• Loddon Herald

LOCAL ISSUE: Telecommunications

In the continuing weekly issue leading up to the May 21 federal election, the Loddon Herald asked candidates in Mallee for their comments on the region's telecommunication challenges.

Here are the responses received.


SOPHIE BALDWIN (IND)

Investment in telecommunications must be prioritised across Mallee. How can we attract professionals to the region if we don’t have basic connectivity, how can we protect our residents if we don’t have adequate mobile service if there is an accident? How do we run our businesses, educate our children? This is community based infrastructure and it must be addressed urgently. There has been an exodus from the major cities to rural towns and we need adequate telecommunications to support and keep them in rural areas.

Loddon is just as important as any other shire across the country and its residents deserve connectivity solutions, starting with more towers and backed up by access to affordable satellites or boosters.

It makes sense for Telstra and other telcos to have aqequate backup resources for country exchanges and mobile towers.

The government has committed $380 million to the Mobile Black Spot Program; round six funding of $80 million is due to commence soon. If elected I will fight for Loddon and the wider Mallee to access this funding as travelling around Mallee I can see firsthand there are not only black spots, but grey and brown as well and I am adding these spots to my list as I travel.

STUART KING (UAP)

The United Australia Party is committed to increase the funding streams to regional Australia for building the infrastructure of the nation, which includes telecommunications networks. We have a policy position to return at least 25 per cent of the wealth of a region back to the region. This benefits rural Australia massively because where rural Australians have been neglected for funding by Government because of lower population for example, the wealth generated by the region will be taken into account under our policy.

The Government has a responsibility to assist Loddon residents and all rural Australians with the provision of telecommunications technology.

I actually have some experience with this as I own and operate a hire business which currently supplies generators to various contractors for various critical services during power outages. I have a balanced view on this. Exchanges and towers which service larger population bases should probably have their own backup power supply, however I don’t believe it is practical to necessarily do this across the board. There is significant and costly maintenance required on generators, especially if they are not being used often as in the case of emergency generators. If there is local provision to be able to power up an exchange or tower within a certain time frame from an external supplier then I believe this would be an adequate and more cost effective solution for less critical exchanges or towers.

There is an opportunity to change the way services are delivered, particularly when it comes to mobile phone and internet services in regional areas. I believe that existing towers should be bought back and new towers owned by the Government. This creates the opportunity for multiple network providers (eg Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, etc) to install their assets on the towers (for a fee) which maintains the competitive nature of the industry but saves on the unnecessary duplication of towers by multiple providers. This would allow more towers to be built to improve the coverage of the networks. It’s a simple solution to improving the phone and internet coverage in rural Australia.

ANNE WEBSTER (NATIONALS)

In the 2022-23 Federal Budget, we announced a further $811.8 million over five years to expand mobile coverage, connectivity, resilience, and affordability in regional Australia, building on existing programs including the Mobile Black Spot Program and the Regional Connectivity Program. A further $480 million has been committed for NBN CO to upgrade its fixed wireless and satellite networks to improve services throughout regional Australia. Under the Liberal Nationals Government, over 1000 mobile blackspots have been fixed, which starkly contrasts with Labor’s failure to fix even one blackspot when they were last in government. Partnering with Telco’s is part of the solution.

I have worked closely with Telstra for specific issues people have raised with me.

Telcos have a responsibility to ensure connectivity is maintained during loss of electricity and in emergency situations. Where this has not occurred, I have invited Telstra to visit with locals to understand the issues and remedy them. Poor connectivity is an ongoing issue for regional Australia, and is acutely felt in areas such as the Loddon Shire. The Nationals in Government are investing more into telecommunications to address the issue and has been working with telcos to ensure that they are being held to account for their responsibility in providing a reliable service to regional people.

I think healthy market competition for the role of supply to regional centres is important. Creative solutions are in process to deal with some of the more intractable issues. I have been an advocate in being a signatory to a Private Members Bill by Julian Leeser to challenge the status quo and find solutions. More announcements are pending.

CAROLE HART (LABOR)

Labor’s policy is to ensure all Australians get fast, reliable and affordable broadband, no matter where they live or do business. We will leverage and improve the National Broadband Network to advance economic and social outcomes, and create experiences that improve quality of life.

Labor will assist with solutions to the connectivity and service issues faced by Loddon residents by ensuring Australians can benefit from world-class broadband and mobile infrastructure is critical for our prosperity and resilience, especially in the post COVID-19 era.

Labor will improve mobile coverage in regional and vulnerable communities, including transport corridor black spots and areas with high natural disaster risk, ensuring these enhancements are guided by local needs.

Labor will develop policies to leverage next-generation mobile technologies to support the competitiveness of domestic industries.

Responses were not received from other candidates.


READ MORE ON LOCAL ELECTION COVERAGE IN THE LODDON HERALD




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