February 27, 2014
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (09:45): I rise to speak on the need to improve mobile phone coverage in regional Australia, particularly in my electorate of Gippsland. The recent bushfires across the Gippsland electorate have highlighted once again the desperate need for improvements mobile phone black spots. Unfortunately, the previous government completely neglected this area of public infrastructure. It was Kevin Rudd who abolished the coalition’s $2.4 billion Communications Fund in Labor’s 2008-09 budget and squandered that money which was held in reserve to pay for future upgrades of telecommunications in rural, regional and remote parts of Australia.
There is good news in that the current government, the coalition government, has committed $100 million for a new program to work on mobile phone black spots throughout regional, remote and outer metropolitan areas. This $100 million is expected to leverage at least an additional $100 million in investment from the mobile phone carriers themselves. Our policy will provide $80 million for mobile phone network expansions on the major transport routes and in particular assist with the emergency text alert system, which I will speak about in just a moment. There will also be an additional $20 million for a mobile phone black spot program to work on areas of high seasonal demand. This is obviously attractive to parts of the Gippsland electorate which have a heavy influx of tourists over the summer season. At that time of the year it is very difficult for people to access their iPhones, iPads or any other technology.
The key issue I want to raise is in relation to the lack of mobile coverage during natural disasters. There is absolutely no point in developing the emergency text alert system any further until we can provide more coverage in the areas most prone to these natural disasters. In Gippsland the most prone areas for fires and floods also have the worst coverage. Unfortunately, people have come to expect they will receive an emergency alert, but if they are living in one of those areas of visiting one of those areas, they do not receive any message at all. I would encourage people throughout the summer season to not rely on only one form of information when it comes to these natural disasters and encourage them to listen to their local radios and make sure they keep fully abreast of the situation.
Right across Gippsland over the past five years I have been talking with communities and there are literally dozens of different communities which have a mobile phone black spot problem. I have reported that through to the new minister and the new parliamentary secretary and invited them to visit my electorate and gain an appreciation firsthand of the issues we are facing. I am a huge supporter of the $100 million mobile phone black spot program that the coalition government is committed to. I will be working with my community to make sure that we receive a fair share of that funding. It is essential, primarily, from an emergency perspective, but also from an economic perspective it brings benefits in terms of doing business, allowing people to stay in contact with their customer base, and from a social perspective it allows people from more remote and rural areas to remain in touch with family and friends on a more cost-effective basis. I commend the program; I commend the current government for its work in this space; and I can assure the people of Gippsland that we will receive a fair share of that $100 million as it is distributed.