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Tuesday, 21 June 1994
Page: 1785

Senator REID —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Regional Development. Why have towers been built in the ACT before a plan for the construction was approved as required by the national capital plan?

Senator BOLKUS —I do have some advice on this issue from the relevant minister and that is that at his request the National Capital Planning Authority did in fact seek legal advice on the extent to which telecommunications carriers were subject to the provisions of the national capital plan. The authority was established under the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988. That provided that no works would be undertaken in designated areas specified in the national capital plan without the written approval of the authority.

  I am informed by the NCPA that legal advice provided is that the telecommunications exemption activities regulations, subsection 116(1), exempt the telecommunications carriers from the application of state and territory planning laws. The regulations do not refer to Commonwealth law and, as such, the carriers are not exempt from the provisions in the national capital plan. That is the short end of the legal advice.

  Under the terms of the national capital plan, any proposed major expansion of hilltop use will be subject to the development of a comprehensive telecommunications plan. Such a plan does not yet exist. I am further informed that talks are being held between the NCPA, the ACT planning minister, Bill Wood, the ACT Planning Authority and senior representatives of Telecom, Optus and Vodafone, being the three mobile phone carriers involved. I am further informed that all parties have accepted the legal position.

  As a starting point to the development of the telecommunications master plan for the ACT, the carriers are providing the NCPA with details of all present and proposed future installations. Further advice is that the NCPA and the ACT Planning Authority are working together to develop the master plan. This will result in an amendment to the national capital plan, which will involve full public consultation. It is expected that that process will take some three to four months.

  That is about as much as I can give Senator Reid on this issue at this particular time. If she requires anything further, I will take it up with the minister.

Senator REID —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. How long will it be then before the plan for telecommunication construction will be available? The draft was first published in March of 1992. When will that be tabled in the parliament as a completed document? What will the minister do to prevent further construction of towers on hilltops of the national capital until such time as the matter has been resolved?

Senator BOLKUS —I will get further information.