SSEC logo Sutherland Shire Environment Centre  

Committee & Campaign Reports - 2002

PUBS Report

by Miriam Verbeek

The Centre continues to advocate for the maintenance of healthy native bushland throughout the Shire. This is not always easy, given continuing urbanising pressures. Significant activities since the last AGM have been:
  1. The outcome of the long-running Menai B/indoor sporting complex issue. This case made its way into the Land and Environment Court in February. The Environment Defenders Office represented the Centre in Court. Our argument was that the building and operation of the sporting complex would adversely affect the biodiversity of the bushland.

    To the consternation of Centre representatives who listened to the Court's proceedings, the argument in the first two days was either about whether the bushland was growing on the "right type" of shale/sandstone or whether the evidence presented by the Centre was admissible. In the two days of tortuous debate, whether the bushland was in danger barely got mentioned. It was a fascinating look-in to the justice system! But it became clear that the Centre (which had obtained Legal Aid money to run the case) was about to spend a lot more money on an argument that was not about the important point of bushland. Rather than tracking on this uncertain course, we offered to settle out of Court.

    Council agreed to set aside a significant amount of money to clean up the Menai bushland, appropriately fence the area, and place strict controls on the development of the indoor sporting complex. Only time will tell whether the bushland will survive having almost a quarter of its area reduced to building, hard surface and fire eradiation zone.

  2. Tree preservation order. Through its representation on the Integrated Environment Committee, the Centre brought Council's attention to the inadequacy of its Tree Preservation Order policy. As a result, Council has had several internal inquiries and is reviewing its policy. The Centre will continue to provide input.

  3. Promotion of urban bushland and input to development controls. Through its representation on State Catchment Boards and Biodiversity Committees, the Centre continues to promote the necessity to fund efforts to increase understanding of the value of urban bushland and the ways in which it is best protected.

  4. Centre initiatives: The Centre is championing efforts to make urban bushland more relevant to the considerations of residents and developers alike. The trails project (the subject of a separate report) is one of the ways the Centre is working towards this goal.
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Community Report

by Miriam Verbeek
  • How do Sutherland Shire Council and State Government Agencies measure up?
  • Are they providing the type of support on development and environmental issues that you expect?
  • Have you reported problems and achieved the outcomes you expected?
We'd like to hear from you. The Environment Centre's aim is to compile a "report card" to present to Council and to State Government at the end of a twelve month. The report card will assess their management of Sutherland Shire, and will analyse issues and provide recommendations for action. We want to know about both good stories and bad stories.

To put this report card together, we need you to tell us of issues you've been involved in. To get consistent information about issues, we're using a standard format. We hope that you will find it easy to follow. If you'd rather tell us about your issue in another way, please write to us, email us at or phone us on (02) 9545 3077.
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Urban Committee Report

by Neil deNett

In 1996, when the Shire population was 203,000, residents were vocal about traffic congestion, parking difficulties, overcrowding. lack of open space and loss of social amenity.
The 1996-2011 Housing Strategy anticipated that the Shire's potential maximum population would be 209,000 by 2011. Now, in 2002, only halfway through the Strategy period, the population has exceeded 215,000.

By 2011 the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that the Shire's population will be 231,000 people.

Clearly, urgent and positive action is needed to prevent a drastic blow out in dwelling construction and population.

Control of medium density developments was targeted first by the new (1999) Council. There were often two pages of development applications in the Leader. Residents were alarmed at the rate of construction. The Shire was particularly vulnerable to this type of development as medium density was permitted in all of the residential zones. Other Councils had various means of limiting such development.

Sutherland Council opted for a plan based on density and separation. Briefly, medium density developments in a given precinct are now limited to 10% of the total number of dwellings and they must be separated by a number of lots equal to the number of units in the development, The Plan was titled "Trees not Traffic".

Since Council adopted the Trees not Traffic Development Control Plan in October 2001, medium density development has been effectively curbed In the residential 'a' and 'e' zones. No medium density has been approved by Council since that date. (SEPP 5 is not included.)

Members of the SSEC and CRoSS lobbied strongly and successfully for the Introduction of this control as they were aware of the alarm in the community at the rate of development occurring across the Shire.

A new Housing Strategy and Local Environmental Plan are needed to effectively control excessive development, ensure that the development that is built is of the best quality and that it is in the most suitable place for its intended use, e.g. housing for elderly residents should be near services. This Plan also needs to provide the necessary detail and background information to validate the chosen Housing Strategy and to present a sound argument for acceptance to the Minister for Planning. A working party called the Blueprint for Action Advisory Group was formed by Council expressly to guide the preparation of the new Plan.

I am pleased to say that three of the community representatives on the Advisory Group are members of the SSEC, Jean Baluk, Gordon Hocking and I.

The Plan has to satisfy the demands of residents to control overdevelopment. It has to provide for the housing needs of an ageing population. And it has to satisfy the Minister for Planning that Sutherland Shire would be satisfactorily contributing to the housing needs of Sydney. (The Plan covers an impressive range of Shire issues, fifteen strategies in total. This report relates only to housing and urban issues.)

During the course of the planning process, the community reps have been quite vocal and ensured that their views were considered by the meeting. We are totally opposed to any expansion of the "c" zones (high rise) and increases in density around the Centres. We don't want school land or residents' homes gobbled up for higher density development. This debate was recently fuelled by Barry Collier MP in his column in the Leader. He accurately identified residents' fears about proposed development in Miranda. It added weight to our argument against more high density development.

Sutherland and Engadine are other centres that deserve our attention. Both of these are experiencing severe traffic problems, yet much more development is proposed for them, particularly Sutherland. At what stage should we say, "Enough, let's sort out the problems we have before adding to them"?

Sadly, you will have to wait until next year for the final episode of 'The Blueprint', as It is still in progress.
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Transport Report

by Michelle Zeibots

The work of the last year has been hard and the news is all good! The Centre, in association with local resident groups and Sydney public transport advocacy groups, has been successful in spearheading the development of a public transport forum which will act as a meeting and communications point between local and state government agencies. At present the two don't meet. It is now acknowledged that this is the primary obstacle to development of improved public transport services in our region.

We have also held meetings with Minister Carl Scully and Director General of Transport Michael Deegan to advance this process. It is foreshadowed that we will have the 'sign off' on this initiative by the end of the year.

CARTS Growing Stronger

Since the M6 became an issue in late 2000, local Shire residents have been active in both the advocacy of public transport alternatives and the fight to save the Shire from the environmental damage an M6 tollway would create. CARTS-Citizens Advocating Responsible Transport for the Shire-has continued to meet monthly. New members are welcome. In the lead up to the next sate election, CARTS will be working hard to articulate the benefits of development of a comprehensive public transport network instead of construction of a tollway through the Shire and Sydney's south.

Meetings with 5 Councils, the Director General and the Minister

Since August of last year representatives from CARTS and SSEC, with the assistance of EcoTransit Sydney, have been meeting with technical officers from the 5 Councils south of the Cooks River to initiate development of a comprehensive public transport network for our sector of the metropolitan region. These councils include Rockdale, Kogarah, Hurstville, Sutherland Shire and Wollongong.

Representatives from the community and the 5 councils met with Michael Deegan, the Director General of Transport NSW, to discuss the transport problems of our region. The key problem is overcrowding on the Illawarra Rail Line. Services have now reached their upper capacity. Or, in other words, demand for rail is so high that very few additional people can get on peak hour trains any more. Patronage levels in the middle of the day are also often high.

CARTS, SSEC and Eco Transit Sydney representatives also met with the Minister for Transport Carl Scully. Local community opposition to construction of the M6 was explained, as was support for improved public transport services.

The Minister and Member for Miranda Barry Collier announced the Government's intention to investigate duplication of the Cronulla Line not long after our meeting with him. Their decision to act on, as well as listen to, community concerns is to be congratulated! We hope to continue this very positive and constructive dialogue throughout the next year.

Advisory Council Votes to Remove Motorway Zoning from the Royal

The Advisory Council to the National Parks and Wildlife Sydney Central Region voted that recommendations should be made to the Minister for the Environment, asking him to begin negotiating removal of the motorway zoning from those lands within the boundaries of the Royal National Park.

Earlier in the year at the Annual Conference of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, unanimous support was given for removal of the zoning. Support from a wide array of nature conservation and public transport advocacy groups is increasing, with a substantial letter writing campaign foreshadowed in the months leading up to the state election.

Plans for the Year Ahead

The next big task on the transport front is to create a 'vision statement' for public transport development for the southern region of Sydney. This will include the thoughts and opinions of communities from across the 5 local council areas.

This is an important task because it will act as the reference point for many proposals. If wide community involvement is achieved it will also carry a great deal of authority, signalling that the focus for transport development is now well and truly on public transport rather than road and car park construction.

In discussions with officers from local and state government agencies the proposition has been raised that a detailed regional strategy for public transport should be developed. The vision statement would serve as a guiding hand in the development of this strategy. At present the region does not have a clear vision or strategy - which is the reason why our transport problems are growing.

Late Breaking News

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Environmental Education

by Phil Smith & Jim Sloan

The focus of the SSEC Environmental Education Strategy continues to be the development of trainer packs for professional environmental educators that will be suitable for a variety of venues. These include seminars and workshops (1hr to all-day), courses at local TAFEs or community colleges, local primary and high schools, and talks delivered to neighbourhood networks or clubs and business groups.

The Centre delivered a number of formal and informal workshops throughout the year and continues to promote environmental issues through other vehicles such as fact sheets, websites, the resource library etc.

In January this year, we were successful in extending to a second year the Heritage Trust grant that funds our Agenda 21 capacity building program.
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Population Report

by Gordon Hocking

Australia's 2050 Population increases 3 million in one year!

At Sutherland Entertainment Centre, on 3 March 2001, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock informed a packed hall that he welcomed the invitation to speak on the subject of Population stabilisation: Australia 24 million, Sydney 6 million. He began:

“I would first like to discuss the issue of Australia's total population. The figure of 24 million is approximately what the Australian Bureau of Statistics projects for the year 2050, assuming that net overseas migration continues at around current levels (after allowing for fluctuations in the economic cycle) and the fertility rate does not fall too much further. I have often said that most Australians would not find the prospect of a population of this size in fifty years time too alarming.”

The most important feature of such a population is that it would be stable - not increasing and not decreasing - and no longer ageing. This would have a number of benefits:
  • a stable age structure would mean that although the population would be older, it would be sustainable in terms of expenditure on retirement income and health;
  • although the population would have ceased growing, there would still be scope for economic growth through improvements to productivity;
    the labour force would remain large enough to support the increased number of older people; and
  • population stabilisation would provide the economic basis for improvements to the environment without further increasing the impact of population.
But on the 7th of May 2002, Mr Ruddock announced the largest immigration intake in a decade, and declared that it would be maintained for each of the next four years. The population projection for 2050 will now be 27 million - 3 million higher than previously announced in the Minister's Sutherland speech.

So what changed?

Australia is still virtually a desert where much of its fertile land is being covered by housing and infrastructure for settlement.

A series of recent reports on soil salinisation and acidification, and on greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity would lead to the conclusion that Australia is already nudging the limits of its population carrying capacity.

But there was one significant change: environment issues were no longer included in the consultation process for the 2002-2003 Migration and Humanitarian Programs and associated settlement issues. The Minister specifically called for views on " ways of achieving the economic and social objectives of immigration". Previous consultations had included discussion on the economic, social and environmental objectives.

APop: A Major Influence

With the environmental impacts of population growth removed from the agenda, the well-funded, Melbourne based, business lobbying organisation Apop cranked up its campaign for increased immigration. And the carefully stage-managed Melbourne Population Summit, held in February this year, added to the pressure on the Government. The Government capitulated. Sydney's population in 2050 will certainly exceed six and a half million…
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Port Hacking Report

by Paul Martin

1 step forward, 2 steps back?

The state of Port Hacking continues to be a concern. At the SEC/Port Hacking Protection Society forum on Port Hacking, scientific speakers highlighted that even before the Caulerpa taxifolia invasion we had lost over half of the seagrasses. A photographic survey of recent developments showed that despite the Foreshore Development Code large buildings are being created over the development line, in some cases even down below the tidal zone. A study of the Basin showed that biodiversity in one of the richest parts of Port Hacking has declined markedly.

Management commentary showed that the most environmentally harmful activities are being heavily subsidised, whilst the low impact uses are being prejudiced. There is no barrier to spending sums like $1million to dredge for deep keeled boats, but little apparent willingness to put in resources to protect low impact areas or threatened marine vegetation.

The most recent example of this is the NPWS proposal for a boat ramp at Bonnie Vale, to serve power boats whilst taking away a swimming and picnic area. Over 1000 letters of objection have been lodged but still the proposal continues to be advanced, even though it would seem to be directly contrary to the Plan of Management for the Royal National Park. This type of resource use continues to be the pattern in the Hacking (like most near urban estuaries), even as the evidence of its harmfulness becomes more pronounced.

There are some signs of progress. DLWC have begun to refuse approvals for some of the more damaging abuses. The Sutherland Shire Council Port Hacking Planning Advisory Panel has become lately a little more active in responding to some of the issues. The Southern Catchment Management Board has put forward a program that includes a more accountable approach to all estuaries, and a proposed new integrated estuary management plan for Port Hacking. Waterways Authority have yet to show any real organisational commitment to sustainability and equity, though the local Riverkeeper provides additional supervision on the Port.

The next year or so will be critical. The development of an updated Estuary Management Plan will probably coincide with a call for large scale dredging to move sand to Cronulla. The Bonnie Vale boat ramp issue will either be resolved, or become an even more contentious problem. Waterways will have to come out with some sort of (hopefully credible) approach to better balancing competing uses and the needs of the environment.

There is no reason why Port Hacking has to continue to deteriorate, or why low impact users have to be consistently disadvantaged in how the Port is managed. All that is lacking is management commitment to implement existing policy. That will continue to be our aim.
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Nuclear Campaign Report

by Michael Priceman

Looking back on my report for the 2000 AGM I said that "The last twelve months has felt like being strapped to a railway line and hearing the train thundering in the distance". Two years later we are still strapped down but the train is no longer an express. It has slowed somewhat due to the uncertainty of the insolvent Argentinean manufacturer INVAP being able to supply a safe working reactor. The driver of the train is now looking backwards to the good old days when nuclear science was sexy and no one worried if a reactor was built on a seismic fault line, because there were few standards to conform to.

The Reaction Coalition, comprising The Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and People against a Nuclear Reactor (PANR) was formed and the pool of expertise and ideas has proved a great success during 2002. This, and the continuing support from Sutherland Shire Council, has been our lifeline during the year.

The Construction Licence for the new reactor was duly granted by the Australian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), although it was several months later than hoped for by ANSTO. During the process, community pressure forced ARPANSA to hold a public forum in Sydney in December 2001. The panel consisted of two former members of North American nuclear regulatory agencies and a medical doctor from Medical Association for the Prevention of War. Dr John Loy the CEO of ARPANSA chaired the forum.

The first day gave the opportunity to conservation groups, including the SSEC, to say why a licence should not be given. I was able to confront Dr Loy on the contentious questions hanging over the Egyptian reactor built four years earlier by INVAP. He had recently visited Egypt to investigate but had to admit that the reactor was still not working at full power and that the reported 'bubbles in the pool' could have safety implications. Prior to this his public utterances had been minimal.

The second day of the forum was preceded by the raid by Greenpeace activists who gained access to the top of the reactor containment building, the waste storage building and the communications tower - all in nine minutes. The objective was to show that the 'upgraded security' at the site following September 11th was mere words. A few hours later it was ANSTO's embarrassed and angry turn at the forum.

The outcome of the forum was that the CEO 'took all the comments into consideration' and then granted the licence on 5th April. Such is public consultation.

Legal Challenges are taking place in France and Argentina regarding the reprocessing of Australian spent nuclear fuel and in Australia on the grounds that the decision maker (ARPANSA) did not take into account the international standard of best practice relating to the management, handling, transport, processing and storage of spent fuel. The hearing has taken place and the decision held over.

The unknown effects of a worst-case accident. At the Senate Estimates Committee Dr Loy, CEO of ARPANSA, was asked about the effects of a terrorist attack. Part of his reply was that "There would certainly be no instant fatalities; a number of persons would receive a dose which would increase the risk of a fatal cancer in due course. The total expected deaths from that are a little larger than the reference accident we used in the siting, but not much, and the existing kind of emergency plans, the basis for them, including the national antiterrorist plan, would continue to be appropriate as responses to this, should it occur".

More recently at a meeting of the Local Liaison Working Party, the ARPANSA representative refused to release the assessment of the effects of a worst-case accident to members of the State Emergency Services.

The availability of potassium iodide tablets and which NSW government agency was responsible for their distribution remains an issue. 'The Leader' reported that there is a disagreement between NSW Health and the NSW Ambulance on this subject. The reporter attempted to get some official comment. The ambulance service refused to comment, referring the matter to NSW Health, which, in turn referred it to the Premier's Office. The whole business remains unsatisfactory.

Earthquake faults found. Recently, during excavations for the new reactor building, two earthquake fault lines were found. Whilst this is still under investigation, ANSTO is playing down the risks and Minister McGauran has boldly stated that the project "will proceed post haste". ANSTO has commissioned a New Zealand organisation to investigate the faults and ARPANSA is arranging its own study (using a government organisation for the task).

One of the more bizarre options, should the reports decide that the faults could be a safety hazard, is to choose an 'alternative site'. What they mean by this is to shuffle perhaps 50 metres to the left or right and start digging another hole! One way or another it is likely that both ANSTO and ARPANSA will be willing to take the risk on the behalf of the local community - without reference to it.

In summary, there are enough problems and uncertainties to put a halt to this troubled and unnecessary project. Oh that we had a genuine regulator that had true independence and was set totally apart from the Federal Government, then the story could be different. In the present situation we soldier on, expect little from the government and their auxiliaries and continue to oppose the project as we have for the past five years. We will need all the help we can get, so, if you are at a loose end, oppose the new reactor project and can offer any support, please contact me.

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The Year on Kurnell Peninsula

by Simon Kimberley

The announcement on September 1st by Planning Minister Refshauge of "a major environmental study into the entire Botany Bay catchment including the sensitive Kurnell Peninsula - effectively suspending all development and rezoning proposals in the area" was the most significant news for the Peninsula in 2001-02.

The Minister also announced plans to create a comprehensive regional blueprint to guide all future land use. Strict criteria devised by the environmental Study will be applied to development proposals. The implications of the announcement will no doubt be significant, particularly for the Australand proposal, which will be reassessed as a result.

In its own moves to protect the Peninsula from development, Sutherland Shire Council, backed by the community, had previously submitted a proposal to the Federal Government under the Centenary of Federation grants scheme for funding to purchase land back from private owners (including the Australand site). Whilst the Federal Government declined to support the 2001 proposal, a push for the buyback has been revived this year following the Federal Government's $5.6 billion windfall as a result of the sale of the airport. To this end, a Council/community delegation will travel to Canberra next week to discuss the buyback with Finance Minister, Nick Minchin.

Amongst some of the other concerns this year (prior to the Minister's announcement) was the new sandmining proposal lodged by Rocla. The Rocla company have been conducting sandmining activities on the Kurnell Peninsula on behalf of other landholders for many years but they had recently purchased property of their own, and had lodged an application to mine up to 4.5 million tonnes of sand from this property. Their intention was to fill the void left as a result of the mining and to develop an industrial park at a later stage. The proposal was met with virtually unanimous opposition. However, following the Minister's announcement only a matter of days after the closing date for EIS submissions, Rocla withdrew their proposal.

After a concerted push by the Centre and other groups, the Cronulla Sharks withdrew their original proposal to develop 650 residential/commercial/hotel units on their site (including on the junior playing fields). However, in May this year, the Sharks submitted a revised proposal to develop residential and aged care accommodation (240 units), a hotel (100 rooms), conference centre, expanded club and basement parking (2 levels) on the eastern side of their property. The revised proposal presented similar concerns to the original, not least because of the proximity to Woolooware Bay and Towra, the likelihood of traffic problems (given the relative remotenesss from public transport and other facilities), the potential for problems associated with the site's checkered history as a waste dump, together with the potential for disturbance of acid sulfate soil. Despite these concerns, Council have agreed to proceed to the zoning assessment process based on the Sharks preferred development option, with an assessment of environmental impacts. The implications of the Minister's announcements on the Sharks development are as yet uncertain.

The Final Report of the Botany Bay Program was launched in March this year by the NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus. This was the culmination of 18 months work from Program Manager, Jim Colman. Minister Debus has also foreshadowed the establishment of a framework for overall management of the Bay, but as yet, very few details have been provided about these moves, beyond the recent announcement by Andrew Refshauge. As a result of the Botany Bay Program, a new coalition of environment groups (of which the Centre is one) known as Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance (BBACA) has been formed to bring together environmental groups who are dedicated to the restoration, protection and sustainable use and enjoyment of Botany Bay and its catchment.

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EMRAA Report

by Lyn McLean

Change is a hallmark of growth and so it has been our constant companion for the last twelve months. In that time EMRAA has changed its name, its structure and its nature. It has become an incorporated Association with the all advantages and responsibilities that implies. In casting off its former name of EMR Alliance of Australia, it has shed its image as an activist group. In its place, it has adopted the name EMR Association of Australia and, with it, the mantle of a national consumer organisation.

The Association holds to a vision of a society in which people enjoy the benefits of technology safely. Its aims are:
  1. to provide information about the health effects of EMR independent of industry and government;
  2. to provide advice on how to reduce exposure to EMR from power and radiofrequency sources;
  3. to work with government and industry to develop regimes to protect public health;
  4. to serve as a central organisation for disseminating information about EMR to the community;
  5. to provide feedback to government and industry about community opinion on EMR-related issues;
  6. to represent the interests of the general community on issues concerned with EMR.
How has this change of identity been expressed in the Association this last year?
  • As well as a new name, the organisation has a new administrative structure. It has an Executive Officer (Lyn McLean), a Technical Advisor (John Lincoln) and a Board. Presently our interim Board members are Bob Walshe (Chairman), Lex Bewley, Sarah Wallace, Lyn McLean and John Lincoln.
  • It has a new-look newsletter whose format was developed by Jenni Gormley.
  • It has a new website, the result of months of dedicated work by volunteer Aaron Skelsey. The website, which was previously an attachment to the SSEC's site, now has its own domain address and we have a new email address thanks to Jim and Simon.

The activities of the last twelve months are many, but some of the highlights are the following:

  • Publication of my book Watt's the Buzz? (Scribe Publications) and attendant publicity;
  • Registration of the ACIF Code for the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure. I participated, for two and a half years, as Deputy Chair in the committee that developed this Code, which will impact on the way in which carriers erect telecommunications antennas.
  • Establishment of a working group of councils to develop a generic Development Control Plan (DCP) that is hoped to establish standard requirements on carriers when erecting telecommunications infrastructure. Lyn and Lex have been involved with this project for over a year.
  • Participation in the ARPANSA working group that developed the latest standard for radiofrequency radiation exposure. John represented the Association on this Committee.
  • Development of a sophisticated database by Jim and a team of co-workers. This database will accommodate information collected by EMR surveyors about exposure levels and health effects. It is due to be completed next month and will:
    • provide various ways of presenting health and exposure data;
    • provide identification of geographical "hotspots";
    • have the capacity to generate standard letters, forms and to invoice clients;
    • have the capacity for surveyors to input data from their own computers to a central computer.
This is the first Australian project to provide information about what symptoms correlate with what exposures and will be an important research tool.

The Association continues to provide information and advice to members of the community, to produce a quarterly newsletter, to write submissions to relevant authorities and to monitor the scientific literature. It represents the public on a number of committees and is frequently invited to provide comment or to address meetings. Next month I am privileged to be addressing an international conference of councils organised by the Australian Institute of Environmental Health.

As the rollout of telecommunications infrastructure grows, as people become more aware of the EMR issue and as individuals develop health problems from exposure, the demands on our knowledge and resources grow. I predict that this demand will continue into the future and look forward to helping develop a strong, efficient and respected organisation with which to meet these challenges.
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