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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 466


Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (12:19): I rise to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. This bill proposes to amend the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 to require the National Broadband Network company to provide emergency service organisations with access in certain circumstances to towers and associated sites and facilities. It also proposes to amend the Telecommunications Act 1997 to enable the Minister for Communications and the Arts to specify temporary towers as low-impact facilities in certain circumstances. This bill also incorporates a Labor amendment passed by the Senate on a broadcasting-related matter, which I will come to later.

Turning first to schedule 2, which deals with temporary mobile towers: this schedule deals with the deployment of temporary mobile towers and infrastructure. The carrier powers and immunities regime is a longstanding provision under the Telecommunications Act which allows companies to deploy infrastructure under a range of circumstances. When a particular type of infrastructure is deemed to be of low impact, the usual planning process may no longer apply and the approvals process is streamlined. Low-impact facilities include some radio communications facilities, underground and above-ground housing, cables and the like. The longstanding arrangements help to minimise the cost and time to deploy networks and other related infrastructure. The explanatory memorandum notes schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act does not currently permit towers, other than replacement towers of a particular height, to be installed using such carrier powers and immunities.

As you would well know, Mr Deputy Speaker McVeigh, mobile towers can be a sensitive issue for local communities for a variety of reasons, which I recognise as a local member but also in my previous role as a local councillor. Naturally, a balance must be struck between the need to deploy infrastructure efficiently and in a timely manner, to the benefit of consumers, and the processes and risk management that underpin their deployment.

Temporary towers require local government approval in many places. Mobile operators are often required to obtain approvals from local government authorities to temporarily install these facilities. The amendments proposed by schedule 2 of the bill would allow towers to be installed temporarily, under the certain conditions specified, without the requirement for all of the approvals that are currently required. This includes situations such as providing services to emergency services organisations to respond to a natural disaster or emergency. It also includes periods of peak demand or additional capacity to support specific events. These are all legitimate circumstances in which temporary mobile infrastructure is deployed. The question raised by this bill is whether there should be more flexibility in certain types of deployment scenarios.

Labor is, in principle, supportive of the steps to streamline processes for the deployment of temporary mobile infrastructure, provided it is safe for the community and the environment and that the benefits outweigh the risks. We strongly support the ability of temporary mobile infrastructure to be deployed expeditiously during natural disasters or emergency situations, as I'm sure all members do in this place. We have adopted a more cautious approach towards events and deployment in local areas of peak seasonal demand. Any proposal which seeks to provide mobile carriers with the ability to bypass local approvals must be developed with care and sensitivity, and in consultation with relevant community, council and local government stakeholders.

Labor instigated an inquiry into schedule 2 of this bill primarily due to a concern that temporary towers could be deployed in some scenarios, such as events, under the streamlined arrangements proposed in this bill, but then become permanent through a process of minor relocation or gaming of the time limits. This situation, if permitted, would clearly be contrary to the intent and spirit of this bill. These concerns were reflected in the two primary recommendations of the Senate inquiry into schedule 2. I acknowledge the government has, in good faith, taken the committee's concerns into account, and has subsequently provided and issued a replacement explanatory memorandum to respond to the matters raised by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee report on its inquiry into the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Bill 2018, which was released on 10 September 2018. The amended explanatory memorandum makes clear that what could be described as a 'trivial relocation' of a temporary facility does not reset the clock, as it were, for the time period linked to the event and not the specific location.

Another issue identified in the Senate inquiry was whereby an annual time limit could, perhaps opportunistically, be breached by a mobile carrier across two calendar years in a manner that permitted a temporary facility to operate for nearly 12 months, rather than the six-month intent described in the bill. The backstop safeguard in this situation appears to be the requirement to issue a land notice to the land owner, who then has the option of raising an objection with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. While this mechanism is imperfect, we are prepared to be flexible and see how it operates in practice. If the TIO observes unintended outcomes, there is nothing that would prevent a future parliament from taking reasonable steps to strengthen those safeguards as judged appropriate.

For these reasons and given the issue of a replacement explanatory memorandum, Labor is satisfied that, on balance, there are adequate safeguards to address the concerns that have been identified. We are also satisfied about the existing environmental safeguards that exist. For this reason, it is our intention to support schedule 2 of the bill as it stands. Should evidence emerge of unintended consequences as a result of the changes, as I said, there will always be scope to revisit these issues on their merits.

Turning to schedule 1 of the bill, access to NBN towers by emergency service organisations: schedule 1 of the bill proposes to amend the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 to require NBN Co to provide emergency service organisations with access to its towers in certain circumstances. These emergency service organisations can include fire, ambulance and police, as well as other state and territory services. These organisations have been unable to provide this access because of line-of-business restrictions in the originating NBN legislation. These restrictions prevent NBN Co from providing access to entities that are not supplying telecommunications services. Clearly, these restrictions are impractical and unnecessary when it comes to emergency service organisations, so the changes are welcome. Schedule 1 of this bill proposes to amend the existing restrictions applying to the NBN so that such access can be supplied to eligible emergency service organisations without breaching those restrictions. Labor is supportive of this proposal as it seems to be a sensible step.

The Australian public has made a significant investment in telecommunications infrastructure because of the NBN rollout. It is important that these investments are leveraged for the public interest. Supporting the efficient deployment of communications infrastructure for emergency service organisations is certainly in the public interest. To progress this outcome, the bill proposes to establish a tower access regime to facilitate that access. Under the proposed tower access regime, NBN Co would be required to give access to the tower and related sites. If there is another tower in the vicinity of the tower owned or operated by NBN Co, NBN Co would need to be satisfied that it would not be reasonable for that entity to access that other tower before providing access to its own. We are satisfied that schedule 1 offers adequate safeguards and that NBN Co is not required to provide access where it is not technically feasible. Imposing such a requirement would create a range of operational and technical challenges that would be both costly and impractical unless a fair mechanism for cost recovery was in place.

Finally, I also note Labor introduced an amendment to this bill in the Senate to correct a legislative issue that is preventing the payment of assistance payments to a regional broadcaster. The amendment proposes to omit Northern Rivers Television Pty Ltd as a specified company that is eligible to receive a transitional support payment under part 3 of schedule 6 of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017 and to specify Network Investments Pty Ltd in its place. I am pleased that the government supported the amendment in the Senate, and I look forward to their support in this chamber.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017 established a transitional support payment scheme for specified companies. This entitles a company to a transitional support payment if it meets certain criteria, including being the holder of a commercial television or radio broadcasting licence. Northern Rivers Television is specified as a company that can receive an annual transition support payment if they meet the criteria for that payment. However, on 1 June 2017, Northern Rivers Television transferred the commercial television broadcasting licence and assets it held to Network Investments. Under the policy, Network Investments, as the current holder of the commercial television broadcasting licence, would have been eligible for the annual payment of financial assistance. However, it is not currently specified in the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017. The Labor amendment will specify Network Investments as being eligible for the payment. This will ensure that Network Investments receives the transitional support payment for each of the relevant financial years.

This amendment was first introduced by the government in the House of Representatives to a separate bill, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2018. However, that bill appears to have since stalled under this minister, as has a lot else in the communications portfolio. The minister has been sitting on the government's communication deregulation bill for quite some time. Labor was tired of waiting for the minister to get his act together because all we saw was delay, delay and delay. We are pleased that the Labor amendment has been incorporated into the bill.

In seeking to explain himself on this matter, the minister made the very bizarre claim that his deregulation bill, which the minister has not brought on for debate in the Senate, has somehow stalled because of Labor—yet more excuses from this minister. It is no wonder the communications sector is tired of having a distracted minister more focused on his backroom numbers than his portfolio. But we are glad that at least today, in the context of this bill, this amendment from Labor will have a useful outcome.