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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 286

Mr BROAD (Mallee) (19:42): Once again, I am not here to throw aspersions on those opposite but to report on the fires that occurred in my electorate between 15 and 18 January. Adam Lindsay Gordon once said most of life is froth and bubble but two things stand as stone: kindness in another's trouble and courage in your own. During the fires I saw proud, strong, courageous Australians. It is quite a testament to those involved to see Australia's best character revealed when we are tested.

On 18 January, I flew over the fire scene where 51,000 hectares were burnt around the Grampians complex and 40,000 hectares were burnt around the Wyperfeld National Park. We were fortunate the wind was coming from west. The wind change came at 2 o'clock, but had it come at 4 o'clock quite possibly the township of Halls Gap would have been burnt out. Sadly we had one fatality in that fire and lost 32 premises, with 3,500 sheep burnt or put down. The farmers are now in the recovery stage of rebuilding and regrouping. The Grampians area is a wonderful place to visit. There are kangaroos and koalas, and Halls Gap is still open for business. I encourage every Australian to go there and spend some money as this would be the best way of getting people back on their feet and showing that Australians stand by those in need.

One thing that became very clear throughout the fire was the lack of mobile phone coverage. We even had a situation where the police could not communicate with other police. At one of the kitchen tables I sat around, a guy said to me that had he not been able to get on the ute, put his leg at the right angle and his tongue at the right angle, to try and get reception, he would not have been able to alert his neighbour that the fire was coming. That alert enabled the neighbour to save his wife, his children and his own life.

Mobile phone coverage in our area must improve. Our government has made a commitment to spend some dollars on it, and it will be my ambition as the local member to make sure that we can get enough dollars into the electorate of Mallee to address the issue of mobile coverage. The world has changed. We run First World businesses across my electorate. We run tourism businesses. We run agricultural businesses. The capacity to make phone calls and to have access to appropriate broadband speeds has to improve.

I argue, very firmly, that, as a government, we need to focus on the low-hanging fruit to drive productivity. We have a challenge to get our productivity back on track, and to create jobs. We are going to address that challenge. The low-hanging fruit in telecommunications is phone coverage and broadband speeds in our regional areas. There are many options in our cities to access affordable and reasonably fast broadband, but in some country areas we cannot even make a phone call.

The Grampians is an area where lots of tourists come. During the fire we saw that people have grown accustomed to getting an SMS when there is a major emergency to alert them to the need to evacuate. People come from Melbourne, where they have always had phone coverage. They go hiking in the Grampians where they have no phone coverage. So it becomes an issue of safety. I want to put on the record that we must address this. It will be my ambition to address this. I will bring the minister responsible down to the electorate. We must make sure that this part of Australia receives its fair share when it comes to telecommunications.

As I said at the start, sometimes the tough things bring out the best in people. The way the people of the community quickly rallied, provided food and accommodation, and helped out the CFA where they could is testimony to what great Australians can do. Our country is proud of the people who have dealt with such difficult times. As a local member I am very proud to be able to speak on their behalf in this House.