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Wednesday, 25 November 1998
Page: 692


Mr BILLSON (10:25 AM) —My colleague's contribution has left me with a greater challenge, and that is to say something useful for the length of time it takes to get—


Mr Stephen Smith —Or something nice about the Deputy Speaker.


Mr BILLSON —Yes, we can compliment the Deputy Speaker on his role. A non-contested election, Mr Deputy Speaker, is always something nice. I will share a few thoughts about this very brief Telecommunications Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1998 . It is about a line and there is not too much you can talk about a line, so it is best to talk about why the line is here, I have found. In the meantime, we are hopeful that the Minister for the Arts and the Centenary of Federation bolts over from the ministerial wing.

The bill before the committee today is a technical one. I compliment the previous speaker, the member for Perth, Mr Stephen Smith, on his attempt to rework the second reading speech—I have had a go as well. It is a technical amendment designed to ensure that telecommunications carriers are still required to notify the Commonwealth where an activity that they have proposed may affect matters of Commonwealth environmental and heritage interest. Under the Telecommunications Act 1997, carriers are required to notify the Commonwealth where an activity they propose to undertake may affect matters of Commonwealth environmental and heritage interest.

In essence, section 55 of schedule 3 of the act currently ensures that the Commonwealth has the ability to intervene in matters of special Commonwealth interest. Such interventions must be initially recommended by the environment secretary, known to most of us as the Secretary to the Department of the Environment and Heritage, and involve consultation with the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and, where required, the Australian Heritage Commission.

Currently, section 55 of schedule 3 of the act has a sunset provision of 1 January 1999. It was envisaged that at this time section 55 would no longer be necessary as similar arrangements would be in place through the proposed Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill 1998 and subsequent heritage legislation. This package of bills, which I hope to have the good fortune of speaking on in the not too distant future, will enable the Commonwealth to intervene in matters of Commonwealth interest. There have been delays in introducing this legislation but the intention is to introduce the bills into the current sitting of the parliament.

The proposed Telecommunications Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1998 therefore provides for a temporary two-year extension to the sunset provision—from 1 January 1999 through to 1 January 2001. This will provide sufficient time for the whole package of environmental bills to be introduced and considered by the parliament. I hope, in view of the good nature with which this bill is being discussed, that that package might also enjoy the support of the opposition, although I doubt it.

The scope of carrier activity affected by the brief provisions in this bill covers: installations not authorised by a facility installation permit, that are not a low impact facility, that are not temporary defence installations or not simply a subscriber's connection that does not cross the street. Beyond obtaining owner consent and the relevant state, territory and municipal approvals, the carrier needs to advise the environment secretary of the proposed works where environment or heritage concerns are involved. If the sunset provision of section 55 is not extended, the Commonwealth will have no powers to regulate relevant matters of Commonwealth environmental and heritage interest.

For the benefit of those who have chosen to show an interest in this bill, I did track down a copy of the sorts of installations that have already benefited from this provision that we are seeking to extend today through this bill. Such projects include: the joint Optus-Vodafone tower in the Sydney Harbour Bridge area in New South Wales; Mount Blackwood National Park in Mackay in Queensland; Martin Place in Sydney, where I understand Vodafone have deployed some technology; installations by Vodafone in the Pitt Street Mall in Sydney; Optus's work on Dunk Island in the Whitsundays; and there are others such as Orchid Beach on Fraser Island—those sorts of things. So, clearly, the legislation has been doing what it has been designed to do thus far. The proposed Telecommunications Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1998 therefore provides for a temporary two-year extension to the sunset provisions, and I feel I have already covered that subject.

I have a special interest in the link between telecommunications policy and environment policy, which I will not go on about at this stage. I emphasise that the support of the opposition is welcome. I think, with the benefit of hindsight, we all accept that the former Labor Party telecommunications regulatory regime was perhaps skewed a little too much in favour of installation deployment.

The package of measures that the government introduced under its telecommunications reforms included this provision that we are talking about today. There is clear evidence that it is making a difference in finding an appropriate balance between the deployment of new telecommunications technology, and environmental and other concerns that our community has. An example I can point to is where the new regime has encouraged the likes of Optus to work with me and Tony Crosbie of the St Augustine's Primary School and John Burrell of Mount Erin Secondary College to have an Optus tower more appropriately deployed on RACV land rather than on the front door area of those school communities.

This is a good outcome that would not have been possible without the reforms that the government has introduced. Extending the sunset provision—as it relates to this particular check and balance in technology deployment arrangements—is a step in the right direction, and it shows that conservation and heritage concerns need not be put to one side in the interests of making world-class telecommunication technology available to our citizens. I commend the bill to the committee. I am sure everyone will be tickled pink that such a comprehensive piece of legislation will pass through the parliament without opposition.