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Turnbull moves to simplify submarine cable approval process

Attorney-General to sign off new process easing cable-landing regs for little telcos

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Australia's communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has proposed cutting the red tape involved in landing new submarine cables in Australia, by adding the Attorney-General's department to the list of bodies that need to sign off on a project.

Saying that the legislative requirement would “formalise existing practise”, Turnbull told Federal Parliament when introducing amendments to the Submarine Cable Protection Act on Thursday November 14:

“The bill will provide a structured process for the consideration of matters within the Attorney-General's portfolio in relation to submarine cable installation permit applications by:

  • ”requiring the ACMA to consult with the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department on installation permit applications; and
  • ”giving the Attorney-General power, after consultation with the Minister for Communications and the Prime Minister, to direct the ACMA to refuse a permit on security grounds.
  • “During the consultation period, the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department may make a submission on the permit application, which may include a recommendation about the conditions that should be specified in the permit.”

Approval processes for cable owners are to be streamlined under the proposed amendments.

One item that will be welcomed by cable owners outside the “carrier clubs” is the red-tape reducing proposal to cut the processing time for cable applications from 180 days to 60 days, for proposals to land cables outside of existing cable protection zones. The legislation also stipulates “reasonable” processing times for applications within cable protection zones.

“Cable protection zones” (two in Sydney, one in Perth) prohibit activities like mining, fishing and trawling to try and avoid accidental cable cuts.

The government also plans to reduce the number of approvals needed for a cable proposal. Right now, if a route passes both within and outside of a cable protection zone, two approvals are needed, and the government wants a single approval regime.

The legislation allows for protection zones to be declared around significant domestic submarine cables (for example, such as those owned by Telstra and Basslink crossing the Bass Strait).

The amendments would also “cut green tape” by removing duplication between cable protection and environmental protection legislation. There are also legislative changes designed to bring cable protection regulation into line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. ®

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