Mobile Phone Towers
Ms SYLVIA HALE [2.36 p.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(a) calls on the Federal Government to review schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 and its "Low Impact Facilities" determination that currently exempts telecommunications companies from planning laws for certain facilities,
(b) calls on State and Federal government agencies to address the current deplorable state of enforcement of current laws relating to the installation of mobile phone towers,
(c) calls on the State Government to introduce legislation consistent with European guidelines that bans the installation of 3G mobile phone towers within 300 metres of any school ground, and
(d) calls on local councils to introduce development control plans requiring development consent for all mobile phone tower installations.
It is timely that this motion is being debated against the backdrop of a Federal election, because this issue spans all three tiers of government but particularly affects the Federal Government. The Federal Telecommunications Act urgently needs reform, and I will talk more about the detail of that reform in due course. Let me begin this debate with a brief explanation of the technology. Conventional mobile phones used by most people are second generation, or 2G. These phones have been in wide circulation for the past five years. In metropolitan areas of the country telecommunications companies have an extensive and relatively mature 2G network.
The radio frequency at which they operate requires antenna towers to be built approximately three kilometres to five kilometres apart. Each tower can handle only a limited number of calls so ever-increasing demand means that the entire system is undergoing a constant process of expansion. The Australian Communications Authority anticipates that Telstra alone will install 6,000 new or enlarged mobile installations over the next 18 months. Third generation, or 3G, mobile phones are a different network. 3G phones transmit live moving video images. Presently only Hutchison Telecommunications has a 3G network, and all other carriers offering this service rent space on the Hutchison network. However, Telstra has recently entered into a joint partnership with Hutchison to use its network, and Vodafone and Optus have agreed to share a second 3G network. Hutchison is expected to build 5,000 base stations for its 3G network in the next two years.
Hutchison and Orange Telecommunications are owned by Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing. His parent company, Cheung Kong (Holdings) Limited, is ranked as one of the 100 largest corporations in the world and operates in 40 countries with 160,000 staff. The 3G network operates at 2,100 megahertz and requires towers to be located much closer together—between 1.5 kilometres and three kilometres apart—than the three kilometres to five kilometres apart for 2G. This greater concentration means there will be more towers. It also means that in any urban area an individual will be no more than 750 metres to 1,200 metres from a 3G tower.
Even now many people are living in close proximity to towers. Some schoolchildren will spend almost every minute of every day exposed to the potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation. The principal concerns associated with both 2G and 3G phone towers can be broadly divided into two categories. One is the health impact associated with electromagnetic radiation. The second is the planning impact associated with the way phone companies install towers, often ignoring community opposition and bypassing planning laws. I will deal with these concerns separately.
I refer first to the health impacts. Both mobile phones and the antennas towers emit electromagnetic radiation, commonly referred to as EMR. The possible impacts of EMR on human health are not well understood, but EMR has been linked to increased rates of cancer, headaches, sleep disturbance, depression, and infertility. EMR is emitted by a wide range of electronic items, and mobile phones are certainly not the only source of concern. But ongoing uncertainties about the risks that EMR poses to human health cannot be ignored. Public policy makers and the telecommunications industry should be especially cautious in developing guidelines for the siting of mobile phone towers. If we are to avoid past mistakes associated with tobacco and asbestos, where for decades industries continued to peddle their highly damaging products in a laissez faire environment, the precautionary principle must prevail.
Unfortunately the opposite has been the case. Despite the possible risks associated with EMR, Federal anal State governments and the telecommunications industry spend almost nothing on funding independent scientific research. Despite the Federal Government gaining a $1.6 billion windfall when it auctioned off the 3G spectrum, in 2003 the Federal Government allocated only $2.5 million over five years for EMR research—a paltry figure by comparison with the enormous profits of the telecommunications industry. There is one area where the precautionary principle should not be negotiable: children. No generation has the right to gamble with the health of its children, and children are particularly susceptible to EMR because their bodies are still growing, and because their skulls are thinner and offer less protection from radiation.
A number of European countries have guidelines that limit the proximity of mobile phone towers to schools and places where children congregate for long periods. The New South Wales Teachers Federation has accepted this view, and supports the principle that mobile phone towers should not be located within 300 metres of school grounds. Yet Hutchison Telecommunications has built 3G towers not only near but within schools and sports grounds across Sydney. I have put questions on notice in this House to the Minister for Education and Training asking precisely which public schools have towers within 300 metres of the school grounds. The responses have repeatedly avoided the issue, so I can only presume the department does not have this information.
For the public record and the Minister's benefit, I will list the primary schools that are within 300 metres of a mobile phone tower. They are Allambie Heights, Arncliffe, Ashfield, Bangor, Bellevue Hill, Beverly Hills North, Beverly Hills, Bexley, Bilgola Plateau, Blakehurst, Bronte, Busby West, Cammeray, Campsie, Canley Heights, Carlingford, Castle Hill, Clemton Park, Collaroy Plateau, Concord, Croydon Park, Doonside, Double Bay, Eastlakes, Eastwood Heights, Engadine, Engadine West, Epping West, Fairvale, Five Dock, Forestville, Gardeners Road, Gladesville, Greenacre, Greystanes, Gymea Bay, Hammondville, Hunters Hill, Hurstville, Killarney Heights, Leichhardt, Lilli Pilli, Liverpool, Malabar, Marrickville, Marton, Matraville, Menai, Minali Special, Miranda, Mona Vale, Mortdale, Mt Colah, Murray Farm, Noumea, Nuwarra, Oatlands, Oatley, Parramatta West, Parramatta, Peakhurst West, Prestons, Redfern, Regentville, Revesby, Russell Lea Infants, Ryde, Seven Hills North, Seven Hills West, Smithfield, Smithfield West, Stanmore, Strathfield South, Sutherland, Sylvania Heights, Taren Point, Toongabbie East, Turramurra North, Vardys Road, Wattle Grove, West Pennant Hills, West Ryde, Willoughby and Winston Hills. All of these public schools are within 300 metres of mobile phone towers.
Parents with children at these schools—at every school—have a right to be consulted about the location of towers. Under current loopholes in the Telecommunications Act, telecommunication companies need to notify principals of affected schools, but the State Government does not require the principal to take any action or to notify parents or staff. This brings me to the second area of concern: the manner in which the carriers avoid local planning laws. The siting of mobile phone towers is governed by the Federal Telecommunications Act, which overrides most State and local government planning laws. Schedule 3 to the Act provides a loophole whereby telecommunication companies are able to install antennas deemed to be "low impact" if they are installed on an existing structure, such as a building or light pole, without obtaining consent from any planning authority. In this way the carriers are able to circumvent the normal development consent process.
However, the term "low impact" refers to visual impact only and completely ignores other impacts such as EMR. And, these towers do not have low visual impact. The Act allows carriers to install transmission sheds occupying a ground area of up to 7.5 square metres at the base of existing poles, as well as antennas that are large, ugly, and visually intrusive. There are numerous reports of carriers simply ignoring the rules and installing sheds whose ground cover is well over the 7.5 square metres and/or removing existing poles and installing new larger towers. Carriers also seek out soft targets such as cash-strapped sporting clubs, local shops with absentee landlords, and publicly-owned or publicly-managed ovals and parks.
Tens, possibly hundreds, of towers are installed on public land owned by councils and State and Federal government agencies. In many cases the carriers pay little or no rent. I have asked questions of the Minister for Lands about rent paid for towers on public land, but they have also gone unanswered. All over Sydney, antennas are installed on lands owned by Sydney Water and by the biggest energy retailer, Energy Australia. In South Australia, Hutchison installs its towers at whim on land held by the State's energy retailer, Energy SA, because Li Ka-shing owns both the phone carrier and the energy company.
The power of the telecommunication companies does not stop there. The Telecommunications Act gives the carriers the power to install antennas on any roof irrespective of whether the building's owner agrees. The carriers generally approach building owners, often absentee landlords, and offer rents in the vicinity of $10,000 to $20,000 a year to install antennas. This is a serious inducement to an absentee landlord with only a passing interest in visual pollution or local concerns. In most cases landlords agree, with little or no critical analysis or knowledge of the potential health risks or impacts on the building.
I have been told that even when building owners do ask questions, the carriers trivialise the impacts and/or withhold information. I have spoken to a number of building owners who not only regret that they agreed to the installation but also maintain that the impacts were not fully explained to them. Photographs of a shed and a mobile phone tower installation in the backyard of premises in Arncliffe show that the shed is no more than 20 or 30 metres from where people are living. The tower occupies a major portion of that backyard and people are living very close by.
Carriers also intimidate building owners who do not agree. My office has received copies of threatening letters sent by Telstra and Hutchison informing owners that if they continue to refuse to agree to an installation it will go ahead regardless. The Telecommunications Act allows telecommunication companies to install towers wherever they wish, against the landowner's will. Schedule 3 to the Act is a rort. It allows telecommunication companies to circumvent planning laws, to bully landowners, and to ride roughshod over local community opposition.
The Federal Government and Federal Labor must give a commitment before the Federal election to amend schedule 3. The legislative environment has been skewed in favour of the telecommunication companies for far too long, and communities across New South Wales and all over Australia have begun fighting back. One of the first examples was the well-known case in Oatley. Residents and Hurstville council banded together, took Hutchison to court, and had a tower removed. In the United Kingdom a number of local communities have torn down towers. Indeed, in Melbourne there was an instance of a State government authority taking the telecommunications company to court in an effort to have a tower removed from a large housing commission development.
Each month more and more community groups are forming, angry at the heavy-handed manner in which the carriers have ignored their concerns and installed towers against their wishes. There are now community groups opposing towers in Woolooware, Minchinbury, Mount Colah, Castle Hill, Engadine, Fairfield, Bilgola Heights, Croydon Park, Yarrawarrah, Harbord, Como, Gymea Bay, St Ives, Balgowlah Heights, Cherrybrook, Mosman, Allambie Heights, Hunters Hill, Sylvania Heights, Killarney Heights, and Wattle Grove.
Last month a new national alliance called Tower Sanity Alliance, comprising many of these groups, formed. That alliance is not connected with the Greens. Two months ago I attended one of its meetings and assured the people there that the Greens would support them every step of the way in their endeavour to amend schedule 3 to the Act and to force the carriers to be more responsive to environmental, health, and heritage considerations—not to mention the concerns of local communities. Residents, building owners, and local communities have a right to be involved in decisions about where and how mobile phone towers are located.
Mobile phones are a ubiquitous part of modern life, but that does not give telecommunication companies the right to flout planning laws while State and Federal governments turn a blind eye. It does not give them the right to circumvent planning processes. It does not give them the right to bully and intimidate landowners. And it certainly does not give them the right to ride roughshod over community concerns and interests.
As I said, Federal Labor must give an undertaking to amend schedule 3 of the Act. The Federal Liberal Government has consistently refused to address this loophole. At a State level, the Government must start holding carriers accountable when they break the law. There are numerous instances of low-impact towers erected on Crown land that do not comply with low-impact guidelines. The State Government must take up the challenge when carriers break the law. For larger towers, for which a development application is required, the landowner must give consent for a tower to be constructed. If the landowner does not give consent, telecommunications companies should not be able to erect a tower. Across New South Wales at least 130 towers are built on State land. The State Government has the power not only to ensure that the telecommunications companies abide by the law but to require full and adequate community consultation, and to ensure that towers are not built in areas close to homes and schools.
The Hon. Rick Colless: Is yours a 3G phone?
Ms SYLVIA HALE: It certainly is not. The essential distinction between 2G and 3G is that 3G phones can transmit video information. One of the inducements to people to take them up is access to pornographic sites at a very reduced rate. It is not as though they are an essential aspect of communication. This is why so many people in the community want restrictions on their proliferation. It is irrefutable that the health risks outweigh the supposed benefits, such as access to video. The balance should lie in favour of limiting the proliferation of 3G towers.
The State Government must also provide local government with the support needed to ensure that corporate interests do not override community interests. First among the initiatives needed at a council level are development control plans governing the siting of towers. The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources could help co-ordinate this work. One of the difficulties is that the telecommunication companies may indeed inform councils, but if the councils are not aware of the detail of the regulation and they take the companies' assurances at face value they may not be equipped or sufficiently knowledgeable to handle the issue appropriately.
In this regard to the Federal Government's use in the legislation of the words "low-impact facility" deliberately misrepresents the nature of the potential harm the towers represent. People interpret "low-impact" to mean it will have a low impact on health, whereas the legislation just says it will be of "low visual impact". There is no question: low visual impact does not mean low risk.
Finally, the State Government needs to lobby its Federal counterpart to close the loopholes in the Federal legislation. It must enlighten the community as to the potential risks. It must assist councils in the preparation of appropriate development control plans. It should point out the misleading nature of the terminology used in the Act. It must also pressure the Federal Government to amend the Act. Until more independent scientific research has been conducted, the precautionary principle must prevail. Towers should not be built in people's backyards, within 300 metres of school grounds, or wherever children congregate for long periods. I urge members to support the motion.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE [3.00 p.m.]: The Opposition does not believe that the approach taken in this motion is the appropriate way forward. We acknowledge that a significant number of groups across the community have concerns about the placement of mobile telecommunication towers and antennas. The motion calls on the Federal Government to take action. As honourable members know, a motion of this House calling on the Federal Government to do anything has no force. Indeed, we can do nothing more than pass a motion about the actions of the State Government. There is a better way forward, and that is to focus on giving advice to the State Government. In that context, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all words after "House" and inserting instead:
calls on the State Government to determine as part of the "Metropolitan Strategy" document, currently in development under the supervision of Professor Ed Blakely, a comprehensive strategic approach to the identification of suitable mobile tower sites, low and high impact, to guide telecommunications providers to available site options with the best community and planning outcomes.
The Opposition believes that the preparation of the "Metropolitan Strategy" document provides an opportunity for the State Government to examine this issue and to propose a range of ideas or options for the community to consider. Mobile telephones are a fact of modern life and despite the honourable member's comments about third generation technology it is a part of our future. I suspect that if we were to talk to members of the resident groups that have voiced concerns, many would admit they use mobile telephones, and undoubtedly their children also use them. An analysis of many homes would reveal other electromagnetic devices, such as microwave ovens, that have over the years caused concern about potential health impacts. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the level of exposure that most people have to common communications equipment and other sources of electromagnetic waves is likely to pose a danger.
Notwithstanding that, we must take a responsible approach, and the Government has a role to play. The question is the level and scope of any inquiry. Should we examine every antenna—as I suspect is the honourable member's desire? Aspects of what the honourable member said concern me. Frankly, the size of Hutchison Telecommunications, or any other company, is irrelevant to this debate. Of course, it might have been part of the Greens usual agenda about multinationals and their capacity to influence Government, which is the theme behind most issues they raise. The Opposition is conscious of community concerns. The shadow Minister responsible for this portfolio area has made representations to the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning and to the Federal Government on behalf of some groups—she has certainly assisted the Oatley Park Defenders—to see whether we can resolve their concerns.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency [ARPANSA] has advised that radiofrequency radiation does not have any adverse health effects. In the past decade, in particular, a significant amount of research has been carried out in Australia and overseas. Of course, the community has a right to know and to be protected. The ARPANSA has provided advice to the community under the heading "Mobile Telephone Communication Antennas: Are They a Health Hazard?". In addition to saying that radiofrequency radiation does not have any adverse health effects, it also states:
It is considered that rises in tissue or body temperature of about 1.0_C or more are required before any adverse effects will occur. In cases of pregnancy, rises in the temperature of the foetus of 2.5 to 5_C are necessary before defects are seen in the newborn. These temperature rises will not occur unless the exposure level is greatly in excess of the Australian Standard mentioned above. Exposure to the low level of RF radiation emitted from base station antennas will not, in fact, cause any noticeable temperature rise. There are many reports in the literature of research on non-thermal effects, usually of a subjective nature. This research was conducted in both Eastern and Western block countries. Studies that have investigated if RF radiation affects biological cells, other than by heating them, are inconclusive. In addition, the exposure levels used in these studies are higher than those mentioned above.
As I said, there are no identifiable adverse health effects. The belief that we should err on the side of caution is one of the reasons the Howard Government insisted on a code covering telecommunications carriers. There was no code when the Howard Government was elected, but a code is now in operation. It applies to all carriers who intend to install or are installing or operating fixed infrastructure used to support a mobile telecommunications device. The code applies only to the telecommunications infrastructure operators and carriers covered by the Telecommunications Act 1997: Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Hutchinson. The code is not binding on other providers of radio communications infrastructure, such as broadcasters or operators of land mobile communications. The code well and truly covers the companies that are the subject of this motion.
The code requires carriers to design and operate radio communications infrastructure to minimise electromagnetic energy [EME] exposure; to provide certain information to the public, on request, about EME for specific sites; to develop consultation plans for installations at new sites for certain facilities; to provide information to councils on network forward planning for the region if requested; to notify councils and the community before the construction of most types of infrastructure; to turn off transmitters that are out of service; to document their decision-making processes; and to develop an internal complaints-handling mechanism. As Ms Sylvia Hale said, some fines have already been imposed under the code. Telecommunications carriers must honour those responsibilities; they do not operate in a vacuum. The code provides examples of sites that have sometimes been considered sensitive—for example, child care centres, schools, aged care centres and hospitals—but it does not specifically define community-sensitive locations.
Does that mean that a tower cannot be erected near any such facility? Although carriers must consider the implications of community-sensitive locations, they can place infrastructure on such sites or nearby. All mobile telephone base stations must comply with the regulations relating to EME. The code does not specify the distance at which infrastructure must be sited from community-sensitive locations. I know the honourable member has certain views about the 300-metre limit from any school grounds, and it is true that that is not included in the code. However, there is no clear scientific evidence to justify applying such a limit.
The motion refers to European guidelines, but there is no clear scientific evidence to support such guidelines. It is important that there be interaction between mobile phone carriers and the community, and that carriers provide written notification of any proposal to install an antenna. Carriers have an obligation to observe the code. As we know, carriers have faced heavy fines as a consequence of their not observing the code.
The code became mandatory on 10 October 2002. However, two sections of it, sections 5 and 7, which deal with complaints handling and consultation notification, came into effect six months after registration, on 10 April 2003. This was because carriers needed time to develop, trial and implement processes, and train their staff and contractors. Across the four carriers, approximately 1,000 staff and consultants were trained in the requirements of the code. So it is not as though carriers are operating in a vacuum.
The question must then be asked: What is the role of the State Government in this? As Ms Sylvia Hale identified, the antennas must be placed at close intervals if we are to provide the level of service that is appropriate for people who wish to access the third-generation technology service. It is not for us to determine whether people have a right to access third-generation technology, or, for that matter, any other technology. I am sure that Ms Sylvia Hale would not, in other circumstances, support a measure that limited people's right to access communication; I am sure she does not support such policies.
I seem to recall that Ms Sylvia Hale suggested that third-generation technology allowed people to access pornographic sites. I presume the technology allows people to access a far wider range of videos. I am sure Ms Sylvia Hale did not intend to imply that third-generation technology provided some form of control over the material people could access, but that was the message that came across.
The Opposition is sympathetic to the many community interest groups that have taken up this fight. I was interested to hear that the suburb in which I live was amongst those listed by Ms Sylvia Hale as having local resident groups opposing the installation of mobile phone towers. I have not heard from such resident groups, and I have not seen any literature from them in my letterbox. I have also not received advice on the issue from any mobile phone carriers. Perhaps that means that there is no mobile telephone communication antenna in close proximity to where I live.
We have taken up the cause on behalf of defenders. We, as a House, need to look at what we can do. We could certainly pass a motion that calls on the State Government to take certain appropriate action. In my view that would be a far better course than what is effectively a bit of political grandstanding by the Greens before the Federal election—
Ms Sylvia Hale: This has been on the notice paper for some time.
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE: And the motion was no doubt placed on the notice paper because it was fairly obvious that at some point in 2004 we would have a Federal election. As it happens, this is the last sitting afternoon before the House adjourns for the Federal election. As with most of the things the Greens do, it is all about the publicity they can get and the stunts they like to pull. We prefer to think that there is a more productive and sensible way to deal with this, and that is calling on the State Government to take appropriate action. The Opposition amendment calls on the State Government to provide guidance through the metropolitan strategy. The Federal Government has done the right thing. It has implemented the code, which already has teeth, and Telstra and Hutchison were warned that their next breach would attract a fine.
Planning legislation is a State Government responsibility. Let us put the onus back where it should be: with the State Government. Let us use the opportunity of the metropolitan strategy, under which the Government could put in place a comprehensive strategic approach to the identification of suitable mobile towers sites. We believe that is the way forward. The metropolitan strategy would then be open for public discussion and input, and put on public exhibition. All the community interest groups that have been referred to would then have an opportunity to comment on the strategy and on the way it affects them.
In my view it would be wrong if, for the establishment of every single antenna, we had to go through a full development application process, with the project being on exhibition for long periods of time. That would simply tie up communication development in this nation. We need to find a balance between the rights of the community and our capacity to move forward in terms of modern communication. The Opposition has suggested an approach, and we hope the Government will support it. Our amendment is put forward in the spirit of a constructive suggestion in relation to the motion, and I urge the House to support it. There is no reason why it could not be part of the metropolitan strategy. After all, the strategy would also be available for community consultation. I do not believe that the Government can support the Greens motion. I therefore urge the Government, and all members of the House, to support the Opposition amendment.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS [3.15 p.m.]: The Government does not support Ms Sylvia Hale's motion in relation to the installation of mobile phone towers, although, as I will explain, the Government is sympathetic to some elements of it. I listened carefully to the Hon. Patricia Forsythe's contribution, in which she moved Opposition amendment to the motion. I will speak to the amendment later.
The motion comprises four paragraphs, and I wish to remind members of them. The first paragraph calls on the Federal Government to review the relevant part of the Telecommunications Act 1997, which is the major instrument that determines what happens in relation to the installation of mobile phone towers. The second paragraph calls on State and Federal government agencies to address the enforcement of current laws relating to the installation of mobile phone towers. The third paragraph calls on the State Government to introduce legislation. The fourth paragraph calls on local councils to introduce development control plans.
I draw the attention of the House to the four paragraphs of the motion because it is important that members note that two of the four paragraphs relate to the Federal Government, two relate to the State Government, and one relates to local government. One of the major flaws in the Opposition's amendment is that, in seeking to delete all words after "That this House", it not only destroys the motion but also removes the focus on the role of the Federal Government and of local government, which is one benefit of Ms Sylvia Hale's motion. I will address those matters later.
As I said, the Government does not support the motion, for a number of reasons. A balance must be struck between the rights of the community and the availability of mobile phone technology, which is now a vital part of everyday life for people in New South Wales and, indeed, throughout Australia. I think we would be very surprised if anyone were to argue that mobile phone technology is not an important part of everyday life for members of the Greens political party, as well as for others.
As has been said, it is essential for the continuing economic growth of the State that our business people and tradespeople have access to the latest, most up-to-date and most satisfactory communications technology. However, the apparent proliferation of mobile phone towers is a matter of grave concern for both the community and the State Government. I stress that although the Government has sympathy for aspects of Ms Sylvia Hale's motion, it needs to be strongly pointed out that, to a large extent, its hands are tied by the Commonwealth legislation that gives wide powers to mobile phone carriers. Therefore, taken as a whole, the motion does not represent the best way of dealing with this issue.
I shall summarise the major parts of the relevant Federal legislation. In the first place, under the Australian Constitution the Federal Government has the power to regulate telecommunications, and there is very little that any of us can do about that. At this stage the Telecommunications Act 1997 is the primary legislative instrument for establishing the powers and responsibilities of carriers. Under this 1997 Act mobile phone carriers have been given very wide powers and immunities and, as I said earlier, that very much restricts what the State and Territory governments can do. The Telecommunications (Low-Impact Facilities) Determination 1997, which arises out of wide-ranging legislation, was intended to encourage carriers to roll out non-intrusive infrastructure by exempting what were termed low-impact facilities from State and Territory legislative arrangements. The determination was intended to cover those facilities and activities considered essential to maintain telecommunications networks, but that were unlikely to cause significant community disruption during their installation or operation.
It is important to note that, although there are some size limitations, the so-called low-impact facilities, which under the 1997 legislation and determination are totally exempt from State and local government planning laws, include the following: radio terminal antennas, panel antennas, micro-cells, in-building coverage installations, radio communications dishes, extensions of existing towers and temporary facilities installed in an emergency or to support an emergency support organisation. Some mobile phone towers—for example, those over five metres in height—are not regarded as "low-impact" facilities. Mobile phone carriers must seek relevant development application approval from local government to install such towers. Having said what the situation is supposed to be, I emphasise that the carriers have been using the powers given to them under this low-impact facilities determination to install mobile phone infrastructures without approval from local government.
The final point I would make at this stage about the Commonwealth powers is that the watchdog, the Australian Communications Authority, has brought powers under the Telecommunications Act 1997 to investigate compliance of carriers with the Act and to impose fines for non-compliance. At this stage I refer to the Opposition amendment. I have just drawn attention to the constitutional power of the Federal Government and all of those aspects of the 1997 regime, which determine most of what happens in relation to these towers. Crucially, the Opposition amendment seeks to delete every reference in Ms Sylvia Hale's motion to the Federal Government. It also deletes every reference to the local government and it calls on the State Government only to do something.
I noted that the Hon. Patricia Forsythe was very honest in admitting that today is, as far as we know, the last sitting day before the Federal election. I welcome her honesty because I do not think there is any room for doubt that the forthcoming Federal election has a great deal to do with her attempt to get the Federal government totally off the hook. This power lies essentially with the Federal Government, and what do we have from the Opposition? An amendment that seeks to take the Federal Government, with all its constitutional powers, out of the equation completely, an amendment that takes local government, with all its powers, totally out of the equation, an amendment that attempts to leave only the State Government.
But in some ways that is not even the worst part of it. The amendment calls on the State Government to do various things as part of the metropolitan strategy document. What is obvious from the cover of the strategy document is that the strategy is, of course, metropolitan. So we have now a situation in which the Coalition is saying, through its amendment, that presumably the whole of New South Wales—with the exception of Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle and a small area of their hinterland—can have mobile phone towers on every hill, on every corner, within metres of every school throughout the whole of regional and rural New South Wales. What the Opposition amendment proposes in relation to this entire issue is to ignore the Federal Government, ignore local government, ignore regional and rural New South Wales, and make mobile phone towers part of the development of the "Metropolitan Strategy".
I am sorry, but if that is the best the Opposition can come up with, I am afraid its performance today is even worse than its performance yesterday, and that is saying a great deal. As I said earlier, although the Government will not support Ms Sylvia Hale's motion, it is certainly true that it attempts to balance the very real community concern that exists about certain aspects of mobile phone towers with the need for the community and business and so on to have access to mobile phone technology. I completely reject the Opposition amendment; it is very poorly considered and ill thought-out.
I am very conscious of community concerns in my local area. As members would know—because I have occasionally referred to it in the House—I have the misfortune to live in the electorate represented by the Prime Minister, and the installation of mobile phone towers has been a major issue in that area. Some time ago an attempt was made—the Labor candidate, Nicole Campbell, played a role in this, and I congratulate her on doing so—to stop the installation of a mobile phone tower in the grounds of Brush Farm House, which dates back about 190 years. Not only did the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party ignore that issue, but, of course, the Federal Government refused to contribute any funds to the restoration of Brush Farm House. Currently, an issue has arisen with regard to an attempt to install a very intrusive mobile phone tower near North Ryde golf course. Community concerns extend throughout New South Wales, and I relate those few examples from my local area.
To sum up: The main community concerns would relate to the possible future health impacts of electromagnetic radiation and perhaps, more commonly, the visual impact of installation and the associated infrastructure. There is no simple solution to these complex issues that I have spelt out, but if we are to find any solution at all it can only happen when the Federal Government amends its legislation. The onus has to be on the industry to improve relations with local councils and communities, and if anything is to be achieved, the crucial first step is for the Federal Government to amend its legislation.
I have a number of further points to make, and I want to say something about schools and about what the New South Wales Government has already done and is continuing to do in this regard. Therefore, I move:
That this debate be now adjourned until the next sitting day.
The House divided.
Reverend Dr Moyes
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion for adjournment agreed to.