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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 6092

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:53): I present the explanatory memorandum and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Telecommunications Amendment (Mobile Phone Towers) Bill 2011 amends the Telecommunications Act 1997 to introduce the precautionary principle for the installa­tion of mobile phone facilities, to improve consultation with com­mun­ities, scrutiny of site choices and expand the opportunities for appeal.

One of the purposes of the Telecommunications Act was the facilitation of a secure and comprehensive network to ensure national coverage for mobile phones. Nearly 15 years on the network is near completion, excepting some rural and regional areas. Many of the new facilities in our built-up areas aim to increase data download speeds rather than complete the network.

Since its introduction developments have occurred that are not captured by the Act, including the emergence of infrastructure developers and installation of ancillary equip­ment such as radio units. The intention of the height limits in the Act has also been undermined by carriers as the limits do not include antennae, brackets and other equipment.

The widespread powers given to telecommunication carriers to site their facilities have sometimes resulted in community dissent. While there is an industry code in place that outlines best practice, this code is not ultimately enforce­able, leaving some people frustrated at their lack of recourse.

The bill will widen the opportunities for appeal for people concerned about the site of a facility and intensify the Australian Communication and Media Authority's scrutiny of applications for permits and its complaints handling role. It will also remove the exemption for "low-impact" facilities from local or state government planning processes.

Concern about the effects of accumulated exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is at the heart of some community dissatisfaction with the current Act. The bill will require telecommunications carriers and developers to consult people living within 500 metres of a proposed facility and gives those residents broader opportunities to appeal an installation. It also introduces a 200 metre buffer zone around sensitive sites such as schools and hospitals.

As part of the consultation process carriers will be required to provide Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) exposure maps and five-year plans for facility development to local governments, which will be publicly accessible.

Some European countries have taken a more cautious approach to allowable EMR exposure limits because of the absence of scientific consensus on the long-term effects of EMR exposure. The bill requires the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency to review the Australian limit within six months of the bill's introduction and then every five years, specifically looking at the practices of other countries.

The precautionary principle comes into play when there is a suspicion that an action may cause harm to the health of humans or the environment. In the case of mobile phone facilities there is no scientific consensus on the effects of long-term accumulated exposure to EMR, especially for children and adolescents. As such, carriers should take a cautious approach to the siting of facilities because there is an absence of evidence that they do not cause harm.

This bill aims to provide a better balance between the need for a secure and connected mobile telecommunications network and a community's right to protect itself from potential harm and determine the appropriate location for certain infrastructure.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

Debate adjourned.