This is a government that goes slow on telecommunications

December 22, 2021

I want to thank the member for Mayo for putting this motion forward. It's a comprehensive look at the various telecommunications issues that rural and regional communities face. My community faces all those issues and needs the same kinds of solutions that are being put forward. I do think, though, that it's a bit rich for the member for Berowra and the member for Barker to stand here and talk about a private member's bill that the member for Berowra is putting forward with regard to mobile communication when they have been part of a government that has been in power for nearly a decade. They have had nearly a decade to fix the flawed Mobile Back Spot Program and to think more about peri-urban areas. We're coming to the finish line of their third term of government—I hope it will be their last term of government—and they just stumble to the finish line with something that may or may not make any difference for peri-urban communities.

It's been such an ineffective response from the government. They seem to think they have nothing to do with it. They say: 'Oh, it's Telstra. Oh, it's Optus or Vodafone. Let's blame somebody else for it.' That side of the parliament sets the rules under which everybody operates. They set the rules for landline. Why don't we have a universal service provision already required for internet? These are the sorts of issues that should have been addressed. They're not new. Let me tell you, in 2013, when my house burnt down in the bushfire and all I could do was occasionally send text messages to my son in the hope that we'd be able to communicate enough for him to escape from what soon turned into an inferno, that was a big wake-up call. The Blue Mountains telecommunications showed its fragility at that point, yet here we are, eight years on, and nothing has changed.

It isn't just mobile communications; it's also NBN communications. I'm sorry the member for Barker isn't in the chamber right now, because he is the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, of which I am deputy chair. We have a whole report ready to go, which has not yet been signed off. I confess that I was the person who held it up in March when my community was underwater. I could not attend a meeting in order to have that report finalised. But for eight months now, since the end of March, the member for Indi and I have worked collaboratively to try and get this report finalised with the chair. Yet here we are, in the last two weeks of parliament, and there is no sign of a meeting being scheduled for the NBN committee to release the report, which will deal with a bunch of the issues that are raised in this motion—the quality of NBN coverage and the challenges that people face.

This is a government that goes slow on telecommunications. They gave the Blue Mountains a tower, at Mount Tomah. Great—mobile phone communication was all set for Mount Tomah. Then it was all a bit too hard, and a year or two later they pulled the tower away and sent it out somewhere further west. That's the sort of care and concern that's been given to a community that only two years ago went up in smoke. It's a community that is subjected to the worst natural disasters you can see, yet our telecommunications system is just as it was—not much better than two years ago or seven years ago.

What we have is a government that has no sense of urgency on these issues. These are life-and-death issues. If Mountain Lagoon can't get a phone call through on their landline, they could miss finding out that they are surrounded by fire. The same applies to floods. The Macdonald Valley faces floods and fires. They describe their telecommunications as 'wholly inadequate', and they have worked assiduously with Optus to try and resolve the issue of getting the tower that they have been awarded. I can't even tell you how many years ago it was now. It just isn't happening. And it won't happen in the immediate future.

Then you've got people like Nathan and Peter and Phil, from Blaxlands Ridge who say: 'We had Telstra but no coverage. We went to Optus, not much better, and you're lucky to get one bar. The internet is a joke.' They tell me that they've spent more than a thousand dollars on mobile reception boosters and that barely gives them enough coverage. They certainly can't hotspot. This is what people are living with, and the people who are responsible and could have fixed this are sitting on that side. It's just not good enough.