Anti-windfarm group stripped of tax-deductible charity status

The Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission (ACNC) has revoked the Waubra Foundation’s status as a health promotion charity. This means the anti-windfarm group can no longer offer tax-deductible donations.

The Waubra Foundation is a group set up in 2010 “to facilitate properly conducted, independent multidisciplinary research into the new health problems identified by residents living near wind turbines and other industrial sites which may have common cause”.

However, a recent report from the National Health and Medical Research Council says there’s no reliable or consistent evidence that living near windfarms has direct negative health effects.

Professor Simon Chapman from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney – and winner of the Skeptic of the Year in 2013 – supported this view, telling the SBS earlier this year that there was no direct evidence for so-called ‘wind turbine syndrome’ at all, despite a total of 20 reviews since 2003.

“When you’ve got 20 reviews where people are saying, look there’s no direct evidence here at all, it really takes a certain mindset to say, ‘Oh no, we want to keep on reviewing this area, keep on doing research, keep on commissioning research because there just might be a health problem that so far hasn’t really come to light’.”

In a statement, the ACNC confirmed that the Foundation’s health promotion registration was removed on December 11.

A health promotion charity is a charitable institution whose principal activity is to promote the prevention or control of diseases in people. This may include providing public information about a disease, research to develop cures or treatments, or, where it also promotes prevention or control, providing equipment to help people who are suffering from the disease.

However, the ACNC’s Assistant Commissioner David Locke said in February that “It is not possible for me to find that the Foundation’s principal activity promotes the prevention or control of disease in human beings.”

“My current view is there is that there is insufficient evidence that ‘wind turbine syndrome’ or ‘vibroacoustic disease’ caused by proximity to wind turbines are recognised as human diseases or that the health problems that have been perceived by the complainants as being associated with living or working close to wind turbines are a disease.”

Until now, this hasn’t stopped the Waubra Foundation from collecting funds as a charity and accepting tax deductible donations.

Several months ago, the Greens party made a complaint to the taxation office and the ACNC about Waubra’s status.

Greens Senator, Richard di Natale, told the ABC’s AM program that the recent decision showed that “Common sense has finally prevailed. [Waubra] should never have been granted status as a health promotion charity when the work that it does is to make people unwell rather than keep people well.

“The fear and anxiety that this organisation perpetuates through the community is a reason for this organisation to cease what it’s doing at the moment.”

The Waubra Foundation was named after the Victorian town of Waubra, where some residents reported symptoms claimed to be caused by windfarms. Other than the name, the Foundation has no links to the township. In November 2013, 315 people, including 179 people within the town community, petitioned the Foundation to remove the township’s name from its title, with petitioners claiming that the name had “tarnished the town’s reputation” and that its name was misleading. The Foundation refused.

Despite the loss of its tax-deductible fundraising status, the Foundation does retain its “health advancement” status, which contains the lesser definition that means an organisation can gain recognition issues related to “sickness” or “human suffering”. It also retains its “advancing public debate” status.

The Foundation’s board says it will raise the tax ruling at next year’s Federal Senate inquiry into windfarms, though that inquiry will focus on the effect of wind turbines on household power prices, emissions, the implementation of planning processes and nearby fauna.