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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1259

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (19:28): I recently held a community forum at Colo Heights to discuss mobile phone coverage and other telecommunications challenges facing residents of that community. The community of Colo heights is rural and fairly isolated. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2011 indicates that there are around 332 residents. The main road running through Colo Heights is Putty Road, which stretches for some 150 kilometres, linking Windsor to Singleton. Much of the Putty Road and more specifically that part of it in the Colo Heights area has limited and in many instances no phone reception. It is common to drive for up to 30 minutes without coverage. With no shops and with one petrol station, it is a challenge. There is no communications tower in the area. However, I will give some credit to Telstra: they have installed an SOS tower. Apart from that, there is little coverage. It is an area that has been forgotten by the Labor government.

The road has been the site of a number of accidents in recent years, some of them fatal, and has become a real issue of concern for members of the community. The forum brought together many local residents. I want to particular acknowledge Clint Jones, who rallied the local community. The local community hall was full to overflowing. The forum brought together the local area commander from the police station at Hawkesbury, Rural Fire Service members—particularly the captain and deputy captain from Colo Heights—and business owners. Many people run farms and large businesses from their properties. I need to thank Telstra representatives for being present to discuss what could be done to improve mobile infrastructure for our community. I also acknowledge the presence of the mayor, Ken Ford, and Councillor Jill Reardon.

Throughout the forum we heard story after story of residents who have been involved in incidents on that road. Many of them were unable to access emergency services or gain a response or communicate because they had no mobile coverage. Mark from Lower Portland came across a motor bike accident while travelling south along the Putty Road one day. Mark, who is a truck driver, had to turn around and drive several kilometres to be able to ring 000. In his words he lost `valuable' time'.

Christian and Rosalind have a farm in Colo Heights. One of their employees was stung 280 times after cutting into a bees nest embedded into a tree. This was very serious. They had no phone or emergency services access. They were not able to get to a landline in time. What they had to do was hop in the car and drive until they had phone coverage. By that time they were nearly at the hospitals. That took them 40 mins. That 40 minutes could have been critical for the man who was stung.

Laura was pregnant and at full term while travelling along the Putty Road when she had a flat tire. I have driven on that road alone many times and have often thought about what I would if I was caught out. She had no mobile phone coverage and therefore was unable to contact her husband. She was forced to wait until someone pulled over on the side of the road to assist her. There are many more stories. I could tell those stories.

In addition to those stories, there are emergency services issues. This is a rural area that is prone to fires. There are many lightning strikes that cause fires in this area. As we are all aware, the Rural Fire Service relies on SMS. Many Rural Fire Service members there either do not receive the warning letting them know that they need to respond to a road accident or to a fire. Many remove their families as soon as they have to respond and take them to a location other than Colo Heights so that they can have access to a phone.

These are issues that need responses. These lives are important. The mobile phone coverage in regional communities is vital to maintain social connections, improve safety and attract and retain workers. The reality is that this government has neglected mobile communications in regional Australia. My community in the Colo Heights area is just one example. This is basic stuff. Communication is important. Six years of inaction is not good enough. I am calling on the government to start investing in Australia's mobile phone network, particularly in regional communities. (Time expired)