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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1771


Mr TAYLOR (Hume) (12:57): I commend the member for Indi, and all of those who spoke on this motion, for their focus on this issue because mobile coverage is of vital importance to countless Australians, particularly in my electorate. I find it difficult to understand how I got by without a mobile phone. It is extraordinary how much we depend on them these days. It is only when we lose our mobile phones—which I do from time to time—or we run out of battery, which happens to all of us, that we are reminded just how important mobile coverage is.

Those of us who are in country electorates are also reminded of this when we go out of range. And that happens to me every day in my electorate as I get around. Many of my constituents remind me that it happens to them as well. For the many small businesses—the increasing number of small businesses—based in my electorate, ranging from the edge of Sydney and Canberra right out into deep rural New South Wales, mobile technology is changing the way that they interact with customers. Mobile coverage ensures that they can be available and responsive to their customers' needs. And it means that they can be out and about, particularly if they are involved in sales—whether it is on site getting the job done, or getting out to potential new customers—and they can still be available to deal with queries from the office or from existing customers or suppliers.

But for many rural and regional Australians the full advantages of mobile phone technology are yet to come because it is too variable or unreliable or just not available at all. So today's motion recognises the importance of this, and how a lack of mobile coverage impacts on people's lives. From my extensive travel throughout my electorate, and the enormous amount of work that my office has done, I can pinpoint almost every mobile blackspot. Very occasionally I hear about a new one, but I pretty much know them all. I appreciate the enormous support I have had from around the electorate in identifying them. That is important to them not just for their work, but it is important for safety as well. There are large sections in the middle of my electorate without coverage where safety is a major issue. The Rural Fire Service talk about this often. In contacting and coordinating volunteers when responding to bushfire emergencies, mobile phone coverage is very important.

For all of these reasons, the government are very aware of these issues, and it is why we are investing $100 million in telecommunications infrastructure to address these issues—in contrast to the last government, which did no such thing. It was extraordinary listening to the member for Greenway talk about what we needed to do when in fact the last government did not do anything, and I can tell you my constituents are fully aware of that situation. The program will focus on small communities as well as major transport routes and safety issues that arise across so many electorates here in Australia. As I said, this is in complete contrast to the previous government.

We have identified many problem areas through the course of this—in fact 6,000. So there is a real need to leverage every dollar of that $100 million as well as we possibly can. We have asked Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to come forward with proposals for new sites and base stations. We expect that that $100 million will generate at least $100 million in private investment. I am also finding a spin-off from all of this is that some of the commercial providers are identifying sites where it is commercial for them to put up towers straightaway. That has certainly been true in Bundanoon and Wilton, where Telstra is proceeding with towers after much consultation with the community.

We are looking at the best ways of using our investment, and in particular we are looking at co-location opportunities. My office has spent an enormous amount of time looking at these opportunities. For example, as part of the rollout of the fixed-wireless network for the NBN we can piggyback mobile coverage on the back of the NBN. At Murringo, between Young and Boorowa, there is a wonderful site to do exactly that. In New South Wales we also have a network of Rural Fire Service towers that can be used for the same purpose. Typically, they have pre-existing roads and even power, and by using those sites we can dramatically reduce the cost of putting up a new tower. We have sites like that at Narrawa near Rugby and not far away at Mount Darling.

So there are significant opportunities to leverage the $100 million program. That is what we intend to do, and I can assure you that my office has done an enormous amount of work to make sure we get as much leverage as we possibly can from the $100 million program. I commend this program to the chamber. It is an important one and one that will make a real difference to the lives of many in my electorate.

Debate adjourned.