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Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Page: 98


Ms KATE ELLIS (9:10 PM) —I rise this evening to speak again on the issue of mobile phone towers and how the current statutory regime and the government’s ineffective public information campaign are causing widespread concern and anxiety amongst my local community.

Members may be aware that a recent Age poll, published in May this year, reported that some 77 per cent of Australians are concerned about the possible health impacts caused by mobile phone towers. Certainly, this level of public concern reflects what I have seen in my own electorate of Adelaide, where many residents have expressed fear about living and working in such close proximity to the towers. These concerns were heightened by the very public cases earlier this year of cancer clusters, with the tragic spate of 16 tumours found amongst staff working at RMIT and the 12 cases in as many years at the ABC studios in Brisbane.

In contrast to the public’s concerns, the government continues to operate on the basis that no link between mobile phone towers and adverse health effects has yet been established. It is a belief which is reflected in their policy, which requires very little public consultation in the deployment of towers and which does not restrict the location of towers in areas including schools, kindergartens and childcare centres.

This contrast between the public’s concerns and the government’s policy is having serious impacts on the community. I have spoken with a growing number of residents who are deeply concerned about the impact of living so close to these towers. I have had a child ring up my office in tears because he is worried about a tower across the road from his bedroom. I have spoken to pensioners who are so afraid that they do not want to have their grandkids around in case nearby towers cause them harm. Residents have reported severe drops in real estate prices due to the proximity of mobile phone towers.

This situation has not been helped by the government’s fact sheets on the issue. The fact sheet entitled ‘Government action on electromagnetic energy public health issues’ states:

The weight of national and international scientific opinion is that there is no substantiated evidence that living near a mobile phone base station ... causes adverse health effects.

But in the same publication it is acknowledged:

However, there are gaps in the knowledge that have been identified for further research to better assess health risks.

This is hardly a reassuring argument. It is an admission that should lead to a more precautionary approach than the one that is currently being applied.

I am certainly not claiming that there is a link between phone towers and adverse health effects, but the reality is that this is a widespread belief in the community and it has not been addressed by the government. What is needed is clear leadership on this issue and steps taken to reassure the community. These steps should include a national health audit of mobile phone towers to monitor the health of those living and working nearby to high- and low- impact towers, the strengthening of public consultation requirements in the deployment of towers and, in the immediate term, the empowerment of local councils to make planning decisions with respect to facilities located in close proximity to schools, kindergartens and hospitals.

I will finish by highlighting a case in my electorate at the Northgate Life Centre to illustrate how the current situation is impacting upon the local community. A number of visually obtrusive towers have been constructed on the church, without the permission of the local council, without the permission of the residents and without the permission even of the church leaders themselves. They claim to have been locked into a leasing arrangement with the telcos at the time they purchased the premises. I have seen the towers firsthand, and they are inarguably extremely noticeable and prominent in this residential area. But, because the government defines the towers—each under five metres in length—as ‘low impact’, they are exempt from local council planning processes and hence from democratic control.

Residents in the area are rightly worried about the visual impact of the towers, the potential health impacts and the impact that these towers are already having on property prices in the area. They have no assurances from government that there will not be more towers constructed at the church. The government’s definition of ‘low impact’ is clearly inadequate when a large-scale development such as this can fall within that definition.

The statutory regime governing the deployment of mobile phone towers and the government’s approach to informing the public on this issue clearly need to be urgently revisited. I will continue to work with residents in my constituency to expose the weaknesses in the current legislation and call, once again, for the government to take urgent action to address these issues for the sake of all of my constituents living near the Northgate Life Centre and, indeed, for all Australians.