MP pressured wind farm developer
Farmer Duncan Barber is in a stoush with MP Simon Ramsay over his planned wind turbines. Photo: Jason South
A PROMINENT state Liberal MP has been accused of misusing his position while campaigning against a wind farm that is to be built next to his property in western Victoria.
Upper house MP Simon Ramsay raised his objections to the proposed Mount Gellibrand wind farm directly with Planning Minister Matthew Guy, and with a senior officer in the Department of Planning.
Mr Ramsay also wrote to the developer warning he would take it to court if it did not meet a list of his ''requests'' - including that it buy his family farm.
Simon Ramsay. Photo: Rob Gunstone
The developer, Spanish-owned Acciona, is planning to install 63 wind turbines near Mr Ramsay's property at Birregurra, near Colac.
Mr Ramsay is a former head of the Victorian Farmers Federation and now represents Western Victoria in the upper house.
His campaign against the Mount Gellibrand wind farm has involved a remarkable personal shift -in the mid-2000s he was a vocal champion of wind energy and obtained permits for turbines on a parcel of his own land, which he has since sold.
His recent activism has included campaigning against turbines for which he previously held permits.
The campaign appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Acciona resisted Mr Ramsay's requests, and Mr Guy and his department have since signed off on the detailed plan for the turbines. Work is set to start within weeks.
Yesterday, Mr Ramsay said that if, anything, his position as a Coalition MP had worked against him. ''I can assure you I got no more favourable treatment than anyone else. I haven't won any concessions.''
But his lobbying has triggered allegations that he sought to use his political access for personal gain and may have failed to adequately notify Parliament of his interest during key debates on new wind farm rules last year.
Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said the case showed ''Liberal mates'' had
fast-track access to the planning system. Mr Tee said Mr Ramsay had been ''caught red handed'' trying to use his access for personal gain. He said the opposition would seek a full public investigation into his actions.
Mr Ramsay's letter, obtained by The Age from the government, followed months of negotiations involving him and his partner and former federal Liberal candidate Sarah Henderson with Acciona.
The talks occurred while Parliament was dealing with a Coalition plan to ban wind farms in some areas and to give residents veto over turbines within two kilometres of any dwelling.
In the letter, the MP said the wind farm would damage his amenity at his family farm ''East Mooleric'', which had been in his family for generations, including from noise and interruption of his ''iconic views'' to the Otway Ranges.
He sought a string of concessions, including that the company pay him $66,000 to grow trees as a noise and visual screen, scrap all turbines within two kilometres of his home, and pay for works including the sealing of the local gravel road.
Writing on personal letterhead, Mr Ramsay also requested that the company ''enter into bona fide discussions to purchase my property at current market value'' by December 31.
He noted his intention to ''make representations'' to the Department of Planning to press for changes to the plans, including cutting the number of turbines and re-siting them.
Yesterday, Mr Ramsay confirmed that he had lobbied an officer of the Planning Department seeking changes to the wind farm. He also said he had spoken in general terms to Mr Guy about the plans, but denied he had asked the minister to intervene on his behalf.
Mr Ramsay said he had made the necessary declarations to Parliament acknowledging his interest in being a neighbour to a wind farm.
Greens MP Greg Barber said the revelations about Mr Ramsay's lobbying, including the letter to Acciona, raised questions about whether he had adequately declared his interest ahead of voting on the Coalition's new rules. ''He never disclosed to the Parliament that he was in negotiations with the wind farm developer over money or to buy his property. If he had, I would have moved that he was ineligible to vote under the Parliament's rules.''
Mr Ramsay's handling of the issue has not been well received by all his neighbours.
Duncan Barber, who bought the parcel of land from Mr Ramsay which is now to be included in the wind farm, said he paid him a premium because of the turbines, for which he will be paid about $7000 each a year.
''At the beginning [Mr Ramsay] was very pro the wind farm. He was going to do everything in his power to get the government behind it… . As he realised he didn't have them, wind turbines were all bloody terrible.''
Mr Ramsay defended his change of heart on wind farms, citing greater knowledge about their health and visual impacts. ''We didn't know a lot about wind farming eight years ago. We were all pretty raw about it. ''
A spokesman for Mr Guy, Nick McGowan, said: ''Mr Ramsay has raised his concerns in relation to wind farms and his family's own experience, with the department and the minister. The minister has responded appropriately from advice from his department.''