Last update: May 28, 2014
The Waubra Foundation, Sarah Laurie and Peter Mitchell promote themselves as an independent and neutral agency in discussions of wind energy. They present to wind generation siting review boards, government inquires and communities eager for information about wind proposals world wide. Ms. Laurie attempts to gain expert witness status in court cases related to wind energy, while Mr. Mitchell portrays himself as an unbiased Community Representative, and Woolridge is culpably lax in Director duties elsewhere.
However, they are not independent or trustworthy in their input and recommendations. There are seven key things you must be aware of and inform others of before considering dealing with the Waubra Foundation:
- They have no relevant expertise and reject independent expertise and peer reviewed science
- They misrepresent themselves as well as the work of others
- They were formed by a coalition of wealthy, NIMBY landowners
- They are consistently unethical in their operations
- They are global warming deniers
- They have close ties to fossil fuel and mining interests opposed to wind energy
- They live nowhere near Waubra and the town is outraged at them
February 2014 updates:
- Tax status challenge
- Mitchell fails-to-report conflict of interest failings to NHMRC
- Laurie’s loss of Dr. status due to APHRA ethics complaint
- Laurie refused expert status in Ontario
- Assessment of wind farm refugee claims
- Petition for name change and refusal
- Woolridge failures with duties as a Director
If they were just another biased advocacy group, the concern over their actions would not be as great. However, the strong evidence is that their actions are making people sick through stress and suggestion and they are holding back the development of proven and cost effective wind generation that is valuable in the fight against global warming.
Here is a PDF version of this post for print and email distribution in your community and to participants of public forums where the Waubra Foundation is engaged: Seven things you must know about the Waubra Foundation and Sarah Laurie. Here is a set of questions to ask Ms. Laurie in public forums: Questions for Sarah Laurie v2.
Please read on for the evidence supporting each of these points.
1. The Waubra Foundation has no expertise and rejects peer-reviewed science
Ms. Laurie dismisses the work related to wind energy of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) which conducted an initial review in 2010 and is currently doing an in depth review. In February 2013 Ms Laurie told a planning panel (VCAT) that the Waubra Foundation won’t accept the NHMRC’s findings if they don’t agree with her view. This is unsurprising, as the Waubra Foundation has rejected the findings of 20 reviews from around the world including the NHMRC statement and very thorough reviews undertaken by Ontario, Massachusetts and Oregon health departments.
Ms Laurie has been caught misleading the public about her level of education by placing the letters MD behind her name (on her website and in public presentations) when she has not achieved this high-level medical research qualification, and has never published a piece of research. She has also claimed to be a fellow of two prominent medical fraternities 10 years after her membership lapsed. Sarah Laurie consistently used the title Dr and calls herself a medical clinician, but has not practiced for more than 10 years and has no medical research or epidemiological qualifications. She has claimed since 2010 that she is planning to re-register, however it is unlikely that she will do so anytime soon as it would bind her to professional and ethical standards that she would breach with her current activities. In fact, she has been non-practicing and de-registered longer than she was practicing. Most recently, she was forced to admit in an Ontario Tribunal she was attempting to gain expert status at that she was no longer allowed to use the title Dr as part of her agreement with the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency (AHPRA) regarding ethics complaints in 2013.
Ms Laurie has been disowned by experts she has claimed agree with her. At least three experts have demanded that she stop using their names, including Dr Peter Sharley (president, SA branch of the Australian Medical Association), Dr Andrew Lavendar (immediate past president, SA AMA) and Dr Liz Hanna (Public Health Association of Australia). Ms Laurie frequently quotes Dr Geoff Leventhall, a world authority on wind-turbine noise. Leventhall has said of her “I find it unwise to believe much of what Dr Laurie states, unless there is confirming evidence. She also misuses references, so that you have to be careful to check whether these are relevant and actually say what she claims they do.”
Ms Laurie invokes Carl V Philips as an expert on public health, ignoring the fact that his academic career came to an end as a result of him receiving large sums of money from the tobacco industry while finding that tobacco products just aren’t that harmful. Ms Laurie has appeared multiple times on Alan Jones’s radio show. Jones is the Sydney-based radio shock-jock who was ordered to undertake ‘factual accuracy training’ by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and whose advertisers abandoned him in 2012 for his ugly comments about the Prime Minister’s recently-deceased father. Ms Laurie is close to John Madigan, the senator for Victoria who thinks smart meters make people sick, has declared that he is fighting wind farms, opposes abortion even for the case of pregnancies as a result of rape, and hosted a tour of the swastika-bearing ‘Lord’ Christopher Monckton of Brenchley in February 2013. The Waubra Foundation has collaborated with Max Rheese, executive director of the anti-environment group, Australian Environment Foundation and the anti-climate science group Australian Climate Science Coalition.
Owing to her lack of appropriate qualifications, Ms Laurie was denied ‘expert witness’ status when she presented to the South Australian Environment, Resources and Development (ERD) Court in 2011. Dr Gary Wittert, Head of the Medical faculty at the University of Adelaide (and a registered physician) appeared as an expert and testified that “There is no credible evidence of a causal link, between the physical outputs of a turbine (or sets of turbines)… and adverse effects on health.” Dr Wittert testified that the data presented by Ms Laurie did not support her hypothesis that high blood pressure was related to turbine operation. The ERD ultimately found Ms Laurie’s testimony unconvincing. Ms Laurie was also not permitted to claim expert status at the Cherry Tree Wind Farm hearing in February 2013. Ms. Laurie attempted twice in 2013 to gain expert status in Ontario at Tribunals and was refused recognition both times, with one judgment devoting five pages to her lack of qualifications and persistence in diagnosing people despite no license or right to diagnose.
Ms Laurie is becoming infamous for her devotion to pseudoscience. She is listed on QuackWatch, a site cataloging purveyors of questionable methods and/or advice. She is a nominee for the Australian Skeptics’ 2013 Bent Spoon Award, an award presented to the “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle”. She and the Waubra Foundation are listed on the Centre For Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch website, a site documenting the world’s fake grassroots (‘astroturf’) groups.
Science doesn’t agree with the Waubra Foundation. There’s not a single peer-reviewed scientific paper in any credible journal that supports the Waubra Foundation’s position that infrasound from wind turbines makes people sick. A credible scientific paper requires that the paper is subject to the normal academic process of peer review then published in journal that is ranked, indexed by PubMed and has a reasonable impact factor. One of the papers most quoted by Ms Laurie, the Nissenbaum paper in Noise and Health, was authored by a veterinarian, a radiologist and an anesthetist who have been long-time anti wind activists. The paper has been thoroughly discredited twice in the journal which published it. The Waubra Foundation often points to a series of articles that support their position in the Bulletin of Science and Technology, yet fails to mention that the journal is an unindexed hobby journal of a cross-disciplinary Associate Professor who publishes it irregularly, or that the majority of the authors of papers pertaining to wind energy had no relevant medical or research qualifications.
The two acousticians relied upon by the Waubra Foundation refuse to subject their work to public scrutiny. Bob Thorne and Steven Cooper have both refused multiple requests to provide copies of their reports and data or to present their work to their peers for review.
The Waubra Foundation embraces pseudo-science. As well as nonsensical comments about infrasound (which is all around us at levels above those generated by wind turbines), the Foundation believes that wind turbines possibly subject people to airborne ‘stray voltages’, electromagnetic fields (EMF), “ground-borne vibrations, rapid fluctuations in barometric pressure [...] at times with sufficient energy to perceptibly rock stationary cars even further than a kilometer away from the nearest wind turbine”. The Foundation is unable to substantiate these claims.
There isn’t a single medical authority or notable medical researcher in the world who agrees with the Waubra Foundation. After three years of activism in Australia, the Waubra Foundation has managed to find just four general practitioners, one pharmacist, one sleep physician and one psychologist out of the 528,000 registered health practitioners in Australia to support their claims. While the Foundation cannot count a single qualified and reputable medical expert, the South Australian EPA, WorkSafe, the Victorian Chief Medical Officer, the NSW Department of Health and the NHMRC have all advised that there is no scientific support for the Foundation’s claims. The Climate and Health Alliance, a coalition of 20 medical groups including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Australian Psychological Society, has stated that there is no credible evidence in peer-reviewed scientific journals linking turbines to illness.
2. The Waubra Foundation misrepresents itself and others constantly
Ms Laurie frequently misrepresents published scientific reports. She claims that NASA research has shown infrasound to be harmful, however neglects to mention that they were researching levels 1,000,000 times higher than those emitted by modern wind turbines. She erroneously claims that articles in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society are credible and peer-reviewed. And closer to home, when the South Australian EPA monitored infrasound she claimed that it hadn’t measured frequencies below 10 Hz. When it was pointed out to her that the EPA did in fact measure below 10 Hz (down to 0.25 Hz), she admitted that she hadn’t read the report closely.
The Waubra Foundation makes up its numbers. Ms Laurie has variously claimed that “a number of people”, “more than 20 families”, “more than 40 households” etc., have left their farms in Australia because they are ‘wind turbine refugees’. Putting aside the question of appropriateness of using the term refugee, Sarah is unwilling or unable to provide evidence to substantiate these claims. Most recently, these claims have been debunked by Professor Simon Chapman, who after extensive research was able to find only twelve families who had moved, and that they had for the most part sold their homes, or retain ownership and live their at least part time.
The Waubra Foundation gags on so-called ‘gag clauses’. Ms Laurie claims that many people have been made sick by wind turbines but can’t tell anyone about it because they are legally prevented from doing so. Wind developers have made it clear that they do not, and cannot legally, prevent anyone from reporting health impacts. Ms Laurie has been challenged to provide an example of individuals who have been gagged, but is unable to do so. When so-called gag clauses are presented, they are unremarkable business leasing contracts with language ensuring that the parties do not disclose commercially confidential information. Upon inspection, the contracts do not prevent landowners from speaking out about health complaints. In the history of wind farming there’s only one known case of a wind turbine host claiming that a wind farm has made him sick. David Mortimer’s story is not straightforward, however it should be noted that the wind company has taken no action against him despite his public campaign against them.
The Waubra Foundation is an anti-wind power activist organisation yet Ms. Laurie frequently claims that she and the Waubra Foundation are not anti-wind. As well as health issues, Ms Laurie has raised bogus concerns about fire risk, property values and the effectiveness of turbines to abate carbon pollution (all of which have been refuted by experts and/or research with integrity). The Waubra Foundation has co-authored documents with NAPAW and EPAW, two alliances of northern hemisphere anti-wind groups. Ms Laurie frequently comments on the anonymous and defamatory blog stopthesethings.com and participates in discussions on windturbinesyndrome.com. Both blogs reject dissenting comments and have likened wind developers and independent researchers to Nazis. Ms. Laurie regularly submits her comments and articles to the anti-wind blog wind-watch.org. The cautionary and warning notices on their website refer solely to wind generation. An analysis of their media statements shows that roughly 98% of their public statements are anti-wind.
The Waubra Foundation claims to want more research, but can’t say what such research would look like. Ms Laurie has repeatedly advocated for a moratorium on wind energy until such time as some unspecified research has been done. At no time has the WF publicly suggested a research methodology. The evidence suggests that this is a strategy not to improve health outcomes, but to construct barriers to the further development of wind energy. It is also clear that the WF will only accept research that agrees with their ideology, no matter how poor the quality of that research is.
3. The Waubra Foundation is a NIMBY organization
The Waubra Foundation’s Directors are classic “Not In My Back Yard” objecters to wind generation proposals. Ms Laurie objected to the Crystal Brook Wind Farm near her country home (documented in full by another local to Crystal Brook). Kathy Russell objected to the Mount Pollock Wind Farm near her home. Peter Mitchell objected to the Stockyard Hill Wind Farm near his country estate. Michael Wooldridge objected to the Bald Hills Wind Farm near his family property. Tony Hodgson objected to the Collector Wind Farm near his country home.
Ms. Laurie has agreed under testimony to an Australian Environment Review and Development court in 2011 that she became motivated after hearing of a wind farm proposed not far from her hometown of Crystal Brook, South Australia.
Mr Mitchell claims to be one of Australia’s first genuine wind farm refugees. In 2009 he claimed that he was forced to leave his country estate because of the Stockyard Hill Wind Farm, even though the wind generation site hadn’t been built and won’t be until the second half of this decade.
Mr Mitchell has dedicated considerable time and money to fighting the proposed wind generation site. Mr Mitchell’s activities include setting up fake grassroots campaigns, preparing/presenting anti-wind submissions for government inquiries and public meetings and establishing the Waubra Foundation. Mr Mitchell has enlisted his family to help drive his anti-wind generation agenda. His daughter Cassie Franzose chairs the Western Plains Landscape Guardians and was founding Public Officer of the Australian Landscape Guardians. The Australian Landscape Guardians is registered to the address of the Mitchell family estate. Mr. Mitchell’s wife, son, daughter, nieces, his sister and sister’s partner, Tim Orr, are all registered objectors to the Stockyard Hill Wind Farm. Tim Orr also set up a company, Windburst Publishing, that publishes anti-wind power documents.
Mr Mitchell told VCAT in 2013 that he felt unwelcome in the local town, presumably a result of the dirty tricks employed to secure the removal of 70 wind turbine towers from his neighbours which removed approximately $1 million annually from the local economy over the life of the project.
As a refugee, he presumably has been forced to live hand-to-mouth in one of his several other luxury residences.
Dr. Michael Woolridge, despite former good service to Australia as Health Minister, has aligned himself with the Waubra Foundation. Wooldridge opposes the proposed Bald Hills wind farm, which borders his family’s farming interests in Gippsland. Dr. Woolridge, of course, was also found to have breached his duties as a Director of APCHL, responsible for The Prime Retirement and Aged Care Property Trust, adding to questions regarding his overall probity, yet continues on the Waubra Foundation Board.
4. The Waubra Foundation is consistently unethical
The Waubra Foundation exploits the vulnerable to do its dirty work. Ms Laurie maintains a roster of people who believe that wind turbines have made them sick. One believes that there is “too much electricity in his skull” and that his mobile phone switches to charge mode when he’s near wind turbines. Another started taking medication to alleviate symptoms, five years before the wind farm started operation. Another believes that wind turbines are creating electric fields in her house that are making her sick. Some have reported suicidal ideation. Rather than reassuring these individuals and referring them to appropriate help, the Waubra Foundation introduces them to the media, puts them up for anti-wind meetings and publishes video of their stories. Ms Laurie has a clear conflict of interest — the more her subjects’ health deteriorates, the more successful she becomes.
Peter Mitchell, founder and Board Member of the Waubra Foundation among other anti-wind organizations, gained Community Representative status on the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Wind Farms and Human Health Reference Group, the key body finalizing the overall assessment of literature and health risks related to wind farms. As Australian Senator Richard Di Natale clearly documents in an extensive submission, Mr. Mitchell did not disclose substantial connections and conflicts of interest of serious import to his role, and which would almost certainly have disqualified him.
It’s clear that Waubra Foundation is not behaving in alignment with the requirements of its charitable status, a status which has cost Australia roughly $90,000 AUD in tax revenues over 2011 and 2012. Senator Di Natale of Australia has lodged a written complaint identifying their lapses and calling for revocation of their status. Investigation is proceeding.
The Waubra Foundation is a front group for the Landscape Guardians, a loose collection of anti-wind groups. WF Director Kathy Russell is Vice President of the Australian Landscape Guardians (ALG), spokeswoman for Western Plains Landscape Guardians (WPLG), Mt. Pollock Landscape Guardians and the Barrabool Hills Landscape Guardians. WF Chairman Mr Mitchell has been spokesperson for the ALG and WPLG. WF Director Tony Hodgson is the founder of Friends of Collector, a group functionally identical to a Landscape Guardians franchise.
The Waubra Foundation is in breach of its constitution. The objectives of the WF state that it must “at all times maintain complete independence from government, industry and advocacy groups for or against wind turbines”, yet five of its directors are long time anti-wind activists and the Foundation maintains strong links with anti-wind groups such as the Landscape Guardians, the (misleadingly named) Australian Environment Foundation, NAPAW, EPAW and National Wind Watch.
The Waubra Foundation refuses to meet with wind developers. Hepburn Wind, a community wind co-operative in central Victoria has tried to engage with the Waubra Foundation in order to get to the bottom of Ms Laurie’s claims. Ms Laurie has steadfastly refused to meet, has hung up on members of the organisation and generally ignores emails — not the conduct of a health advocate working to achieve good outcomes for the community.
The Waubra Foundation rejects peer-reviewed published research. Despite making frequent public statements that are likely to cause considerable anxiety and distress about wind farms, and frequently interacting with people so affected, the Foundation dismisses out out-of-hand recent published research that shows anti-wind activism has the potential to induce symptoms in some members of the community (the ‘nocebo’ effect).
The Waubra Foundation violates medical ethics and regulatory standards. Ms Laurie’s clinical contact with individuals, attempted collection of private patient data from the Ballarat Base Hospital, provision of advice to health practitioners and various publications are in contravention of the NHMRC’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research ethics as well as published guidelines and regulations of the Medical Board of Australia and Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. This has led to her no longer being allowed to use the title Dr. and acknowledgment on her part that she is not allowed to diagnose individuals, although she still continues to do so.
The Waubra Foundation is not affiliated with any public health protection association. The Public Health Association of Australia and the Australian Health Promotion Association are the primary associations devoted to championing public health. Other relevant organizations include the Doctors for the Environment and the Climate and Health Alliance. These organizations are devoted in large part to the health impacts of industrialization on human health and are supportive of wind energy. If the Waubra Foundation were a member of any of these associations, the Foundation’s behaviour would have to change substantially. Similarly, Ms. Laurie’s behaviour would have to change radically if she were a registered non-practicing physician as she would again be subject to the censure by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
Professor Simon Chapman and Fiona Crichton led teams of researchers in Sydney and Auckland recently who published findings showing clearly that health complaints from wind generation are due to anti-wind campaigners creating fear and stress and inducing symptoms via the nocebo effect. Ms. Laurie, as a former general practitioner, has ignored those studies despite clear statements directly to her that she is causing people to fall ill. She continues to promote unfounded health fears which will make people sick.
5. The Waubra Foundation denies that global warming is occurring
With 97%+ of climate scientists supporting the reality that man-made carbon emissions are on track to heat the planet to dangerous levels, Ms Laurie, Mr Mitchell and Ms Russell have publicly stated their doubts about climate science.
In a recent radio interview with a European ex-pat oriented radio station, Ms. Laurie again said that there were realistic doubts about global warming and mankind’s role in it.
6. The Waubra Foundation has close ties to fossil fuel and mining interests opposed to wind energy
Founder and Chairman Peter Mitchell has deep, decades-long and on-going financial involvement with fossil fuels and uranium companies. Mr Mitchell failed to disclose this in his statement of interests to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Mitchell has written several unpublished, un-reviewed and factually incorrect papers aimed at convincing the reader that wind farms do not reduce carbon pollution.
The Waubra Foundation is run out of Peter Mitchell’s office in South Melbourne, the same office as his fossil fuel interests. Mr Mitchell’s long time assistant, Susan Richmond (a.k.a. Susan Ghent) has been involved with Mr Mitchell’s business affairs since at least 1986, is a founding member of the WF, registered their internet domain name and provides administrative support for both the Waubra Foundation and the Western Plains Landscape Guardians. Until recently the two organizations shared a PO Box with Mitchell’s investment company, however, after taking heat in the media about this the Foundation has recently moved to a PO Box close to Ms Richmond’s home.
7. Waubra Foundation Directors live far from Waubra and the town is outraged at them
None of the Foundation’s directors live anywhere near the town of Waubra. Ms Laurie lives 668 km from Waubra, Mr Mitchell 122 km, Clive Tadgell 135 km, Kathy Russell 127 km, Tony Hodgson 793 km and Michael Wooldridge 141 km.
The 500 person town of Waubra is outraged that their name has been used for political purposes. Many in the town are livid that their name is associated with the Foundation. While some of Ms. Laurie’s first and most fanatical supporters live in Waubra, most town members have a positive association with their town’s name. Ms Laurie has never attended the annual Waubra Festival that, in part, celebrates the local wind farm. The town is so annoyed, that they have over 300 signatures on a petition asking Sarah Laurie et al to stop using their name.
The Waubra Foundation has refused to change their name despite a majority of the town disagreeing with their use of it and their lack of any presence in the town.
Sarah Laurie and the Waubra Foundation are anti-wind campaigners that deny global warming, have strong ties to the fossil fuel industry, misrepresent and deny science, have the ethical standards of a tobacco PR rep and are causing people to fall ill.
Yet they claim the inverse. And they claim to be neutral, independent advisors to communities and government panels considering wind generation projects. Their misrepresentation of themselves is Orwellian in its reversal of the truth.