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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1954

Mr PORTER (Pearce) (09:58): The issue of communications is a very live issue throughout the 14,000 square kilometres of the Pearce electorate. Many constituents face difficulties with respect to mobile phone reception, internet connections and landline services or some combination of these three services. The range and significance of the difficulties were highlighted on 12 January of this year. On this date, the electorate sustained very significant property damage from bushfires within the suburbs of Stoneville, Parkerville and Mount Helena, within the Shire of Mundaring—a matter I have already spoken about, with specific respect to the good work done by volunteers.

Unfortunately, the locations of these fires coincided with parts of the electorate where mobile coverage is notoriously poor. During these fires, two sites within the fire affected areas were impacted by subsequent interruptions to the mains electricity supply, which then impacted on landline services. The end result was that a number of the residents within the fire-affected areas found themselves without access to any reliable communications during the critical times of the fire. One example put to my office was from Mr Richard Janes, a resident of Bullsbrook. He was a Bushfire Ready street coordinator charged with the responsibility of activating the Phone Tree communication system. This worthwhile system notifies local residents of a fire incident so that they in turn can notify others who may be affected within the community. Unfortunately, because of the exchange difficulties affecting landline services, Mr Janes found himself relying solely on mobile services to undertake his activation of phone tree warnings and, due to the poor mobile phone reception available, it was practically impossible for Mr Janes to get messages through, placing his and numerous other homes at risk.

Obviously, the inability to effectively communicate during fire emergencies is a real safety issue. The coalition government's program for these areas is most welcome, and the coalition's mobile black spot program will be welcome relief for many communities who have found their needs until now neglected. The coalition's mobile black spot program will provide $80 million for a mobile network expansion program that will improve mobile phone coverage along major transport routes in small communities and in locations prone to experiencing natural disasters, such as those vulnerable areas in my own electorate.

This program, which is modelled on the successful regional mobile communications program in Western Australia, will provide funding to mobile phone network providers who are prepared to expand the coverage and quality of their mobile networks into regional and remote areas that lack sufficient coverage. It is expected to generate at least an $80 million additional investment from the major mobile phone carriers. Obviously, strong submissions will be made for the improvement of services in the Pearce electorate by both myself and the community, and the process is already well underway.

In the short term, however, I am happy to report that, following my submissions to Telstra regarding the landline issue that arose during the recent fires, there has been an undertaking to upgrade the priority levels of the relevant exchange sites within the fire affected areas to reflect that they are in a fire hazard area and that Telstra will increase the priority of attendance to the sites in the event of further mains failures. Additionally, I have been assured that the battery reserves at the relevant sites which are critical to maintaining services during adverse weather events will now be replaced as soon as possible. I welcome this response to the concerns of the constituents and consider it to be a positive step in the right direction for local residents.