I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Government Telecommunications Amendment Bill 2022, which will implement a number of reforms to remove red tape and expedite the rollout of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program [CCEP]. Firstly, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister and his staff for engaging with my office on this bill and for the work they have done to bring it to this House. The Critical Communications Enhancement Program is an important investment in the Public Safety Network, which supports emergency services to respond in emergencies and natural disasters like the recent floods that have devastated communities across our State. I ask the Minister to detail for the House the telecommunications infrastructure that the Critical Communications Enhancement Program will be upgrading. Will those upgrades include the fibre network? I would like the Minister to make that clear in his response.

As the Minister noted in his second reading speech, the NSW Telco Authority has run into several barriers in rolling out the CCEP, in particular in accessing land to assess its suitability as a potential site to install communications infrastructure. The NSW Telco Authority also requires access to sites to maintain infrastructure to ensure the Public Safety Network is fully operational. I note that the Minister outlined several examples of delays, including process delays due to councils or departments requiring ministerial consent to lease or license land and regulatory delays when a council or department is required to publicly advertise for stipulated time frames before leasing land, along with negotiations with landowners over commercial arrangements. The bill will empower the NSW Telco Authority to roll out the Critical Communications Enhancement Program with powers and provisions that mirror those of the Electricity Supply Act 1995.

I now turn to the contents of the bill. Schedule 1 will amend the Government Telecommunications Act 2018, inserting definitions for an authorised officer into section 3. An authorised officer may carry out inspections in connection with the proposed installation or extension of telecommunications equipment and infrastructure. An authorised officer may also maintain or disconnect telecommunications equipment and infrastructure. The bill also establishes in section 3 the definition of an Emergency Telecommunications Network Operator—referred to throughout the bill as an ETNO—as an emergency services organisation within the meaning of the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 that establishes or uses an alternative telecommunications network for operational communications. The bill also establishes a definition for a premises in this section.

New section 34A covers deemed access to government-owned infrastructure, enabling an authorised officer to enter land owned either by a government sector agency or State‑owned corporation. That power can only be used to install telecommunications equipment on infrastructure owned by either a government sector agency or State‑owned corporation. Before entering the property, an authorised officer must provide written notice of their intention to enter the property. New part 5A, division 3, covers powers of entry relating to a private property. New section 34H outlines the circumstances in which either the ETNO or authorised officer may invoke their power of entry. That includes carrying out preliminary investigations about the installation or extension of telecommunications infrastructure, along with installing, maintaining or disconnecting telecommunications infrastructure.

The bill also enables an authorised officer to bring any necessary vehicles or equipment onto both private or government land if it is required to inspect, install, maintain or decommission telecommunications infrastructure. New section 34I is an important aspect of the bill. I understand that the Government has negotiated with stakeholders to include this section to address concerns around accessing private property. Under new section 34I an authorised officer or ETNO must provide the owner of any premises with written notice of their intention to enter the premises. That written notice must state the purpose for which entry is required and the date of entry. The only exceptions to a written notice being issued are if the landowners consent to the authorised officer or ETNO entering the property or if it is an emergency situation. New section 34O outlines grounds for compensation to be paid to premises owners for any loss or damage arising from the powers of entry provisions. I request that the Minister provide the House with clarity over new section 34K relating to the use of force. The bill states:

An authorised officer may use reasonable force for the purpose of gaining entry to premises, other than part of a building being used for residential purposes, under a power conferred by this Division.

Will the Minister confirm that this section only refers to a situation such as cutting a padlock or accessing a gate and not to intersections between the authorised officer and other individuals? I have engaged with stakeholders, who have been supportive of the bill on the whole, but several minor issues have been raised that I ask the Minister to address. Firstly, will the Minister clarify what penalty will apply for impersonating or obstructing an authorised officer or ETNO? Will it simply be 50 penalty units or will a criminal penalty provision apply? Secondly, what dispute resolution process does the Government intend to put in place to ensure that a matter does not end up in our courts or that authorised officers are not put in combative situations unnecessarily?

Lastly, will the Minister advise if authorised officers and ETNOs will have to comply with existing biosecurity legislation and, if not, why that decision was made? The completion of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program is incredibly important to ensure the safety of our communities during natural disasters. We are six years down the road since the program was announced and our State has seen too many tragic bushfires and floods in that time. Labor supports the bill, and I look forward to the completion of this important program. Again, I thank the Minister and his staff. I commend the bill to the House.