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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 161


Senator Nettle asked the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, upon notice, on 24 November 2004:

(1)   Is the Minister aware that 3G mobile phone towers are currently being built in suburban backyards, local parks and school grounds in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

(2)   Is the Minister aware of a January 2004 review by the British Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation of the latest scientific developments in relation to mobile communications and health, which concluded that there is still a possibility of negative impacts on human health, particularly for children suffering extended exposure, and continued research is needed.

(3)   Given the ongoing concerns about the health impacts of radiation generated by 3G mobile telephone towers, why doesn’t the Australian Communications Authority have any role in authorising where facilities are placed, monitoring their ongoing maintenance and upgrading, or determining whether these individual installations comply with low-impact criteria.

(4)   Given the ongoing concerns about the effects of radiation generated by 3G mobile telephone towers, and the fact that approximately 5000 new 3G telecommunications facilities are expected to be installed over the next 2 years, why does the Government believe that regulation of the construction and placing of towers can be left to a voluntary code drawn up by the industry itself, via the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF).

(5)   If federal legislation allows 3G mobile phone towers to be installed without council approval, why does no federal body have the power to regulate the installation of these facilities.

(6)   Will the Minister investigate complaints of alleged breaches of the ACIF code with regard to the location and siting of 3G towers in and around schools, in local parks and in suburban backyards; if not, why not.

(7)   Are there any 3G mobile phone towers situated on Commonwealth controlled crown land; if so: (a) where; (b) how many 3G mobile phone towers are sited on Commonwealth controlled crown land; and (c) what is the approximate rent paid for the use of this land.

(8)   Does the Commonwealth have any guidelines or requirements for the placing of 3G towers on state government controlled crown land; if not, why not.

(9)   Does the Commonwealth Government have records of all 3G mobile phone towers in Australia that are situated within 300m of all places where children congregate for long periods.

(10)   Does the Commonwealth Government have records showing how many 3G mobile phone towers are situated within school grounds and in suburban backyards.

(11)   What has the Commonwealth Government done to alert school staff and parents of possible health impacts associated with 3G mobile phone towers in schools where towers are located within 300 metres of playgrounds and sports ovals.


Senator Coonan (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

(1)   I am aware that 3rd Generation (3G) mobile telecommunications towers are currently being installed throughout Australia. The location of these facilities is a commercial decision for carriers which must comply with the appropriate Commonwealth, State or Territory legislation.

(2)   I am aware of the conclusions of the UK independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation report released in January 2004 titled `Health effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields’.

The report also concluded that the weight of evidence now available does not suggest that there are adverse health effects from exposures to radiofrequency fields below guideline levels.

In relation to mobile base stations, the report concluded: “Exposure levels from living near to mobile base stations are extremely low, and the overall evidence indicates that they are unlikely to pose a risk to health.”

(3)   The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has the primary role of advising the Government and providing information to the public, on issues related to radiation protection and developing standards for public occupational limits of exposure to radio frequency emissions. The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has introduced regulations that make mandatory, for radiocommunications transmitters, the electromagnetic energy (EME) emissions limits set out in a standard developed by ARPANSA. The ACA is also required to conduct random audits to ensure licensees and suppliers are complying with the new EME regulations. Additionally, under the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure Code (the Industry Code), the public can request, at any time, that a carrier provide information on radiation levels around telecommunications facilities.

Local Councils have control under relevant State or local planning schemes for all telecommunications installations except those - generally low-impact facilities - covered by Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (the Act). The location of these facilities is a commercial decision for carriers and is a matter between the carriers and the owner/occupier of the land on which the facility is installed.

Carriers seeking to install low-impact facilities are required to comply with rules of conduct set out in the Act and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 (the Code). There are strict rules governing what can be installed, where new infrastructure can be installed, notification requirements and how carriers must behave. Compliance with the Act and the Code are standard carrier licence conditions. Alleged breaches of carrier licence conditions should be reported to the ACA.

Only a court can make a determinative ruling on the interpretation of the Telecommunications (Low-Impact Facilities) Determination 1997 (the Determination) and whether a facility complies with the legislation. This is because installations that are not low-impact facilities must comply with the relevant State and Territory planning legislation. The ACA cannot investigate a claim that a facility is not a low-impact facility because it has no jurisdiction to investigate breaches of State and Territory legislation.

(4)   The Government’s framework for the telecommunications sector seeks to achieve a reasonable balance between individual local and broader regional and national interests. By facilitating competition, the Government has given Australians greater access to a wider 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.

In a limited number of circumstances carriers have immunity from State and Territory laws and can install telecommunications facilities under Commonwealth law. One of the main such instances relates to the installation of low-impact facilities covered by Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (the Act). Carriers seeking to install low-impact facilities are required to comply with rules of conduct set out in the Act and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 (the Code). There are strict rules governing what can be installed, where new infrastructure can be installed, notification requirements and how carriers must behave.

It is impractical for the Government to legislate every detail of the telecommunications industry, 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.

To this end, 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 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.

The Industry Code has been registered by the ACA under the Act. The Industry Code is therefore mandatory and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) can enforce the Industry Code and take action when carriers are in breach of the requirements under the Industry Code.

(5)   Local Councils have control under relevant State or local planning legislation for all telecommunications installations except those covered by Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act 1997 (the Act). Schedule 3 does not exempt the installation of mobile phone towers from State or local planning legislation.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) is responsible for regulating telecommunications and radiocommunications, including promoting industry self-regulation. The ACA is also responsible for ensuring that carriers comply with their licence conditions when installing low-impact facilities which include compliance with the Act and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 (the Code) and the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure Code (the Industry Code).

(6)   The Australian Communications Authority (ACA), as the telecommunications regulator, has the authority to investigate breaches of the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure Code (the Industry Code) regardless of the location of the installation.

On 21 June 2004, the ACA warned both Telstra and Hutchison 3G Australia that they had breached the Industry Code on the siting of communications infrastructure. The warnings followed an official ACA investigation of complaints lodged under the Industry Code in relation to the carrier’s consultation processes not meeting the requirements of the Industry Code.

(7)   Yes.

(a)  

   Hutchison has advised that as of 30 November 2004, it has nine 3G sites installed on Commonwealth owned land. Four of these sites are at airports and five 3G sites are located on Defence lands. In addition, Hutchison has advised that it has 43 sites at Telstra Exchanges, some of which may be on Commonwealth owned land. Optus has also advised that as of 30 November 2004, it has one trial 3G site on Commonwealth land in Crows Nest, NSW.

(b)  

   See question 7 (a) above.

(c)  

   Hutchison has further advised that the approximate rent for these sites are on average:

(i)  

   Airports - $20,000 per annum;

(ii)  

   Defence land - $15,000 per annum; and

(iii)  

   Telstra exchanges - $20,000 per annum.

(8)   Commonwealth legislation does not distinguish between ownership of land, i.e. Commonwealth, State or privately owned land, for the siting of telecommunication facilities. The Telecommunications (Low Impact facilities) Determination 1997 (the Determination) defines low-impact facilities and differentiates between zoning areas, by way of reference to zoning arrangements under State and Territory planning laws to determine where a facility may be located. The installation of facilities that are not low impact or that are installed on State Government owned land will be subject to the applicable jurisdictions planning legislation.

(9)   The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has advised that as required by Part 3.5 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992, the ACA’s radiocommunication database holds technical information about licences. This includes such things as the frequency of a transmitter or receiver, the power, antenna information, and the location which includes an address and geographic coordinates. All 3G transmitters operate under Spectrum Licences, although Spectrum Licences do not record what purpose the licence is used for.

The ACA has further advised that it keeps records of the location of transmitters for Spectrum Licences. The ACA has further advised that it does not record whether the transmitters are for 3G purposes, who owns the facility and whether the facility is installed and in operation or whether it is installed on Commonwealth land. Nor does the ACA maintain a record of all places where children congregate for long periods.

(10)   The ACA has advised that it keeps records of the location of transmitters for Spectrum Licences. The ACA has further advised that the general public can access information regarding the location of transmitters via its website at http://www.aca.gov.au/pls/radcorn/register_search.main_page.

(11)   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 Government provides one million dollars a year 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.

The Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 (the Code), requires that carriers provide adequate prior notification to landowners and occupiers, including the local Council (where the Council is the manager of public land), of their intention to inspect and to install telecommunications facilities.

Under the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure Code (the Industry Code) the public can request, at any time, that a carrier provide information on radiation levels around base stations. Additionally, the Industry Code provides for a significant expansion of consultative practices required by carriers with affected community members.

On 8 November 2004, the Australian Communications Authority (ACA), in conjunction with ARPANSA, launched a comprehensive information package on EME and mobile phone towers. This information package was developed to address community concerns about EME and health issues, particularly those associated with the installation of mobile phone infrastructure, by providing information on electromagnetic emissions, the deployment of mobile phone towers, use of mobile phone handsets and associated health issues. A new web portal, which contains all the information in the package, can be accessed through emr.aca.gov.au.