'

Mobile phone towers in the spotlight

Amendments to the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure code are not the answer to mobile telecommunications tower siting issues raised by communities, according to a lobby group.Lyn McLean, executive officer of the EMR (Electro-Magnetic Radiation) Association of Australia, said the revision of the code will have no effect on the "unfair" balance of power between carriers and the communities, since the carrier's rights are protected under the Telecommunications Act.

Amendments to the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure code are not the answer to mobile telecommunications tower siting issues raised by communities, according to a lobby group.

Lyn McLean, executive officer of the EMR (Electro-Magnetic Radiation) Association of Australia, said the revision of the code will have no effect on the "unfair" balance of power between carriers and the communities, since the carrier's rights are protected under the Telecommunications Act.

"The rights of the carriers are very extensive while the community's right is only to be notified and to complain. All the revision will do is to let the ACA regulate [the carriers] and tell them they've been a naughty boy.

"I think in order for the situation to be improved there needs to be federal legislation to give communities more rights and allow people to have a say about radiating facilities in their communities. The government should also have precautionary measures on the possibility that these towers have a negative impact on human beings," McLean said.

Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) project manager Margaret Fleming said the mobile tower code was up for review October last year, 12 months after being registered.

After collating comments and feedback regarding the code, the ACIF then decides whether the code should be confirmed, withdrawn or revised. In this case, the ACIF found there was a need to revise and tighten certain wordings in the code such as notices and delivery of notices and certain other definitions.

McLean believes that the code is being revised because the ACA has not been able to enforce the code due to very general definitions of certain parts. McLean is hoping that the ACA will be able to start implementation once the code has been revised.

According to McLean, even with the uproar from communities over mobile tower siting, not a single carrier has been fined or reprimanded by the ACA ever since the code was published and registered in 2002. In fact, McLean says, the ACA has not been doing anything to reprimand carriers at all.

"At the start, we've been told that fines for carriers not complying with the code is up to AU$250,000. However, the ACA has not taken any action against any carriers, no one has been fined and my understanding is that the ACA simply writes a letter to the carrier when there is an issue against them," McLean said.

The NSW Greens have also bought into the debate, with MLC Sylvia Hale pointing out issues her party wants the working committee to look into.

"What they will need to look seriously at is the definition of 'low impact facility,' since what is given more importance now is only the visual impact.

"Also, what should not be ignored is the siting of the towers. They should make sure it is not close to schools, playgrounds and places where people congregate. They are obliged to notify the public before erecting installations. We are also very much concerned on the ability of installations to be placed on private properties with the neighbours having no power to say anything. I would expect these major questions to be explored by the working committee," Hale said.

After reviewing comments and feedback from communities, McLean said most of the complaints were about lack of proper notification by the carrier regarding plans to put up towers.

"In quite a lot of the situations, the message is not getting out to the public. The carriers may be following the code but they are not conforming to the spirit of the code. For instance, carriers make the information look like junk mail so when the residents receive it, they just throw it in the bin," McLean said.

"The carriers do not have much concerns because the feeling is that the code is working well for them. They say not much people complain but that's because people don't know they can complain. In some cases, they try to complain to the ACA but they've been told to go to their council," she added.

"The siting for towers is only one of the many issues carriers are required to consider but from a legal perspective there is nothing that the community can do about it," McLean said.

Hale said the Greens were looking to educate the state's community over issues surrounding mobile tower installations.

"We are midway in producing a kit discussing problems with 3G installations. We will go ahead with the production and distribution and once this committee is in a position to take public comments, we will encourage people to have their say on it," Hale said.

The public will have the opportunity to comment on the amendments to the code when it is released for a 30-day public comment period in the third quarter of 2004. It is expected that the revision will be completed by the end of the year.