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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 487

Mr HUNT (Flinders) (16:29): I wish to raise an issue of great significance regarding bushfire safety on the Mornington Peninsula and access to adequate mobile communications. This comes about because of a letter that was delivered to my office last night by the captain of the Mount Martha CFA, Mr Brian Smith. He was delivering it on behalf of the head of the peninsula group for the CFA, Tony Brown, who is technically the peninsula group officer. It is a very significant letter.

It sets out a very simple principle: that congestion of the local mobile phone network over summer is putting lives at risk. The Mornington Peninsula is one of the most bushfire prone areas in Victoria. We have a large number of people in a high fire danger area with failing telecommunications. It is a recipe for disaster.

I would note that the government is spending of billions, promising to put an NBN into areas that already have well-serviced broadband, yet the Mornington Peninsula does not even have an adequate mobile phone service. The government has completely lost focus of issues which are paramount to safety and security. Our best advice is that it could be a decade before we receive the NBN on the peninsula. In reality it is something that is never likely to happen the way this government travels. In the meantime there are real, legitimate, present dangers which have been highlighted, not by us, but by the CFA and, indeed, by the regional group officer, writing on behalf of eight local fire brigades.

Let me go into more detail. I have received the letter and I have written today to the minister for communications. We are seeking urgent assistance. We have spoken with Telstra. This is something which the CFA has itself highlighted as a source of real, clear, present danger. The key points are these. I have been contacted by a representative of eight fire brigades on the peninsula about the danger posed by poor telecommunications, in particular mobile telecommunications. The NBN will not solve the problem—even if arrived today. It is not going to arrive on the peninsula for 10 years. I the meantime we have a very significant issue. We have the peninsula, which is one of the most bushfire prone areas in Victoria, with a large summer population as well as a strong base population. It is a region with ongoing significant telecommunications problems. Five years ago we were going to receive an OPEL system, which would have dealt with these problems. Instead we are now facing a 15-year wait, including the five years to now and the 10 years to come. Local residents and business owners are forced to use the wireless system. Unfortunately the wireless system at the moment is inadequate, so, we find that mobile phone calls frequently drop out, email delivery is delayed and in some places wireless services are only accessible after 10 pm. It is wireless that is the problem and the solution.

Let me quote what was said by the CFA:

Effectiveness of the government developed mobile phone warning system needs to be tested under these trying conditions to ensure it would not be severely compromised as it depends upon the phone system in question transmitting warnings and information about current life-risk situations. If such circumstances were to be realised, we would be faced with a scenario of public emergency warnings not being heard in one of the most heavily populated and fire prone areas in the state.

Against that background I have written to Minister Conroy today and I have said that:

I share Mr Brown's concerns. Lives are at risk because the government is failing to ensure adequate mobile coverage on the Mornington Peninsula. The opening of the Peninsula Link Freeway, which will bring more tourists to the area, puts further pressure on a system that can't already cope. The government is spending billions on an NBN when areas such as the Mornington Peninsula don't even have an adequate mobile phone service.

Minister, we need your urgent intervention. This issue has lasted for five years. The problem was to have been solved five years ago but the system that was announced and proposed was axed. Against that background, I seek leave to table the letter from Mr Tony Brown, the peninsula group officer of the Mornington Peninsula CFA, and my letter to the minister. (Time expired)

Leave granted.