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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 14078

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (12:32): I rise today to place on the record an incident which occurred a week ago, which was a fire in the Warrnambool exchange. The impact that that fire has had on south-west Victoria has been considerable and significant—66,000 landlines went down, all the Telstra mobile telecommunications went down, and all the broadband and ADSL went down. Some parts of the community are still waiting for landlines to be restored. Most of them are getting their ADSL back. I have had notification that in Portland today—a week later—there is ADSL back on there. We are still waiting in Warrnambool for ADSL to be restored, and it could take a further two to three weeks for that to happen. The economic cost of this disaster will be in the millions, if not in the tens of millions, of dollars to the local economy. The Telstra technicians have been working around the clock doing 12-hour shifts to restore services. On Tuesday at midday I went and saw the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, and impressed upon him the need for an inquiry into what had occurred and how we can prevent such things occurring again. We live in a digital world; our reliance on telecommunications grows every single day. I think that my community has been shocked by the impact that such an outage can have. Our basic transactions nowadays are all done through telecommunications. What happened here was that the banks could not lend money, people did not have cash and businesses could not operate their credit systems. People hung on to their cash because they knew it had become a precious item. So, commerce literally came to a standstill.

Obviously, we also had the issues to deal with for landline customers who have medical conditions. That was a real worry. We had to make sure that the hospitals—whether they were Warrnambool, Hamilton or Portland—could operate without proper communications being available to them. This was a significant, significant event, and it is one that the whole nation needs to learn from.

I am glad that Senator Conroy has agreed to establish an inquiry into what has happened, and has outlined the types of issues that this inquiry will look into. I say this in all seriousness: with cyberterrorism on the rise we need to make sure that our communities can be protected and that there are proper backup plans in place because we have seen firsthand what the impact—and in this case it was an accidental fire—can have on people's lives and especially on the local economies in south-west Victoria.

This inquiry will need to be thorough. I am pleased that Telstra have said that they will cooperate with the inquiry. It is essential that we learn the lessons from it. And it is not only essential for the south-west, so that the south-west will not be placed in the same predicament again but it is also important for the rest of the nation. If this event occurred in one of the CBDs or if it occurred in one of our remote mining sites it could literally bring that region to a standstill. We have seen it firsthand in our region, and our region is a major economic contributor to this nation. Victoria's largest export comes from there. It is the largest dairy supplier in the nation. We need an inquiry, and we got it. (Time expired)