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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15711


Mr Tanner asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, upon notice, on 3 March 2003:

(1) Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the UK's Stewart Group Report on mobile phones.

(2) Did the Stewart Group recommend that the widespread use of mobile phones by children for non-essential calls should be discouraged and that the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children, and was the recommendation accepted by the UK Government; if so, (a) what is the Australian Government's current position on mobile phone use by children and (b) will the Government take any action to minimise mobile phone use by children; if not, why not.

(3) Did the Stewart Group recommend the establishment of clearly defined physical exclusion zones around mobile base stations to which the UK Government agreed; if so, do such zones exist under Australian regulations; if not, why not and will the Government introduce exclusion zones around current base stations.

(4) Did the Stewart Group recommend a national database be set up by the Government giving details of all base stations and their emissions; if so, does such a publicly available database exist in Australia; if not, will the Government consider introducing one; if not, why not.

(5) Did the Stewart Group recommend an independent random on-going audit of all base stations be carried out to ensure they are operating within exposure guidelines; if so, does such a process exist in Australia; if not, will the Government consider introducing such a process; if not, why not.

(6) Did the Stewart Group pose certain recommendations in relation to mobile base stations in or near school grounds to which the UK Government agreed; if so, are there any specific regulations covering the installation of mobile base stations in or near school grounds in Australia; if not, why not.

(7) Are there any specific regulations in Australia stating that mobile base stations should not be within a certain distance of household residences; if not, why not.


Mr McGauran (Minister for Science) —The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) Yes.

(2) The issues raised in this part of the question relate to the public health effects of mobile phone use and should be addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing, as the Minister responsible for the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). ARPANSA is the Federal Government agency charged with responsibility for protecting the health and safety of people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation. I am advised by the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) that its role is to ensure that any emissions from radiocommunication equipment identified by qualified health authorities as being potentially harmful are properly controlled.

(3) The Stewart Report recommended the establishment of exclusion zones to identify areas where recommended exposure limits are exceeded. The UK Government accepted the recommendation that that exclusion zones be established where necessary - in fact it stated that such zones should already exist.

The ACA has advised that it does not require exclusion zones around base stations as a matter of course. However, in addition to incorporating the ARPANSA exposure limits into the new ACA EME regulations, including the Radiocommunications (Electromagnetic Radiation - Human Exposure) Standard 2003 applicable to radiocommunication devices, the ACA also applied the ARPANSA limits as a new licence condition to apparatus licensed base stations. The new licence condition currently applies to GSM 900 base stations. The ACA intends to extend the application of the new licence condition to all other types of base stations, that is CDMA, GSM 1800 and 3G, by the end of 2003. The effect of applying the new condition is that licensees for each transmitter, associated with a base station, will be required by the ACA to ensure a member of the public is not exposed to a level of radiation above the limits recommended by ARPANSA.

(4) The Stewart Report recommended that a national database be set up giving the following details of base stations: `name of the carrier, the grid reference, the height of the antenna above ground level, the date transmission started, the frequency range and signal characteristics of transmission, the transmitter power and the maximum power output under the Wireless Telegraphy Act. Moreover, this information should be readily accessible to the public, and held in such a form that it would be easy to identify, for example, all base stations within a defined geographical area and all belonging to a specified operator.'

I am advised by the ACA that in Australia, the ACA maintains a Register of Radiocommunications Licences. The Register provides detailed information, primarily for interference management purposes, on every licence holder including individual licences held and certain technical data on transmitters. The licenses authorising the operation of base stations do not specify a power output limit, therefore the maximum power output of base stations is not recorded in the Register. However, to the extent that carriers comply with their obligation to supply the relevant data, all base stations and their antenna are listed in the Register. The Register is publicly accessible through the ACA website (at www.aca.gov.au), at ACA offices, and on CD-ROM available for purchase from the ACA.

(5) The Stewart Report recommended that `an independent, random, ongoing audit of all base stations be carried out to ensure that exposure guidelines are not exceeded outside the marked exclusion zone and that the base stations comply with their agreed specifications.'

ARPANSA periodically surveys base stations for emissions as resources allow and did so last in 1997-1999. In all cases radiation emission levels were thousands of times less than recommended exposure limits.

ARPANSA has advised that it intends to conduct a survey in 2003 of radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) emissions around sixty mobile phone base stations at numerous locations throughout Australia. The 2003 ARPANSA survey is not a requirement of either the ARPANSA standard or ACA EME regulations.

The objectives of the 2003 survey are to:

· measure base station RF levels at specified distances from the antenna and compare levels with the ARPANSA RF exposure limits;

· compare actual RF levels with predicted levels; and

· measure environmental levels of RF within 500 metres of the nominated base station's location.

The sites will be selected to ensure that representative numbers of various types of base stations are surveyed. These types of sites will include:

· conventional free standing towers with and without co-located carriers;

· at least 10 of the sites used in the previous ARPANSA 1997-1999 survey;

· `low impact' sites (antenna mounted on existing structures/buildings); and

· communications towers supporting a range of services.

ARPANSA has also advised that while overall selection of sites will be performed by ARPANSA staff, nomination of sites will come from members of the Local Government Association of Australia and the Mobile Carriers Forum (MCF). A measurement protocol based on the measurement of the control channel/pilot signal will be developed and will be similar to that used in the ARPANSA 1997-1999 survey.

Further, the ACA has advised that, while it does not measure base station emissions as a matter of course, it may do so at base stations suspected of non-compliance with the EME regulations.

Under the new ACA EME regulations, which came into effect on 1 March 2003, the ACA has advised that from 1 June 2003 it will require licensees of some radiocommunication transmitters to document their compliance with the new regulations. The ACA will be conducting an on-going random audit program of the relevant documentation to ensure licensees are complying with their obligations under the regulations.

Under the Industry Code on Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure, the public can request, at any time, that a carrier provide information on radiation levels around base stations.

(6) The Stewart Report recommended that `in relation to macrocell base stations sited within school grounds, that the beam of greatest RF intensity should not fall on any part of the school grounds or buildings without agreement from the school and parents. Similar considerations should apply to macrocell base stations sited near to school grounds.' The UK Government did not agree to this recommendation, instead stating that the exposure levels at schools should be `within [International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection] guidelines'.

In Australia, licensees for each transmitter associated with a base station, irrespective of its location, will be required by the ACA to ensure that members of the public are not exposed to a level of radiation above the limits recommended by ARPANSA. This requirement applied to GSM 900 base station transmitters under the now superseded ACA EME regulations and it will apply to all base station transmitters from the end of 2003 under the new ACA EME regulations.

The ACA has advised that it has not received any recommendations from ARPANSA in relation to the installation of base stations in or near school grounds. Accordingly, the ACA has not issued any guidelines on the matter. See also the answer to part 2 of the Question, above.

The Industry Code on Deployment of Radiocomunications Infrastructure requires carriers to have regard to `community sensitive locations' such as schools when locating base stations. See also the answer to part 3 of the Question, above.

(7) The ACA has advised that it has not received any recommendations from ARPANSA in relation to the installation of base stations at a minimum distance from household residences. Accordingly, the ACA has not issued any guidelines on the matter.

Some local councils have planning policies to this effect (for example Sutherland Shire), however these apply only to those facilities for which the Council has planning authority, not those installed with authorisation under Commonwealth law. The Industry Code on Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure requires carriers to have regard to `community sensitive locations' such as residential areas when locating base stations. See also the answer to part 3 of the Question, above. Irrespective of base station location, licensees for each transmitter associated with a base station will be required by the ACA to ensure a member of the public is not exposed to a level of radiation above the limits recommended by ARPANSA.