5G fires: Australian mobile companies work with police to prevent arson attacks

Josh Taylor

Australian mobile companies are seeking to head off any outbreak of anti-5G arson attacks on telecommunications infrastructure, stating they are working with police to keep an eye out for potential incidents.

Victoria police announced on Friday an investigation had commenced into a fire at a telecommunications tower at Cranbourne West in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.

Police were assessing whether the fire was suspicious. As of Tuesday, Victoria police told Guardian Australia the investigation was still ongoing and the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.

Related: Vaccines, 5G, Bill Gates: why are Australians gathering to spread coronavirus conspiracy theories?

It followed another suspicious fire at a telecommunications tower in Morphett Vale in South Australia earlier this month, and an incident in Kyabram in northern Victoria where two Chinese flags and a Nazi flag with “#Covid19” were tied to a telecommunications tower.

More than a dozen towers in New Zealand have been vandalised since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, and more than 20 towers have been vandalised in the UK, also believed to be connected to Covid-19 conspiracy theories connected to 5G.

In response to potential vandalism in Australia similar to that seen in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, last week issued a statement reminding the public that spreading misinformation about 5G is dangerous, and attacking mobile towers is a crime.

“Interfering or tampering with telecommunications facilities is a criminal offence,” Fletcher said. “The Australian government will not tolerate any vandalism of communications infrastructure and I urge Australians to report any suspicious activity to their local police.

“Causing damage to mobile phone networks can cut vital connectivity, risking serious harm, even death, if a person is unable to contact Triple Zero.”

About 70% of all calls to Triple Zero happen via mobile phones and telcos have indicated one major concern about tower vandalism is if a tower is taken offline and people can’t make a phone call in an emergency.

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association chief executive, Chris Althaus, told Guardian Australia that the mobile companies were not going to let the small minority of people who are spreading misinformation about 5G do enough damage to result in more towers being under threat.

“We’re not going to sit back. No one is going to cop it,” he said. “Frankly it’s disgusting to have the use of this genuine health pandemic for furthering an agenda against a technology that has proven to be safe.”

Althaus said telecommunications companies were partnering with law enforcement in the states and territories to keep on high alert for potential vandalism of telecommunications equipment in response to misinformation about 5G.

“This is critical infrastructure,” he said.

Anti-5G sentiment in Australia, fuelled by misinformation spread on social networks such as Facebook, has “shaken community confidence” in the technology before the vast majority of the public has even used a 5G-enabled device, a parliamentary committee reported earlier this month.

The federal government is spending $9m on an advertising campaign aimed at correcting misinformation.

Facebook has banned content linking coronavirus to 5G directly, and posts encouraging vandalism of telecommunications towers.

However, in many of the anti-5G groups, while posts may not directly link 5G to coronavirus, many have expressed concern that 5G services have been installed while the country is in tight Covid-19 restrictions – unaware or ignoring the fact that telecommunications companies plan their network construction months and years in advance.

One of the biggest groups, which has just under 50,000 members, Australians for Safer Technology, recently changed its name from “Stop 5G Australia” in a move to prevent it being deleted by Facebook as some have been in the UK. The group also has rules about not linking to content connecting 5G to coronavirus, and posts condoning violence or vandalism of 5G equipment.

One of the groups that participated in anti-lockdown and anti-5G protests in Sydney and Melbourne earlier this month have planned another national protest this weekend, however they have not been setting up events on Facebook because Facebook has had a policy of deleting events that encourage people to breach public health restrictions.