The Powers and Immunities Framework

Telecommunications carriers have powers under Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to inspect land, install facilities specified as ‘low-impact’ or authorised via a facility installation permit, and to maintain any kind of telecommunications facility. They also have immunity from some state and territory laws when carrying out these activities, such as planning laws.

This is called the carriers’ powers and immunities framework. Low-impact facilities are telecommunications equipment that are essential to the efficient operation of telecommunications networks. The types of equipment determined to be ‘low-impact’ are set out in the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018 (the LIFD).

The carriers’ powers and immunities framework is essential in enabling the efficient construction and maintenance of telecommunications networks in a nationally consistent way.

These laws:

  • encourage telecommunications carriers to roll out networks using components that fall within strict type, size, colour and location limitations specified in the LIFD. For example, carriers use these powers to install pillars and antennas to deliver landline and mobile communications services to the community.
  • do not allow for the construction of larger infrastructure, such as free-standing telecommunications towers or poles.

Approvals for the installation of free-standing telecommunications towers and poles are subject to the planning laws administered by state, territory and local governments. Participation in the community consultation process is the appropriate channel for raising concerns about a specific tower, including any potential impact on property and broader visual amenity.

The Australian Government is not involved in state, territory and local government planning processes.

Obligations for carriers

Telecommunications carriers are required to notify landowners and land occupiers if they are planning to undertake upcoming works. This includes telling landowners and occupiers about plans to install telecommunications infrastructure, as well as the grounds and process for raising an objection about the proposed work. A notice should be sent at least 10 business days before the carrier starts any activity on the land.

Telecommunications carriers are expected to engage with communities in a meaningful and sensitive way about proposed deployments of mobile phone base stations.

The Industry Code for Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment C564:2020 sets out notification processes that telecommunications carriers should follow when installing low-impact facilities supporting mobile phone networks, such as antennas, transmitters and cabling. 
The Industry Code is designed to ensure stakeholders are advised before a mobile phone base station is constructed, and that council and community views are taken into account.

When carrying out activities using the powers and immunities framework, telecommunications carriers must comply with various safety and operational requirements. For example, carriers must:

  • act in accordance with good engineering practices and interfere as little as possible with the landowner's use of the land,
  • comply with industry standards and codes registered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA),
  • give an engineering certificate to a landowner within 60 days of installing specific classes of facilities,
  • restore the land to a state similar to its condition before the activity began, and
  • keep and maintain records of certain types of facilities.

The requirements outlined above are not exhaustive. Information about additional safety and operational requirements are set out in Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 2021.

Improving the operation of the P&I framework

We are committed to improving the powers and immunities framework to get the best out of new networks, including 5G, and to better balance the interests of both landowners and carriers.

The Powers and Immunities Reference Group, comprising peak bodies from the telecommunications and landowner sectors, considered a number of policy issues across 2022 including:

  • streamlined arrangements for the deployment of poles, such as the possibility for poles to be specified as a low-impact facility,
  • the management of redundant telecommunications facilities, and
  • the development of an industry code to improve consultation before carriers’ access commercial high-rise buildings to undertake P&I activities.

The P&I Reference Group reached consensus on proposed measures to manage redundant telecommunications facilities and recommendations to consider in the development of an industry code on accessing commercial high-rise buildings. The P&I Reference Group did not reach consensus on streamlined arrangements for the deployment of poles.

The department is progressing work on the management of redundant telecommunications facilities and will consult on proposed arrangements in the context of any changes to regulatory arrangements needed to implement the national principles identified in the Final Report of the Mobile Telecommunications Working Group.

The Government also made a number of changes to the P&I framework in 2021 including:

  • Consolidating many duplicative provisions across the Telecommunications Code of Practice 2021.
  • Requiring telecommunications carriers to:
    • provide engineering certificates for certain deployments of low-impact facilities;
    • record the depth of underground facilities at the time of installation;
    • issue notices of withdrawal for cancelled activities; and
    • refer objections to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) within 10 business days, if requested by a landowner.
  • Enabling telecommunications carriers to:
    • independently refer matters to the TIO;
    • deploy larger antennae, larger dishes and lens antennae;
    • install successive tower extensions, while preserving the cumulative limit of 5 metres; and
    • co-locate more facilities in commercial areas.

Downloadable resources