Mr PETER SIDGREAVES (Camden) (09:56): I am pleased the Government has brought forward the Government Telecommunications Amendment Bill 2022, which will provide a legislative framework to expedite the delivery of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program, or CCEP, across New South Wales. The Government understands the need to provide better services to ensure the safety of the people of New South Wales, including those in regional and remote locations. By reducing delays to the CCEP, the bill will deliver timely Public Safety Network coverage to enable our emergency services organisations to keep more people and places safe during emergencies and natural disaster events. The bill will address the shortfalls of existing land and property access provisions in the Government Telecommunications Act 2018. It draws on key elements of the Electricity Supply Act 1995 and will empower authorised officers with powers of entry to overcome issues when performing the important work of the CCEP.
The bill introduces penalties to reduce the obstruction of authorised officers carrying out their functions. It will allow authorised officers to access private and public land but will not be used to bypass existing site access protocols and will be used in conjunction with standard consultation and site assessment processes. The bill provides for deemed access approval, which will maintain consistency with the intent of the CCEP: to rationalise government operational communications by allowing Public Safety Network assets to be installed on other government‑owned infrastructure. That will not only reduce delays to the Public Safety Network rollout but also reduce the construction of unnecessary and duplicated infrastructure and will provide better value for New South Wales Government funding.
The bill sends a strong message to the community that this Government is serious about public safety and providing our emergency services organisations with the critical communications tools they need and that it is listening to the needs of the community to improve service delivery across New South Wales. I now talk about the requirements to amend the Act. The key driver for the amendments is to support the rollout of the delivery of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program by overcoming delays to site access. The bill overcomes gaps in the access provisions of the Government Telecommunications Act 2018 to enable the NSW Telco Authority and emergency services organisations to gain access more efficiently to sites and infrastructure needed to build, maintain and operate the Public Safety Network.
In rolling out the CCEP, the NSW Telco Authority has encountered significant delays in accessing land to assess its suitability for establishing potential sites; in accessing other government infrastructure for collocation or consolidation into the Public Safety Network; and in accessing land where there is infrastructure owned by the NSW Telco Authority. Delays at impacted sites present risks to lives and property, as emergency services organisations have reduced capacity to respond effectively in areas where the network is not fully operational. For example, in some areas this could mean a reduced capacity to coordinate responses to bushfires, floods and other emergency or public safety situations.
A typical time reduction could be two to six months per CCEP site where the use of the powers is appropriate. However, one to two years could be saved for sites where access negotiations have hit an impasse. It is expected that the powers may need to be used on only a small number of the approximately 675 CCEP sites. The bill introduces “powers of entry” to enable more efficient access to private land and “deemed access approval” to expedite access to government infrastructure, which will improve efficiency of government spending through collocation or consolidation of existing infrastructure rather than building unnecessary or duplicate infrastructure. The new terms of “authorised officer” and “emergency telecommunications network operator” introduced in the bill identify the persons empowered by the new provisions.
Section 34 of the Government Telecommunications Act 2018 currently authorises the NSW Telco Authority to access infrastructure that it owns but for which there is no access agreement. However, there are no provisions for enforcement or related offences, resulting in continuing obstruction to access at such sites. The bill establishes penalties for obstructing an authorised officer in carrying out their functions. This will ensure that the access powers established in this legislation are effective in overcoming barriers to the rollout of our critical Public Safety Network.
The powers of entry established in the bill will be used as needed only for sites where there are significant delays. The powers will not be used to bypass existing site access protocols but will be used in conjunction with standard consultation and site assessment processes. The powers of entry closely mirror the precedent established in the Electricity Supply Act 1995 and will be selectively applied by NSW Telco Authority and emergency services organisations to overcome a range of barriers that currently inhibit progress for accessing some potential sites to assess for suitability for delivery of the CCEP and to access existing infrastructure via private land. The powers are an alternative to the use of more intrusive compulsory acquisition processes, under the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991 and section 27 (1) of the Government Telecommunications Act 2018, which cannot commence until after six months of failed negotiations or ministerial approval has been given. Powers of entry will expedite coverage of our critical operational communications so that our emergency services organisations can respond effectively to emergency events across New South Wales.
As I said, the powers of entry established in this bill will be used as needed only for sites where there are significant delays. They will not be used to bypass existing site access protocols but will be used in conjunction with standard consultation and site assessment processes. The NSW Telco Authority and its partners will continue to show due consideration when accessing property, in line with standard access protocols. The NSW Telco Authority is committed to maintaining good relationships with landowners and occupiers of land where there are Public Safety Network sites. In each case when access is required, the NSW Telco Authority will contact the landowner or occupier with adequate notice to inform of intended access and will negotiate appropriate times and manner of access where possible. The Public Safety Network is vital to the safety of people and properties across New South Wales. Farms in areas of inadequate coverage are threatened with the risk that emergency services organisations will have reduced capacity to respond to emergencies, including natural disasters such as bushfires and floods.
Deemed access approval will be used to access infrastructure owned by the NSW Telco Authority and emergency services organisations as well as infrastructure owned by other government agencies. This power will be used to install equipment on any government agency infrastructure and will be used in compliance with site assessment processes. Deemed access approval could be used to overcome instances where a government agency has no direct interest or priority to accommodate CCEP equipment on infrastructure that is technically capable of supporting its presence. [Extension of time]
This could avoid a large number of economic inefficiencies though government infrastructure duplication if alternative locations must be sought. This is consistent with a core CCEP objective of infrastructure rationalisation. The powers of entry will often be used in conjunction with deemed access approval where government infrastructure is located on private land or is accessed via private land. Standard consultation and engagement processes with landowners and with government agencies will be followed whenever land or infrastructure will be accessed. Used where reasonably required, the access provisions of the bill will ensure that New South Wales has the coverage required to effectively manage emergency and public safety events by reducing delays to the CCEP rollout.
The proposed penalty provisions in the bill will be used to overcome instances of landowners or land occupiers obstructing authorised officers from undertaking functions of the amended Act. The Government Telecommunications Act 2018 introduced provisions in 2018 for the NSW Telco Authority to enter and occupy land to carry out its functions. However, no penalties were introduced for obstructing the NSW Telco Authority or its partners when exercising this authority, limiting their effectiveness and leading to further delays. The proposed penalties in this bill are reflective of similar provisions of the Electricity Supply Act 1995. These penalties will apply to anyone who obstructs an authorised officer in carrying out authorised functions. The penalty provisions will support the access provisions of the bill to overcome delays in completing Public Safety Network sites to ensure adequate network coverage for our emergency services organisations to keep people and places of New South Wales safe.
I turn now to the carrier powers. Carriers have certain powers and immunities for accessing property under the Commonwealth’s Telecommunications Act 1997, which includes some similar provisions to the bill. While these powers and immunities are now also available to the NSW Telco Authority, it has consistently applied New South Wales-based land use planning provisions, including the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007. The application of New South Wales legislation for land access purposes means that the NSW Telco Authority remains accountable to New South Wales’ procedures and oversight processes. Emergency services organisations do not hold carrier licences and are therefore reliant on New South Wales legislation for land access.
With regard to consultation, over the past 12 months the NSW Telco Authority actively engaged with key stakeholders regarding the proposed reforms and the draft bill. This included engagement with New South Wales emergency service organisations and other key stakeholders, including the Rural Fire Service, the NSW Police Force, NSW Ambulance, Crown Lands, Forestry Corporation, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Communities and Justice. In April 2022 NSW Telco Authority met with the Department of Regional NSW and members of the NSW Farmers Association, who provided further input into the bill.
With regard to cost, the total committed spend for the CCEP is $1.4 billion including operational expenditure. This represents the biggest investment in critical communications infrastructure in a generation. On its completion, the network will deliver statewide population coverage of 99.7 per cent and land coverage of 85 per cent. Implementation of the amendments is not expected to incur further costs, and faster access to sites may result in cost savings.
With regard to site issues, more than 90 per cent of the CCEP sites require a tenure agreement such as a lease, licence or land access application. Delays with site delivery can be the result of a range of factors including tenure negotiations with multiple stakeholders such as landowners, infrastructure owners, Crown Lands and Aboriginal land councils, which can take six to nine months to complete. However, where multiple agreements are required, or where there are complex legacy tenure issues, negotiations are more protracted. Many can become stalled and can result in 12 months’ security or more. I commend the bill to the House.