still in the exploration phase. But as I think several people
have already described to you,
probably the exploration phase is maybe the most stressful.
I did see some
people where there was coal seam
gas mining on their property but it was mainly coalmining—there are two open cut
coal mines in the Gloucester
I saw lots of people who got depressed because their life plans were
ruined. People live near coalmines
where there is regular blasting and I saw people who used to have panic attacks
every time there was a blast.
Some people come to the bush to escape, so it is not unusual to see the
occasional paranoid person and when
they have coalminers or gas miners constantly knocking on their doors wanting to
buy their land off them, they
get a bit more paranoid.
Usually the stress of mining reactivated mental
problems in people who had had such
problems in the past but in some cases there were people who talked about the
stress who had had no previous
mental illness. So, as I say, it is mainly a stressor that reactivates old
CHAIR: This General Purpose Standing Committee No. 5 and various select
conducted inquiries into things like wind farming and seen similar sorts of
things said in those communities.
have spent a bit of time in the Riverina, looking at the devastating effect on a
timber cutting community when its
forests are turned into national parks. So it does not seem to be just mines, it
appears to be all sorts of things that
create sudden change in a community that seem to create these sorts of problems.
Dr ROBINSON: Yes, I agree.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Dr Robinson, following on from what the Chair was saying
similar effect of wind farms, I was also on that Committee and we took a lot of
evidence about the issue of
infrasound, which you refer to in your submission. Could I ask you if that is a
physical condition or is it purely a
mental health condition that affects people, or is it both?
Dr ROBINSON: Well, it is both. As the frequency gets lower, it changes from an
acoustic, a sound
problem, into a vibration problem. So we cannot hear the very lowest frequencies
of less than 20 cycles per
second but the vibrations still cause problems and the body reacts.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: So that is more a physical condition, is it?
Dr ROBINSON: It is disrupting and affecting your nervous system as well as your
body. That science
is still in its comparative infancy. I think the best examples that they give
are of it affecting the cardiovascular
system. The vibration causes thickening of the walls of blood vessels, which
reduces the flow of blood through
Similarly, it will cause abnormal activity in the nervous system
which could result in anxiety,
depression and so on.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: You also raised the issue before of solastalgia.
Dr ROBINSON: That is a word which had not been in the language before, so most
people take a step
back when they hear it. My take on solastalgia is that it is a grief for a
landscape that has been loved and is now
If you travel from Singleton to Muswellbrook, you can understand why
anyone living in that devastated
landscape would be feeling grief stricken.
That is what the people of Gloucester
fear—that our loved landscape
will become like that landscape.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: You commented a few moments ago that in many cases the
phase is the most stressful, probably more stressful than the production phase.
Is that what you mean?
Dr ROBINSON: It is the start. We have not had the production phases, but I
anticipate that in the
production phase, if you had a gas well 200 metres from your home, the noise
would be a significant problem. It
is not just infrasound—infrasound is interesting—but people are having their
sleep disrupted regularly.
well would need some power source and I think that diesel generators will
probably be the most common one,
according to discussions that I have heard. So if there are diesel exhaust
fumes, the fine particles of diesel can
cause damage to the nervous system.
In New York, where they have investigated
it, it has lowered the IQ of
five-year-old children by five points.
I do not know whether the emissions from
a gas well will get to a level that
it will cause that degree of damage although I think it is already happening in
the Muswellbrook area. It needs to
be investigated and I have asked AGL to do so but it has not done it.
allowed to do flaring with virtually
no monitoring being done in the exploration phase. The consent conditions are
very lax indeed. So they have
done all that flaring and they flare for about six months or more and they have
flared 200 metres from people's
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: That is certainly an inconsistency in the regulations
because as soon as
they start collecting the gas, it is classified as a production well and they
are not allowed to produce from it, so
that will need sorting out.
Dr ROBINSON: I have talked to people from Camden and they told me that, although
the well must
not be closer than 200 metres, that once the well exists, they can then build a
house 20 metres from a well.
Those people will not be entitled to any compensation but those houses will
probably be rented and just because
the land is valuable, there will be obviously a far greater danger for anyone
living that close to a well.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Going back to the discussion we were having a moment ago
exploration phase being probably the most stressful, is that largely because it
is the unknown approaching, if I
can use that expression? They do not know what they are facing and therefore it
is stressful for them?
Dr ROBINSON: Yes, I think it is adjusting to a sudden, new, unexpected situation
and because the
company is usually very big and their attempts to say, "No, I do not want it. Go
away" fail, they feel hopeless
and helpless and that is what causes depression, which would be the most common
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: Thank you for coming along and providing some additional
this afternoon. In your submission, on page number 3, you have the heading,
"What are the effects on the
individual of this general stress on residents of a town and valley?"
explain to us your thoughts or your
firsthand knowledge about the impact of tensions created in the community, the
general social fabric, when you
have a scenario whereby you have some members of the community being pulled in
one direction and others
being pulled in another direction?
How does that play out in the community in
the short, medium and long term?
I do not know whether you have the expertise to answer that, but if you do, I
would appreciate your thoughts
about what is the impact on communities when you have these competing demands on
Dr ROBINSON: Well, I think it makes social situations often very difficult, to
discuss things like
If you have, let us say, one person in the household who is not employed
by a mining company and is
on a low wage or is unemployed and another member who is on an above-average
wage and one member who is
keen on the environment and another one who is aware that their employment is
destructive of the environment,
that it is just a situation that generates ill feeling and family disharmony.
see it played out in our local
newspaper or if someone stands up and gives a talk about something, it generally
leads on to a bit of aggro. That
is not a helpful environment for a community in the long term.
We can have
differences of opinion but when it
goes on for months and years, that is when stress conditions would usually
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY: Would you distinguish that from a community that has
been a mining community? For example, a community that historically has been a
mining community, where
people have generally coalesced around that industry in their employment or
related employment, is a different
scenario from a mining industry entering into a community that has not
traditionally been a mining community.
Dr ROBINSON: I agree that is a good way of illustrating it. I have not lived in
a community that is
entirely mining, but I would not expect that family discord to be occurring
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: The Committee visited Chinchilla and I was affected
a woman said to me during that visit. She said she was sick of talking about it.
In a literal sense she was sick of
talking about it but I also think she was becoming sick from talking about it.
What is the affect on communities
and individuals? You said before that time is a factor in anxiety and fatigue,
which then leads to other stress and
anger. Will you elaborate on what affect the time factor has on people in
dealing with these issues over months
and years? Does that exacerbate the level of stress and anger?
Dr ROBINSON: You saying, "sick of talking about it" made me immediately think of
situation. We purchased a property outside of Gloucester 18 years ago and I
rapidly joined the local
The activities of the environment group used to be going on
nice walks and community
projects such as gardening and clearing up. Increasingly the environment group
has been called on to do mining
submissions, so much so that now I spend four or five days a week being angry
and I am not an angry person. I
can very much relate to that lady.
CHAIR: I am not laughing at you. I suddenly thought that is what happened to the
people I represent
in about 1992: we started not enjoying ourselves anymore hunting and fishing and
became angry young men.
Dr ROBINSON: If I did not have breaks from it from time to time I am sure I
would suffer from
depression or whatever.
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: I cover the Mining portfolio for The Greens and I
to a lot of people. I found it hard to comprehend the issue of noise,
disturbance of sleep and those sorts of things.
Noise can be a significant contributor to mental health issues, can it not?
Dr ROBINSON: Yes.
The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: The noise from the mines was something that was
on by a lot of people in the coal mining communities I have dealt with.
Sometimes I would say, "What noise?"
People would say, "Can't you hear it?" I would say, "No". They would say,
"Wait". The wind would blow and I
would say, "I can just hear it." It was just there. I did not even notice it but
to them it was an irritant that was
driving them barmy.
Dr ROBINSON: If you move to an area for peace and quiet you become used to a
level. So the mining regulations assume that the quietest that it becomes at
night-time is a background reading of
In a town that probably is the background level on a quiet street,
but in the bush it is probably more
like 20 decibels. This is relevant because if you have about a 15 decibel
increase in background noise it is likely
to wake you from sleep. All the legislation is written under the assumption that
30 decibels is as low as it goes.
If you have a coal train passing by half a dozen times during the night the
absolute sound level may not be a
noxious one from the regulations point of view but, if it is waking you up, it
is disturbing your sleep.
is the time when you are going over the activities of the day, your memories are
being laid down and your
emotions are being sorted through—that is the sort of thing that happens in
rapid eye movement [REM] sleep.
you are constantly being woken then this is being disrupted and it is likely to
lead to mental disorders.
The Hon. SCOT MacDONALD: How do we address the generational equity that you
touched on in
an earlier answer? As I look around here the older generation have established
their assets and have done well;
some have moved here from Sydney for a life-style change. How do we say to the
younger people, "Sorry, you
are going to have to move away because the opportunities are elsewhere"?
Dr ROBINSON: I think we need to be making opportunities for them so that if we
take away mining
from the Gloucester Valley it should be replaced. I would love to see solar
energy or wind energy in Gloucester
Valley. Coal mining has not been a boon to us.
We have had coal mining for 15
years and the average wage in
the Gloucester Shire is $32,000 per annum. They employ 125 people. It has not
been a boon to Gloucester Shire.
The coal seam gas industry is only employing about 20 or 30 people at the
moment. It is not going to be an
These other industries will employ more people. We need to phase
down coal but introduce
something to replace it, which will provide those opportunities for young
CHAIR: Thank you for taking the time to come along today. It is sometimes
difficult to get the type ofexpertise that you bring to the table into these equations. We are very grateful
that you have been able to share
with us the benefit of your experience.
(The witness withdrew).
Pilliga | Gloucester |
Camden | Northern Rivers
Queensland | Western Australia |
South Australia |