Australian MP speaks out against Telcom insensitivity and greed

Concerned citizens, please encourage your own MPs, State and federal to get up in Parliament and speak like Paul Pearce. If they already have can you send me copies of their speeches please? Thanks.

I am convenor of a relatively new org Tower Sanity. In our short 9 months we have managed to get a commitment from our Federal Communications Minister of a forum between Tower Sanity, the industry, key government agencies such as ARPANSA and the ACA, and her office.

Anne Wagstaff
Tower Sanity Alliance


Page: 56

Mr PAUL PEARCE (Coogee) [4.37 p.m.]: I inform the House of a major issue of corporate insensitivity and greed, combined with regulatory connivance, to achieve commercial outcomes rather than community protection. It is an issue that particularly affects suburbs in my electorate, but is impacting on communities broadly across Sydney. I refer to the proliferation of 3G masts being installed by Hutchison Communications, better known as Orange. Not only are these devices visually intrusive, but European studies have also concluded that they are potentially injurious to health. The failure of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency [ARPANSA], being the Federal agency responsible for the establishment of standards for emissions of electromagnetic radiation [EMR], to consider the adoption of the precautionary approach to the emission standards borders on the negligent. The standard adopted by ARPANSA is primarily designed to facilitate the introduction of 3G technology, and thus its commercial success, rather than being predicated on the objective of ensuring the protection of public health. ARPANSA's role in the facilitation of the introduction of the 3G network needs to be examined.

At a so-called community information session conducted by Hutchison, the community was shocked to see representatives of the standards-setting authority speaking on behalf of the carrier. At no point did any representative of Hutchison seek to address any of the substantive issues raised by the community. Indeed, the best way to describe the presentation by ARPANSA representatives was a snow job. They peddled the usual drivel that the emissions from a base station are comparable to that of a 60-watt light bulb and are, thus, equally harmless. Several researchers have comprehensively debunked that comparison. It is highly inappropriate that representatives of a Federal Government agency charged with a public responsibility to set standards to protect the general public from harm should treat questions from the community with contempt and provide answers more appropriate to a kindergarten class.

Hutchison Communications, a Hong Kong-based multinational company, bid for one of the 3G licences. It paid a significant amount of money for it. Indeed, it would seem that it paid too much and has recently been forced to deal with Telstra. In order to get a return on its investment it needs to get blanket coverage over the major metropolitan centres. This essentially means putting masts roughly every kilometre, depending on the topography. It also means installing them regardless of the development pattern of the area. In Bronte, it has callously installed a mast immediately adjacent to a children's playground, within 200 metres of Bronte Public School, within 300 metres of a child care centre and in the heart of a residential area. Hutchison ignored hundreds of objections, petitions and submissions from State and Federal members and public meetings. Indeed, Hutchison personally attacked me for questioning its proposal by way of a broadly distributed letter. Whilst I thank the company for promoting me, its hysterical reaction to a valid criticism came as a surprise. I could almost feel that I had touched a raw nerve.

I add that councillors from Waverley Council and members of the public who challenged Hutchison's actions also were attacked. The only acknowledgement of public sentiment was to "reconsider" its proposal for the duration of the Federal election campaign, thus defusing the issue during the Federal campaign and letting Malcolm Turnbull, who claimed that he had acted on the issue, off the hook. Within two weeks of the election, a curt letter was sent advising residents that it was proceeding with the original proposal. Hutchison is fully aware of the potential risks arising from the EMR emissions. In an earlier application, Waverley Council sought to impose a condition seeking a waiver for liability for any future health impacts arising from the consent. Hutchison refused to give such a waiver and successfully appealed to the Land and Environment Court.

It should be noted that under the Federal legislation telecommunications carriers can override local and State planning schemes. This provision was included to ensure the expansion of core public infrastructure for community benefit. It is now being used to ensure the expansion of networks for commercial benefit. I point out that the sole advantage-and I use that word advisedly-of the 3G technology is that video can be sent through mobile phones. It is hardly what I would consider a core need of the community and certainly not a need that warrants the potential health impacts. I refer to a study conducted by G. J. Hyland of the University of Warwick in which he identifies non-thermal influences on human physiology and a further study conducted on behalf of the Dutch Government. The latter study concluded that the test group was exposed to third generation base station signals. The exposure had a significant impact in that the test group felt tingling sensations, headaches and nauseous.

These findings replicate findings from eastern European studies, particularly Russian studies. Russia has set a standard requiring much lower levels of emissions than that set by ARPANSA. Germany has required the establishment of low or no emission zones around sensitive sites, such as schools. Regrettably, ARPANSA bases its standards on purely thermal guidelines. The British inquiry by the Stewart commission concluded that there was an undefined impact on persons of higher sensitivity, including prepubescent children. Yet Hutchison has placed its facility, for its commercial benefit, right next door to a children's playground. Corporate greed, corporate callousness!

This whole sorry episode demonstrates the essential flaw in allowing core infrastructure, such as telecommunications, to become the subject of commercial objectives. Core infrastructure should be for the greater public good, not private gain. There is an urgent need for the Federal Act that regulates communication carriers to be changed to ensure that local communities have a right to decide whether as a community the supposed benefits of the new technology outweigh the risks. There is also an urgent need for an inquiry into the rationale used by ARPANSA to determine the appropriate level of human exposure to EMR, whether the standard was set to facilitate industry needs, the reliance on industry-sourced data rather than independent research and whether it is appropriate for the agency charged with setting the standard for EMR emission to attend a public forum organised by a commercial licence holder to advance the commercial interests of that licence holder.


Informant: Don Maisch


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März 2005

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