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Monday, 13 August 2018
Page: 4579

Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (19:47): The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 includes two measures. The first is to allow access to NBN towers by emergency services organisations, and the second is to specify temporary telecommunication towers as low-impact facilities. The Australian Greens support the intent of this bill and we strongly support access to telecommunication services during emergencies. We are supportive of the changes proposed in schedule 1 of the bill, although we have not been able to obtain a record of any emergency services requesting access to NBN towers in the past. Perhaps this is something that the minister would be willing to provide.

The changes proposed in the bill were outlined in a consultation paper last year entitled Possible amendments to telecommunications carrier powers and immunities. According to the explanatory memorandum, the carrier powers and immunities regime minimises the regulatory burden on carriers. The government is seeking to extend this regime to include temporary powers so that carriers do not need to obtain development approval from local government to temporarily install these facilities, which increases, they say, costs and time frames for deployment and affects the business case for their use.

While the government have focused on the benefits to telecommunications companies of being able to sidestep regulations and improve their business cases, they seem to have overlooked many of the concerns voiced by local governments and councils around Australia during consultations on this legislation. The Australian Local Government Association stated in their submission to the consultation:

It is not surprising that carriers will continue to push to speed up approval processes, reduce their costs and reduce timeframes. This purely commercial interest needs to be balanced with planning laws which are designed to protect public safety and limit impacts on the environment, whilst ensuring that the community has a say in the planning process.

The ALGA, along with many in local government councils from around Australia, note in their submissions that carriers already ride roughshod over local communities with disregard for safety regulations, heritage sites, environmental protections and cultural considerations. There is no reason to skirt these regulations for major events, holiday periods and scheduled maintenance, which should be subject to local government approval to ensure that there is no interference with other infrastructure and services, as well as environmental, heritage and cultural sites. We support allowances for genuine emergencies and natural disasters, however.

Clause 8B, where a temporary tower is installed for an event, allows the tower to remain up for 138 days, whereas clause C, where a tower is installed for a holiday period, allows the tower to stay up for 90 days. Clause 9 requires the carrier to restore the land. However, according to local government, carriers have a poor track record of restoring sites, and there is no penalty to ensure that that restoration of land is enforced.

This legislation follows a genuinely disturbing pattern from the Minister for Communications of introducing legislation and not allowing sufficient time for consideration, opportunity to refer to committee or scrutiny by community and stakeholders before trying to ram it blindly through the parliament. We will be supporting the ALP's amendment to refer this legislation to committee so that local governments and councils can carefully scrutinise the many local planning rules this legislation seeks to stomp on and the potential long-term impacts of these so-called temporary measures.