November 14, 2014 – 12:20PM
By Andy Hazel
As more state election candidates step up to jostle for the attention of the people of Brunswick, getting your message across becomes increasingly important. Even the name of a party can be problematic.
Is the Labor Party, which recently opened membership to non-union members, still prioritising workers’ rights?
Do the Liberals really stand for a liberal economic society? Whatever your thoughts, no such confusion surrounds the party People Power Victoria – No Smart Meters (PPV).
Party secretary Marc Florio says preferences are yet to be finalised. Brunswick candidate for PPV, Ms Stella Kariofyllidis was, until 2010, a member of the Labor Party and the party’s egalitarian policies are true to its name.
A smart meter uses Wi-Fi to record energy usage at half hour intervals allowing data to be used by both the consumer and the electricity provider. The Victorian government installed smart meters in almost all businesses and homes in 2013. Advocates see them as empowering consumers to make more informed decisions.
PPV see things differently. ‘Smart meters are a danger to health,’ says Mr Florio. ‘They emit pulsed radio frequencies that have been classified by the World Health Organisation as a Group 2B carcinogen’. Other Group 2B carcinogens include lead and the widely banned fertiliser dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT.
Despite garnering media attention when first announced, the data provided to UniPollWatch supporting their claims of adverse health affects from exposure to smart meters is, in the opinion of nuclear physicist Ms Kaitlin Cook, flawed.
‘Coffee is also a 2B carcinogen,’ she points out. The WHO definition of a 2B carcinogen means it is ‘possibly carcinogenic’.
She points out that the frequency range smart meters operate in – 915-928MHz – is just below that used by telecommunications companies (935-960MHz). ‘So it’s well within what we’re exposed to everyday’, she says.
‘But it’s not just about frequency, it’s also about intensity.’ Citing some of the studies to which PPV refer, Ms Cook says the radio frequency exposure to someone standing 50cms from a smart meter is less than that of a mobile phone, around 0.0046% of the safe limit.
Mr Florio also claims that smart meters have been installed against the advice of health professionals,
But that doesn’t stop PPV’s passionate campaign.
Ms Kariofyllidis believes that people should have a choice about whether the meters are installed at all. “Currently 90 per cent of people have got them. It’s been proven that it affects people’s health, but both major parties and the Greens don’t want to hear about it.”
Mr Florio says the refusal of the government to engage with the concerns of ‘thousands of Victorians’ has forced him make smart meters a political issue. Their rollout was done with little consultation and no response to the needs and concerns of the public in a way he describes as ‘bullying’.
“The government just need to do their homework,” says Ms Kariofyllidis. “They need to do the research first. It’s the same with any major project. The government act first and think later.”
The party is particularly concerned about the use of Wi-Fi technology in school classrooms. While epidemiological information about the effects of Wi-Fi would require expensive long-term studies to properly assess, PPV want to see Wi-Fi networks replaced by ethernet or cabled networks in primary and secondary schools, kindergartens and child care facilities. A Canadian teachers union has made similar requests.
The party are also critical of the opportunity for power companies to collect usage data and sell it to third parties, the possibility for the meters to be hacked resulting in power outages, and the overall cost of the rollout which is added to quarterly bills.
Liberal candidate for Brunswick Mr Giuseppe Vellotti, who is also an electrical engineer, scoffs at the suggestion that smart meters or Wi-Fi could be considered a public health risk, citing their pervasiveness as proof.
“I love smart meters. They actually tell you how much you’re consuming at any given time. I can see what I’m doing. I reckon they’re the best thing ever.”
Greens candidate Dr Tim Read, a medical doctor and public health worker, is respectful of differing views but considers that evidence to support PPV’s concerns doesn’t exist.
He claims the party are “overthinking” theoretical risks and that we are yet to see any data that supports their concerns.
“I can say with certainty that we’re not seeing emergency rooms filling up with people sick from smart meters or Wi-Fi. There may have been poor cost control when rolling them out, but they’re out now. It’s a bit late to be opposing them.”
In an unlikely demonstration of Liberal-Green accord, Dr Read agrees that there are benefits the party aren’t considering.
“Giuseppe will know more about this than me, but I think smart meters will be increasingly useful in energy conservation and reducing emissions.”
Using the analogy of a car’s speedometer, Dr Read says that people will soon think of smart meters in the same way. To know what’s running when you go to bed or leave the house to go on holiday outweighs the possibility of data being used for surveillance or mass disconnections.
Away from the home, and more in line with Dr Read’s party, PPV also want a moratorium on coal seam gas mining, and reforms that address homelessness and housing affordability.
While the party are focused on these core issues, comments to the media earlier this year suggest they also want to be seen as a party for ‘anyone frustrated by poor treatment from essential service companies’.
Mr Florio says the right to health is a fundamental one that is being increasingly overlooked in the rush for profit. Giving consumers rights to make healthy choices such as refusing smart meters is, he says, one worth fighting for.
Evidence or no evidence the only question now is, how big will his army be on election day?
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne.