Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie has introduced a private members bill that would compel telcos to ensure 24-hour standby power is available for cell towers in parts of Australia that are at high risk of bushfires.
The bill “seeks to ensure vulnerable communities in high bushfire risk areas can use their mobile phones for the critical 24 hours after a blackout,” the member for the seat of Mayo in South Australia said while introducing the bill this morning in the House of Representatives.
The provisions of the Telecommunications Amendment (Guaranteeing Mobile Phone Service in Bushfire Zones) Bill 2017 would task Emergency Management Australia with identifying high-risk bushfire communities.
“In determining whether a community is a high-risk bushfire community, Emergency Management Australia must have regard to existing State and Territory planning laws that are relevant to bushfire risk,” states the bill’s explanatory memorandum.
“The practical effect of this provision… is to allow for existing work on bushfire risk mapping and management that has been undertaken by States and Territories to inform the approach of Emergency Management Australia.”
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) would be responsible for creating regulations to ensure telecommunications carriers that “own or operate” mobile phone towers in bushfire-prone areas have at least 24 hours of standby power capability “at all times”.
“I do not want my community or others in high-risk bushfire areas to once again face the risk of zero communication with the outside world because the NBN doesn’t work in a blackout and there’s no legislative requirement on the telecommunications companies to ensure there is enough standby power available for mobile phone towers,” Sharkie said.
“If we are indeed a nation of innovation I do not think it is too much to ask telecommunications companies to provide 24-hour standby capability to mobile phone towers that operate in high bushfire risk areas,” the MP said.
“Taxpayers have spent $600 million of their money for carriers to build or upgrade more than 760 mobile towers across rounds one and two of the mobile black spot program. I think the least we can expect is 24-hour backup. This is a simple protective measure for regional communities of Australia and the high-risk bushfire areas.”
The bill is supported by Indi MP Cathy McGowan.
Debate on the bill was adjourned.