In a town like Mullumbimby, that is known for questioning the accepted norms, it is no surprise that Telstra’s attempt to roll out 5G in the town has led to protesters coming onto the streets – COVID-19 or not. So were Telstra acting responsibly when they chose to install 5G in Mullum during the COVID-19 crisis?
Local Labor MP Justine Elliott in a recent statement said, ‘I strongly advise locals that any public gatherings or protests at this stage contravenes laws relating to social distancing during the Coronavirus crisis.’
‘Disregarding of social distancing directives endangers the health and safety of the wider community, Telstra staff and the police.’
Yet she makes no mention of any responsibility that lies at Telstra’s feet in relation to their actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to questions from Echonetdaily Telstra have pointed out that they have ‘commenced the rollout of 5G in 32 cities around Australia. Our rollout has been focused on cities, regional centres and high traffic areas with a view to offering 5G to as many of our customers as fast as possible’.
As with the tower in Main Arm that was strongly objected to by the local community, the upgrade was facilitated by legislation that sidelines the chance of local councils and community objections being seriously taken into account.
‘Work to upgrade the existing base station in Mullumbimby to 5G technology is in accordance with Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018 and is therefore exempt from local and state government approval,’ a Telstra spokesperson said.
‘We have also met our obligations to progress the build at this site, including community notification in accordance with the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code C564:2018.
‘Information to assist with timings and context is as follows: Plans to build the Mullumbimby site specifically were communicated to the council on 28 February.
‘A notice was placed in the Byron Shire News on 20 February. Community submissions were due to close on 5 March; however due to community interest we extended the date to 18 March. We also sent a text message to the community advising that the build will not commence until the community feedback process has been finalised. That process was finalised on 21 April.’
Telstra did not respond to the further questions from Echonetdaily, asking: ‘Did Telstra consider the health implications of rolling out 5G in Mullumbimby when they could not have failed to understand that it would bring people onto the streets in protest?, and ‘Will Telstra be stopping the roll out of 5G in Mullumbimby and surrounds until after the COVID-19 pandemic so that they are no longer putting residents, protesters and workers at risk?’
Protest risks not urgent?
Telstra’s decision to go ahead with the work in Mullumbimby was taken despite the fact the Byron Shire Council have a current ‘moratorium on support for the installation of 5G,’ according to Councillor Sarah Ndiaye.
In yesterday’s Council meeting Ms Ndiaye attempted to move a urgency motion ‘to call on Telstra to stop work on the Dalley St tower until such time as the community complaint to ACMA has been addressed and the COVID-19 social distancing measures have been lifted.’ However, the move was kyboshed when a majority of councillors voted not to debate the issue because it was not ‘urgent’ enough.
Locals: ‘not safe’
In response to the roll out the local Environment and Communities Safe From Radiation (ECSFR) group have issued what they call a ‘cease and desist notice’ to Dr Brendan Murphy, Chief Medical Officer for the Australian government. They state that his claims in his press release of 24 January that 5G technology is safe ‘may result in personal harm and economic loss’.
ECSFR chair Steve Toneguzzo says that ‘there is a risk of harm, health effects, inadequate research, inability to measure exposures, a lack of understanding on exposure, a failure in risk communication, and a WHO potential carcinogen classification. Altogether these factors do NOT equal safe.’