Monday, 3 December 2018
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Bill 2018; In Committee
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 8587:
(1) Schedule 2, item 5, page 20 (line 15), omit "annual limit", substitute "time limits".
(2) Schedule 2, item 5, page 20 (lines 20 to 22), omit all the words from and including "ensure that" to the end of subclause 8B(1) of Schedule 3, substitute:
(c) the total number of days in a calendar year on which those facilities remain at that place does not exceed 183; and
(d) the number of consecutive days on which those facilities remain at that place does not exceed 183.
(3) Schedule 2, item 5, page 20 (line 26), omit "annual limit", substitute "time limits".
(4) Schedule 2, item 5, page 20 (lines 31 to 33), omit all the words from and including "ensure that" to the end of subclause 8C(1) of Schedule 3, substitute:
(c) the total number of days in a calendar year on which those facilities remain at that place does not exceed 90; and
(d) the number of consecutive days on which those facilities remain at that place does not exceed 90.
These amendments seek to ensure that when carriers install a temporary tower the tower will, in fact, be temporary. At the moment, this bill allows carriers to install temporary towers without regard to local government regulations, provided they are designated as low-impact facilities. A temporary communications tower is a low-impact facility in five circumstances, including while the existing facility is undergoing maintenance or repairs; when it is being replaced; or to provide extra capacity during major events or during high-demand holiday periods. They can also be installed to provide services to emergency services organisations during an emergency or a natural disaster. Ordinarily, carriers would be required to seek the approval of local and state government before installing these temporary towers. But schedule 2 of this bill provides immunity from laws relating to land use, planning, design, construction, environmental assessment and protection.
There is, of course, a significant benefit to the community in ensuring that there is uninterrupted service during both emergencies and peak periods. However, we want to ensure that carriers don't exploit loopholes in the current drafting which would potentially allow them to have a temporary tower in place for up to 366 days. At the moment, the wording of the bill would allow carriers to leave a temporary facility installed for a back-to-back period over two calendar years, using the reasoning that it is for multiple events or high-demand holidays. This rides roughshod over important planning, consultation and safe assessment considerations.
Our amendments introduce a limit so that carriers cannot leave a temporary facility installed for more than 183 consecutive days if installed at or near a venue, or 90 consecutive days if installed during a high-demand holiday period. If the facility is required to remain installed at a venue for longer than either 183 days or 90 days, the carrier should then follow the appropriate approval process to have this facility installed permanently. We also expect that carriers will adhere to the rules under clause 8A, which requires them to remove the temporary facility within 28 days after they have completed maintenance, repairs or replacement of the existing facility, or within 28 days after the end of an event.
I also confirm that Centre Alliance will not be supporting the amendments put forward by the Greens, which remove the ability for low-impact facilities to provide for additional capacity at venues or during high-demand holiday periods. Although we understand the rationale behind these amendments, we feel there is a substantial public benefit in allowing carriers to be able to ensure good coverage during high-demand holiday periods and at venues during major cultural, music and sporting events.
Thanks, Senator Griff, for your contribution. It's the view of the government that there are already strong safeguards in the bill. It's possible that Senator Griff's amendments could have the effect that, if a temporary facility were to be installed for 90 or 183 consecutive days at a particular location, that location would not be available to the carrier at any time in the future. It would effectively restrict the flexibility of the carrier to use that particular location again in the future, and could potentially result in poor connectivity outcomes for consumers in times of high demand. This could be an unintended effect of such amendments. Senators will recall that clause 8A requires that carriers must remove a temporary facility installed for an event or events after 28 days. This will apply regardless of how the annual limit is interpreted. The annual limit exists to prevent carriers from turning a temporary facility into a permanent facility. It is, I believe, enough that an annual limit exists.
Firstly, I wish to acknowledge Senator Griff for identifying a legitimate issue in relation to this bill. We recognise the potential and incentive for mobile carriers to seek ways to extend the time limits over which a temporary facility is deployed. One aspect of the proposed amendments is that they seek to change how the time limits are applied in order to ensure that a temporary facility cannot bridge across calendar years. Labor is sympathetic to this concern, and that's one of the reasons why it sought to have a Senate inquiry. The subsequent revisions to the explanatory memorandum, advice on the operative of safeguards of the bill by way of objection mechanisms, have satisfied most of our concerns for the time being.
The primary backstop to a carrier bridging the time limit from one calendar year to another is the land notice that must be issued, to which the land owner can object. This provides a trigger point at which an opportunistic attempt by mobile carriers to bridge temporary facilities across calendar years can be blocked by the TIO. Whilst this mechanism is imperfect, Labor is prepared to be flexible and to see how it operates in practice. If the TIO observes unintended outcomes, then there is nothing that will prevent a future parliament from strengthening those safeguards. For these reasons, we're prepared to support the bill as it stands.
The proposed amendments also seek to require carriers to restore land to a condition that is equivalent to its original condition. This is a departure from the longstanding restoration language set out in schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act. We do not propose to change this approach, given the uncertainty it would create. For these reasons, Labor will not be supporting the proposed amendments, although we do, as I say, acknowledge the legitimate concerns identified by Senator Griff.
by leave—I move amendments (5) to (7) on sheet 8587:
(5) Schedule 2, page 21 (after line 5), after item 6, insert:
6A Subclause 9 ( 1 ) of Schedule 3
Omit "similar", substitute "equivalent".
(6) Schedule 2, item 7, page 21 (line 16), omit "similar", substitute "equivalent".
(7) Schedule 2, item 7, page 21 (line 25), omit "similar", substitute "equivalent".
These amendments, which Senator O'Neill referred to in her contribution just a moment ago, will ensure that sites are properly remediated when the temporary tower is removed. Schedule 2, in part, deals with the obligations of carriers to remedy sites after the temporary structure is gone and what remedies are available to the landowner should they fail to do so. Existing protections under the Telecommunications Act will continue; however, we know, through submissions made to the department's immunities and powers inquiry, the telcos don't always abide by those rules and local government are often required to stretch their budgets to return sites to their previous state.
Our amendment to section 9A strengthens the drafting of the bill to ensure that a carrier takes all responsibility or responsible steps to return the land to a condition equivalent to what it was before, rather than just to, as it currently states, a similar state. 'Equivalent' means equal in value, amount or function. 'Similar' means having a resemblance in appearance. Any landowner would rightly expect, and should get, like for like or structural repair. There were some concerns raised by others in this place that changing the language of this provision would introduce an unacceptably high bar for carriers. One concern was that, if a carrier were to correct an issue with the land or make an improvement, the carrier would need to undo this when removing the temporary facility in order to adhere with the definition of 'equivalent'.
I don't know about anybody else in this place, but I've never heard of a carrier making improvements—that is, making a site better—when they maintain or repair their infrastructure or facilities. In fact, it is usually very much the opposite of that. Both myself and my staff have seen images of poorly-restored land following the removal of telco infrastructure and restorations that have taken months, even years, to be completed. All you have to do is browse the hundreds of complaints on the social media pages of telcos to see pictures of poor restoration work and, certainly, no true improvements. We believe any landowner would expect telcos to leave their property in the same state they found it—essentially: if they break it, they fix it—and that they don't cut any corners on standards or materials in doing so.
The amendment moved by Senator Griff would change the legal test that would apply to carriers that are restoring land so that carriers must ensure that land is restored to an equivalent rather than similar condition. I thank Senator Griff for his contribution. The intention of the amendment is to strengthen the protections that apply to landowners and occupiers. The government has made plain that the powers and immunities framework that carriers can take advantage of is a privilege and not a right. The government expects that carriers exercise these powers responsibly and considers that the safeguards that exist in the framework are critical to the sustainability of the system. However, after giving consideration to Senator Griff's amendments, the government isn't in the position to support them at this time in their current form.
I move the amendment on sheet 8592 revised:
(1) Page 22 (after line 20), at the end of the Bill, add:
Schedule 3—Further amendments
Part 1—Amendment relating to transmitter licence refunds
R adio communications Taxes Collection Act 1983
1 Paragraph 10C(2) (d)
After "transmitter licence", insert "during the financial year ending on 30 June 2017".
Part 2—Amendments relating to broadcasting licensee support payments
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017
2 Item 40 of Schedule 6 (cell at table item 3, column headed "Company")
Repeal the cell, substitute:
3 At the end of Part 3 of Schedule 6
43 Modified operation of Part
This Part has effect in relation to Network Investments Pty Ltd (see table item 3 of the table in item 40) as if:
(a) the designated day for the financial year beginning on 1 July 2017 were the day that is 28 days after the day on which this item commences; and
(b) paragraph 39(1) (c) did not apply; and
(c) the reference to 1 November 2017 in subitem 39(2) were a reference to the day that is 28 days after the day on which this item commences.
Labor is introducing an amendment to correct a legislative issue that is preventing the payment of assistance payments to a regional broadcaster. This amendment will omit Northern Rivers Television Pty Ltd as a specified company eligible to receive a transitional support payment under part 3 of schedule 6 to the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017 and specify Network Investments Pty Ltd in its place. The amendments proposed would also ensure that Network Investments received the transitional support payment for each of the relevant financial years.
The broadcasting reform act establishes a transitional support payment scheme for specified companies. This entitles a company to transitional support if it meets certain criteria, including being the holder of a commercial television or radio broadcasting licence. Northern Rivers is specified as a company which can receive a transitional support payment if it a meets the criteria for the payment. However, on 1 June 2017 Northern Rivers transferred the commercial television broadcasting licence and assets it held to Network Investments. Under the policy, Network Investments, as the current holder of the commercial television broadcasting licence, would have been eligible for the annual payment of financial assistance. However, it is not currently specified in the broadcasting reform act. This amendment will specify Network Investments as being eligible for the payment.
This amendment was first introduced by the government in the House of Representatives in a separate bill, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2018. However, that bill has since stalled under this minister, as has much else in the Communications portfolio. The minister has been sitting on the government's communications deregulation bill for over two years. The minister has also been sitting on his regional broadband levy for nearly the same period. Frankly speaking, Labor is tired of waiting for this minister to get his act together. We've noticed delay, delay and delay. That is why Labor has introduced this amendment: to get on with the job.
The reason that the bill which addresses this, which has already been introduced, has not been dealt with is because the Australian Labor Party will not treat it as a non-controversial piece of legislation. They are treating something which should be a straightforward matter in a way that is intended not to allow it to be dealt with in good time.
That is why the government is supporting this amendment, because it reflects measures that the government first proposed in the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2018. The government supports these amendments because they will allow payments to be made to Network Investments Pty Ltd as part of the transitional support payments under the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017. The amendment is necessary, as Northern Rivers transferred its commercial television broadcasting licence and assets to Network Investments in June 2017. The government also supports the minor amendments to correct some technical issues on the pro rata tax refund for a transmitter licence under the Radiocommunications Taxes Collection Act 1983.
Of course, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2018 was introduced into the Senate on 19 March 2018. It was supported by those opposite in the other place. However, in this place, for tactical reasons, they do not see their way clear to supporting it as a non-contro piece of legislation. That bill includes a range of other measures that are, as I said, non-controversial and important, including allowing NBN Co to dispose of surplus assets, such as trucks and office stationery, that it's no longer using.
The bill is deregulatory in nature, and so the government is mystified as to why those opposite have sought to stymie its progress and to delay it at every opportunity, despite supporting it in the other place. This is a common Labor tactic, to say, 'Oh gee, the government has been tardy on something,' when, actually, those opposite have declined the opportunity for it to be dealt with in an expeditious way. So, whilst the government welcomes these amendments, we are disappointed that they need to be moved. It would have been simpler to consider the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2018.
Question agreed to.