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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 154


Senator Brown asked the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, upon notice, on 18 November 2004:

(1)   Does the Government support Telstra’s decision to appeal against the decision of a democratically elected local government which refused to allow the construction of a telecommunications tower at Bindaree Road; if so, does the Government believe that Telstra’s agenda should override the wishes of a local community.

(2)   Does the Government consider that Telstra’s decision to refuse to discuss alternative sites at a mediation meeting that it facilitated is reasonable.

(3)   What regulations are in place concerning the placing of telecommunications towers in close proximity to residences.

(4)   What regulations are in place to prevent Telstra constructing telecommunications towers in existing electrical transmission corridors.

(5)   Taking into account the precautionary principle, can the Government guarantee that no adverse human health effects result from living in close proximity to telecommunications towers; if so, why has the Government allocated further funding for on-going research into potential health risks from electro-magnetic emissions devices and phone towers.


Senator Coonan (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —The response is based in part on advice received from Telstra. The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

(1)   The decision to appeal the decision by the West Tamar Council is a matter for Telstra.

Although Telstra remains partially Government-owned, it has been an independent corporation since 1991. Telstra’s Board and management are responsible for the day to day running of the company’s operations. The Government’s role is to establish the legislative framework within which all telecommunications service providers (including Telstra) must operate. Consequently the Government is unable to intervene with respect to operational issues or disputes that arise from the conduct of Telstra’s daily business.

Approvals for most telecommunications facilities, including the majority of mobile telecommunications towers, are dealt with by relevant State and Territory authorities, usually at the local level.  Only in a limited number of circumstances are carriers immune from State and Territory laws, notably in the installation of ‘low-impact facilities’ - those that are essential to maintaining telecommunications networks, but are of low visual impact.

All carriers, including Telstra, must comply with the relevant State or Territory planning legislation, and are subject to the local planning processes.

State or Territory legislation may make provision for appeals against a Council decision.

(2)   The location of mobile phone towers, including the consideration of alternative sites is a commercial matter for Telstra to determine, consistent with the Tasmanian State planning legislation.

Telstra advised that a mediation conference was held with concerned residents on 26 February 2004.  Telstra explained the sites it reviewed as options for the mobile phone tower and outlined the precautionary approach it used in selecting the Bindaree Road site as the best option for Telstra’s facility.  Telstra also listened to site suggestions put forward by others at the meeting, but said that these options did not meet the mobile coverage objectives for the site.

(3)   The Government’s framework for the telecommunications sector seeks to achieve a reasonable balance between individual local and broader regional and national interests.  Through its reform of the telecommunications sector, the Government has sought to encourage competition to give Australians greater access to a wide range of high quality, low cost telecommunications services.  Approvals for the installation of most telecommunications facilities, however, are dealt with at the local level.  In particular, State and Territory legislation covers the installation of mobile phone towers.  This arrangement ensures that the rollout of modern telecommunications networks is encouraged, while taking into account individual communities’ local concerns and interests.

It is impractical for the Government to legislate at a micro-level all telecommunications activities, both due to the technical nature of the industry and the cost. Encouraging good industry practice through self-regulatory mechanisms such as industry codes of practice and technical standards is an important strategy.

The Government has encouraged the telecommunications industry to develop and implement the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure Code (the Industry Code), that provides for additional consultation arrangements for low-impact facilities and some improved methods for addressing concerns about electromagnetic energy (EME) emission levels for all radiocommunication facilities installed under Commonwealth and State and Territory laws. The Industry Code requires carriers to have regard to ‘community sensitive locations’ such as residential areas when locating telecommunication facilities.

(4)   Placement of a telecommunications tower within the constraints of the relevant state planning legislation and the industry code, is a commercial matter for carriers.

Regulatory arrangements do not discourage carriers from installing their infrastructure on towers belonging to other carriers, or on public infrastructure such as electricity towers.  Indeed, carriers are required to consider opportunities for co-locating new telecommunications facilities on any existing tower or public utility structure, and it is the Government’s long-standing policy to encourage carriers to co-locate where possible. 

(5)   The Government recognises there is some concern in the Australian community about the possibility of long-term effects on health of exposure to electromagnetic energy (EME) emissions used in mobile telephony. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), within the Health and Ageing portfolio, sets the standard for public occupational limits of exposure to radiofrequency emissions.

The ACA, in conjunction with ARPANSA, has recently launched an information package on EME and mobile phones. All the information in the package can be accessed through the website at http://emr.aca.gov.au.

The Government has provided $4.5 million over four and a half years for the Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy (EME) Program. The EME Program supports research into and provides information to the public about health issues associated with mobile phones, mobile phone base stations, and other communications devices and equipment.