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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6102

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (10:26): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill seeks to amend the Telecommunications Act 1997 to give the community greater rights in relation to the placement of mobile phone towers and other telecommunications infrastructure. Specifically, it requires owners and occupiers of land to be notified of a proposal to either build or modify a telecommunications tower within 500 metres of their property and provides that notified owners and occupiers have 30 days in which to respond to the proposed development. It provides that new telecommunications towers cannot be declared to be low impact. It disallows ACMA from considering commercial interests when determining the importance of a facility in a telecommunications network. It requires ACMA, when considering developments near community sensitive sites, to be satisfied that all alternative sites are unfeasible and it enables local communities to appeal the granting of a facility installation permit to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

What has prompted me to table this bill—in fact for the third time—is a current proposal in my own electorate for a mobile phone tower to be established in Hill Street in West Hobart. However, this is hardly the first mobile phone tower proposal that has been brought to my attention by concerned residents. In fact, there have been many other episodes before this. For example, there were two proposals in Sandy Bay in the eight years I've been in this place, a proposal for a tower in Merton Street in Glenorchy and a proposal for a very large installation at the Cadbury sports grounds in Claremont. I would add that, since I've been outspoken about greater community rights when it comes to phone towers, in that time I have been approached now by many people from right around Australia who have been telling me their stories and seeking my assistance. In every one of these cases, the community has felt that they have been locked out of the process and they have felt that their genuine concerns have not been adequately addressed—concerns like the effect on amenity, the effect on their views, the effect on their land values, the effect on the impact on the heritage value of their neighbourhood and the effect of building a phone tower on the local environment. And, yes, of course many people have been concerned about issues of safety and radiation.

To be fair to the telcos, sometimes they have responded, and I was delighted that in one of those Sandy Bay instances the phone tower proposal was dropped. When it came to the Merton Street Glenorchy proposal, Telstra did move the phone tower further up the hill and away from houses. But in other cases—for example, the other Sandy Bay phone tower and the installation at the Cadbury sports ground—the telcos just ran roughshod over the local community. I'm concerned that, again, with this Hill Street West Hobart proposal, the telco—in this case Telstra, working in concert with Visionstream—will simply ignore the wishes of the local community. That should not be allowed to happen, because, frankly, communities have rights. It's self-evident they have rights. When members of the community have legitimate concerns about a phone tower proposal, those legitimate concerns should be addressed. How would you, Speaker, or anyone in this House or the management of telcos like Telstra like to have a phone tower installation literally outside their bedroom window? Of course it wouldn't be acceptable to them. How would you like it that a big and ugly phone tower goes right in the middle of a heritage area or right out the front of, perhaps, your investment property, if you're lucky enough to have an investment property, and then, all of a sudden, you find it's that much harder to get tenants because people don't want to be renting a property with a dirty big phone tower literally outside their lounge room or outside their bedroom windows?

No wonder so many people have come to me over the years—and people have come to me in recent weeks about the Hill Street West Hobart proposal—and they're unsettled by these proposals. Sometimes they are downright scared. When it comes to the safety of phone towers, in my opinion that's still an open question. I know every time the issue of safety is mentioned by members of the community, or members in this House, the government and the telcos are very quick to lean on the standards. But, frankly, there is quite a bit of evidence now around the world which casts some doubt on those standards, and I think it would be in the public interest for that matter to be revisited by government.

This is not the first time I've tried to do this. In fact, in 2011 and again in 2014, I tabled versions of this bill virtually identical to the bill I'm tabling today, and in 2011 and again in 2014 those bills were not considered by this House and they had no support from the Liberal Party, the National Party or the Labor Party. I'm very concerned about that, because surely our job is to represent our community and to ensure that, when members of our community have legitimate concerns, they should be addressed.

People in this House should be concerned. Because of the federal law and the way it—again to use that term—rides roughshod over state and local government laws, members in this House should be concerned that members of the community have virtually no rights. The telcos have all the rights. Particularly if they're able to put up something and call it 'low impact', it doesn't even go to planning approval. Even when there's something more substantial which a state government or local government might object to, at the end of the day the telco virtually has an unrestrained right to build the thing and to just trample all over the concerns of the community—and trample they often do because, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters to the telco is the most convenient and the cheapest site. Maybe more often telcos should be required to find a slightly less convenient, slightly more expensive site. Maybe they're going to have to run a power cable a little further up the hill. Maybe it is going to cost the telco a little more. Maybe the cost of that should be socialised so that we all pay an extra few cents a month on our phone bill to ensure the services that we need. I don't doubt that we need our mobile phones and other mobile devices. That's not the issue here, but we should be prepared to pay for the delivery of those services in a way that respects the rights of the communities into which so many of these mobile phone towers are being built.

I make the point again: of course we need this technology. On my desk here, I've got a mobile phone and I've got a tablet, and I rely very heavily on those. Particularly with people in areas that are prone to natural disasters, they're relying on their phones to get texts to warn them about bushfires or floods or cyclones—who knows whatever else? That technology, and the value of that technology, is not in dispute here. The matter before the House is that, as that technology is rolled out—and, with the arrival of 5G, soon there'll be a lot more phone towers rolled out—the telcos must be required to respect local communities and any legitimate concern a local community might have. Telcos have got to better respect amenity, views, land values, heritage, environment and safety. If that means moving a tower or putting a tower in a slightly less convenient spot or perhaps having to invest a little bit more money to run the power up to one or to bulldoze a track to get to it then so be it. I commend Telstra, in fact—with the Merton Street, Glenorchy, project a couple of years ago now, they did move the phone tower up the hill. But the problem, though, is that, when we do have these wins, it's almost always at the end of a long and painful battle by the local community. Communities shouldn't have to fight for everything. Surely in this place we can put in place a legislative framework that gives communities the same rights as the telcos so that, if there's a fight to be had, it might have to be fought by the telco and not every time by the local community.

This is the third time I've moved this bill. It was unsuccessful in 2011. It was unsuccessful in 2014. I commend it to the House and I encourage the government and the alternative government to stop kowtowing to the telcos and start respecting the community and start understanding that your job, first and foremost, is to represent your community and to put in place legislation to protect your community.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Is the motion seconded?

Mr Bandt: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Debate adjourned.