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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2999

(Question No. 50)

Senator Bourne asked the Minister for Communications and the Arts, upon notice, on 8 May 1996:

What steps will the Government take immediately to: (a) improve local councils' knowledge of their rights under the Telecommunications National Code; (b) improve information supplied by carriers to councils about planned infrastructure; (c) give councils greater time to consult with carriers and affected residents about planned infrastructure; (d) encourage carriers to comply as much as possible with all relevant planning, environmental and heritage protection rules; (e) ensure carriers better inform the public about the possible health risks of infrastructure; and (f) require carrier co-location of telecommunications infrastructure wherever possible.

Senator Alston —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(a) Steps were taken in early 1995 to improve local councils' knowledge of their rights under the Telecommunications National Code (the Code). An information package containing a detailed plain English Guide to the provisions of the Code, a copy of the Code, a copy of the regulations and a list of contacts was mailed to local councils and has been made available on request to councils and the general public. In addition the Government is in the process of revising the Telecommunications National Code. This follows an AUSTEL review of the Code. This process has enhanced the understanding by parties of the operations of the Code. I have recently published a new draft Code and directed AUSTEL to conduct a public inquiry into this Code. Once the new Code is introduced the Government intends to produce explanatory material which will be provided to each council. Consideration will also be given to whether there are any additional measures necessary to improve local councils' understanding of their rights and responsibilities under the new Code.

(b) The new draft Code contains stricter notification and consultation requirements and specifies information requirements for notification of councils.

(c) The new draft Code contains longer time frames in which councils can consult with the carriers, particularly where public notification and consultation is required.

(d) The current regulatory framework governing the way in which carriers install their networks, including the carriers' current exemptions from State and Territory planning laws will continue until replaced by another scheme of proper planning processes, preferably from 1 July 1997. However, the new draft Telecommunications National Code require carriers to have regard to protection of the environment and heritage, particularly in declared areas. It also encourages dialogue between carrier and councils with regard to planning of telecommunications infrastructure.

(e) The new draft Code requires carriers to provide information to be specified with regard to the electromagnetic energy (EME) emissions expected from radio facilities. With regard to the health effects of EME I am advised that the weight of national and international scientific opinion seems to be that there is no substantiated evidence of adverse health effects from EME emissions at typical levels. However, as science cannot prove a negative, the possibility cannot be ruled out. For this reason the Government takes community concerns about this issue seriously.

A joint committee of officials has been set up to study EME public health issues and to ensure that health and safety concerns of the general public are addressed. Included in the committee's work are community information and dissemination programs.

The telecommunications carriers are required, under the Telecommunications National Code, to comply with industry standards likely to reduce risk to the safety of the public, including Australian Standard 2772.1, which establishes EME exposure levels that are considered, on the basis of current national and international scientific knowledge, to be safe. The Government has maintained this requirement in the new draft Code.

(f) The Code contains provisions which encourage carriers to co-locate towers and similar structures to help minimise the environmental impact of these structures. The new draft includes provisions to encourage co-location of telecommunications infrastructure including mobile telephone towers and cabling.