Private Member’s Statement: Telstra Tower

CASTLE HILL RSL AND TELSTRA TRANSMISSION TOWER

24 October, 2013

Mr DAVID ELLIOTT (Baulkham Hills) [5.20 p.m.]: I update the House on the concerning and continuing disgraceful developments regarding Telstra’s controversial plan to place a telecommunications antenna on the roof of Castle Hill RSL Club. At this point I have to disclose that I am a director of the club, but I am speaking about this issue in my capacity as the member for Baulkham Hills representing very concerned parents associated with the eight schools in the locality of the proposed antenna installation. Members will doubtless recall the significant community anxiety about Telstra’s plan due to the proximity of the proposed antenna to local schools and child care facilities, particularly to Castle Hill High School.

Understandably, many of my constituents have become concerned about Telstra’s proposal as their children attend these schools. The member for Castle Hill and I have been inundated with complaints from the local community, as has the Federal member for Mitchell, the mayor of the Hills district and, indeed, the member for Hawkesbury. These complaints have included representations from the board of Castle Hill RSL Club, from Castle Hill High School staff and parents and citizens association, and representatives from many other venues. There also has been widespread dissatisfaction—in fact, total dissatisfaction—with Telstra’s inadequate community consultation.

Recently the member for Castle Hill and I joined local school representatives to meet with Telstra. Unfortunately the meeting failed to deliver any tangible results due to the attitude and conduct of Telstra representatives. The blatant contempt shown by Telstra for our local schools was, quite frankly, shocking. It is scandalous that a company such as Telstra, a former public service instrumentality, could hold the legitimate concerns of the community in such disregard. Clearly, Telstra has no intention of engaging in constructive dialogue with the local community over its plans. Telstra’s behaviour throughout this process has been simply disgraceful; its abortive attempts at community consultation have been purely tokenistic at best. Telstra opened its meagre community consultation process only after it had already used its authority under the Commonwealth Telecommunications Act 1997 to extract a reluctant lease out of the RSL club. Despite serious opposition from the local community, the club’s board and local schools, Telstra has shown no intention of even considering an alternative location for the antenna. If this is how Telstra treats local communities, it is amazing it still has any customers.

Most concerning of all is that Telstra showed no regard whatsoever for the Department of Education and Communities’ longstanding policy on mobile telecommunications facilities. The department’s policy clearly recommends that, in the interests of prudent avoidance, such telecommunications antennas are not placed within 500 metres of any school. Telstra’s current proposed site on the roof of the Castle Hill RSL Club is approximately 200 metres from Castle Hill High School. Telstra continues to ignore the anxieties of the local community despite the proposed location being in violation of this Government, this Parliament and the Department of Education and Communities’ recommendations. Due to Telstra’s intransigence and flagrant disregard for the concerns of the local community, we request that the Government examine the possibility of enshrining legislatively the Department of Education and Communities policy on mobile telecommunications facilities. We believe that such legislative action will ensure that telecommunications carriers give due deference to community concerns when considering placing an antenna in the vicinity of any school, TAFE college or, indeed, preschool in this State. The member for Castle Hill and I have written to the Minister for Education urging him to examine the possibility of enshrining the current policy in legislation.

We understand that the telecommunications policy falls within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth and have also made representations to the Prime Minister requesting that the Commonwealth respect the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities policy. I firmly believe that Telstra should not be able to hide behind the Commonwealth Telecommunications Act 1997 to the detriment of parents and residents in the Hills shire. No community in New South Wales should have to endure the disrespect and contempt the residents of The Hills have suffered from Telstra. The member for Castle Hill and I will continue to work with the local Hills community until this antenna is moved to a more appropriate location in accordance with the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities policy.

Mr DOMINIC PERROTTET (Castle Hill) [5.24 p.m.]: I share the sentiments of the member for Baulkham Hills about the behaviour and approach of Telstra regarding the installation of a telecommunications antenna on the roof of Castle Hill RSL Club. Telstra has used its authority under the Commonwealth Telecommunications Act 1997 to obtain a lease from the club. I draw the House’s attention to the Department of Education and Communities’ longstanding policy on mobile telecommunication facilities. The Government adopts a policy of prudent avoidance for the installation of mobile telecommunication facilities near school grounds and the Department of Education and Communities has a preference for a distance of at least 500 metres from the boundary of a school or TAFE campus. No fewer than five schools fall within the vicinity of the proposed antenna installation at the Castle Hill RSL Club.

My view from reading the Mobile Phone Networks Code and the department’s policy is that installing this telecommunication facility at the RSL club would need to be a last resort in the absence of any appropriate alternative. Like the member for Baulkham Hills, this matter came to my attention a few months ago when I was inundated with emails from members of the Castle Hill High School community and a number of child care facilities within the same vicinity who were concerned about the installation of this telecommunications facility and its harmful effects. Regardless of my personal views on the matter, Telstra’s treatment of families in the Hills district regarding the matter is disgraceful.

Generally, sensitive matters, such as the installation of a telecommunications antenna, should be the subject of genuine community consultation or at least an attempt to alleviate concerns. That consultation did not occur. Telstra, as it is entitled to do, compelled the club to enter into the lease in the first instance and then decided to carry out what it considered was community consultation after the event. That decision was met by community members with the cynicism it deserved. Surely any community consultation should occur prior to entering into the lease, not after. We were inundated with concerns from families. The member for Baulkham Hills and I met with Telstra representatives and urged them to abandon the lease agreement and enter into genuine community consultation.

Telstra decided against that, but agreed to conduct a genuine community consultation process with the schools and parent groups within the affected area. As the member for Baulkham Hills stated, we attended the meeting. I have never seen such contempt from an organisation towards local community members. The Telstra representatives were arrogant and dismissed so disrespectfully the views of many mothers and teachers who have at heart the genuine care and concern for their children and students. The Telstra representatives displayed apathy or no consideration for alternative views and showed a distinct disdain for different views; they behaved more like a “Dodgy Joe’s” telecommunications company than Telstra. The Hills community was treated with complete contempt, to echo the words of the member for Baulkham Hills. If Telstra is serious about installing this antenna as a last resort, as it says it is, it should at least enunciate that and take the time to consult properly with the community. Telstra did not do that in these circumstances. Its behaviour was abysmal and a disgrace. I will not stand by and let a company like Telstra treat my community with disdain and contempt. As the member for Baulkham Hills said, we have written to the Minister for Education asking for the department’s policy to be enshrined in law. We have also written to the Prime Minister in an attempt to ensure that Telstra does not proceed with the installation of the tower.

Mr RAY WILLIAMS (Hawkesbury—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.29 p.m.]: I support my colleagues the member for Baulkham Hills and the member for Castle Hill, who have raised compelling arguments about the telecommunications facility proposed to be installed at Castle Hill RSL Club. I have enjoyed a sound relationship with Telstra for the past 6½ years and it has served my electorate well. I plead with Telstra to listen to the community’s concerns and the compelling arguments put by my learned colleagues. My constituents have children at Castle Hill High School and we have grave concerns about this tower. Telstra should work with the community and the local members to reach a compromise and install the tower at another location.