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January 13, 2012

The development of a Location Based Solution for emergency warnings should be accompanied by a mobile phone blackspots program to ensure all regional communities can benefit from the technology, according to the Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.

Mr Chester said today’s announcement of an agreement between the State and Commonwealth Government and Telstra was a positive move but there were many parts of regional Australia, including the Gippsland region, which wouldn’t benefit unless mobile phone blackspots were addressed.

“I’ve raised my concerns directly with the Gillard Government and spoken in Parliament about the need to eliminate blackspots to ensure all regional communities benefit from the early warning system,” Mr Chester said.

“Moving to a system that can provide warnings based on the location of the mobile phone is a major step forward but some of the most fire and flood prone parts of south-eastern Australia don’t have access to reliable mobile phone coverage.

“Local residents and visitors to regional areas should benefit from this technology but it won’t happen unless the Gillard Government supports expansion of the mobile phone network into areas which may not be commercially viable to the industry.

“If elected, the Coalition has a commitment to partner telecommunications providers to fund a mobile phone blackspots program which would improve coverage. The Gillard Government has failed miserably in this area and needs to support such an initiative to provide maximum value from the Location Based Solution.”

Mr Chester has written to the Federal Minister for Emergency Management Robert McClelland and urged him to undertake an audit of mobile phone coverage maps with a focus on popular tourism destinations which are prone to natural disasters.

“For example, we need to know if there are popular camping spots in national parks which won’t receive a message in the event of a bushfire and then the government should help fund a program to overcome these blackspots,” Mr Chester said.

Mr Chester said the early warning system was a valuable tool but nothing would replace good preparation and being aware of environmental conditions.

“No-one should rely on receiving a text message to warn them of impending danger,” Mr Chester said.

“When it comes to bushfires, developing your own plan and preparing early is the best way to protect your family and property.

“The early warning system can be an effective tool for distributing information quickly but no-one should rely on receiving those messages for survival.”

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