Phone towers - call for new laws

The proliferation of mobile phone antennas and the actions of some carriers have generated a backlash. Communities, councils and state politicians are calling for changes to legislation.

Dame Nellie Melba impacted a generation. Though less than five metres in height, she sang like a nightingale, to the veneration of audiences worldwide. According to eyewitnesses, Adolf Hitler was also less than five metres in height. But he, too, had impact: impact that made a virtue of genocide; that plunged a nation into war; that resulted in the horrific deaths of millions of people worldwide. The atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima and Nagasaki had impact. It was also less than five metres long.

Size, therefore, is not a good indicator of impact.

Telecommunications antennas are proliferating at an unprecedented rate. They adorn high buildings everywhere, be they residences, workplaces, hospitals, churches or shopping centres. They are to be found on lampposts outside people’s homes, on street lights next to pedestrian crossings or on shop awnings just metres from people’s heads.

Antennas such as these are classified as “low impact” because they are short. We know, however, that size is not a good indicator of impact.

These so-called “low impact” facilities, which emit radiofrequency radiation 24 hours a day, may be even more dangerous than their larger counterparts because they are closer to people’s heads.

Not only has the Federal Government misleadingly classified these antennae as “low impact”, but it has allowed them to be built without consulting either councils or communities, without even informing tenants. Some of the more outrageous installations have been described in previous issues and details are available on EMRAA’s website.

Communities, councils and state politicians have been demanding changes to legislation to address the present indefensible situation.

The ALGA has been vocal in its denunciation of the present legislative framework. “Local Government and communities across Australia are currently disempowered under existing telecommunications legislation [Low Impact Determination],” said ALGA President, Cr John Ross.

“Although some telecommunications carriers consider potential mobile phone tower installations in consultation with local authorities and affected communities, there are some maverick newcomers to the industry that continue to abuse current legislation.

“Local Governments nation-wide have contacted ALGA with their concerns that some carriers are riding roughshod over communities when deploying their networks...

“Industry has been provided with the opportunity to self-regulate. But it is clear that self-regulation is not working. Legislative safeguards need to be introduced to ensure cavalier carriers are held to account, and Local Government and communities are provided with the opportunity to have meaningful input into proposed installations.”

NSW MP, Andrew Tink, believes that “low impact” antennas are “nothing of the sort when we are talking about their electromagnetic impact. I believe strongly that they should be the subject of some form of community consultation and local consent process. I ... am lobbying the Federal Government to try to achieve further developments in this area.” (Hansard 14.4.00)

Finally, the cries of community outrage and of council concern have been heard. But not by the Minister of Communications, Senator Alston.

It is the Shadow Minister of Communications, Stephen Smith, who has responded with a call for changes to legislation to provide some protection for the community.

“Government, the telecommunications industry and carriers in particular must not be blind to local community interests and concerns and must consult and cooperate with local communities much more so than at present,” Mr Smith said.

“It is clear that the current framework is not working to the satisfaction of local communities.”

Mr Smith recommends that changes be implemented recommending:

  • carriers to consult with councils about “low impact” facilities
  • carriers to colocate facilities
  • ACA to adjudicate on whether a facility is high or “low” impact
  • ACA to arbitrate disputes.

In a retaliatory press release, Senator Alston claimed to be addressing community concerns about consultation in a new Code of Practice (see p 3). While the Code - which has not yet been finalised - does provide for community consultation, it does not require “low impact” facilities to have council approval.

Any change to legislation to effectively protect the community must begin with a change to the Low Impact Determination. Antennas that emit microwave radiation must not be classified as “low impact”, not be granted exemption from state planning laws and not be installed without the say of local councils and communities.

Such antennas are not “low impact” in terms of radiation exposures, in terms of health risk and in terms of property devaluation.

As concerns about “low impact” antennas accelerate with the construction of additional networks, this is set to be an election issue. It is time for both political parties to recognise that the Low Impact Determination needs to be changed because ... size is not a good indicator of impact!

EMRAA News Sept 2000, Vol 5 No 3