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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1768

Dr GILLESPIE (Lyne) (12:47): I rise to talk in support of this motion. I might just remind members of the House that John Howard, who has recently been criticised in this very chamber for delivering so much in the communication space, left a surplus, he left $20 billion in the bank, he left the Future Fund and he paid off the nation's mortgage. One would think any incoming government would put that fiscal position to good use. But, as we all know, for six years they sat on their hands and did nothing. You would think with the size of the deficit and the debt that has been built up—hundreds of billions of dollars of debt—there would be something to show for it. But in the mobile phone space there was absolutely no contribution whatsoever—absolutely nothing.

So I am so pleased to be able to be part of a coalition government that is actually putting its money where its mouth is. We have a $100 million black spot mobile phone program, which, as you know, is being rolled out. That $100 million is obviously not enough, but hopefully, coupled with contributions from about 130 local councils and/or state governments and co-contributions from industry, that will accumulate enough funds to put out at least 250 or perhaps 300 more base stations. It has been an exhaustive process and it is frustrating. But you have to choose from so many areas that are in the grey zone or, as happens in our area, areas that become black spots. When there are huge volumes of people holidaying in the electorate, the mobile phone coverage is overwhelmed.

The member for Bradfield, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, visited the Lyne electorate and accompanied me to a roundtable with lots of people who were affected by black spots in their day-to-day life or when emergencies happen. We did have a roundtable discussion in Wauchope. Areas that came to mind from that were the upper Hastings, Comboyne, Mount Seaview, the Camden Haven and many overloaded beach locations, where the population can double for two months over Christmas or during the school holidays when you basically cannot get anything done on the mobile network, either data or other internet services.

There are many areas that also desire and merit further help. I have mentioned Comboyne and Mount Seaview. Other areas that we have recorded are Kindee, Forbes River, Byabarra, Lorne, Elands, North Haven, Dunbogan, and West Haven up into Lorne—you could keep going, including down in the Manning; there are many areas. But we have to get the best value from the limited funds. It is a start. It is going to be multiplied by the in-kind contribution of local councils, with assets and access or fast approval, and with the co-contribution from the big players: Vodafone, Telstra and Optus. We will hopefully get 300 new base stations. I am looking forward to this being rolled out in the Lyne electorate, because we deserve it. We generate so much income. A mobile phone is now so vital in the life of a modern Australian. When you are contacting people at work—as tradesmen, agricultural workers, security workers—a mobile phone is now part of the essentials of modern life.

Members opposite might criticise us, but we are making a rock-solid commitment. It is rolling out. It is frustrating that it is not there yet. But when you look at the potential areas that need to be sorted through, it is an exhaustive process. The successful locations are going to be announced in the middle of this year and then they will roll out. I am looking forward to the upper Hastings, or even the coastal plain in the valleys just back from the coastal area in the Camden Haven—and also down in the Manning—being selected so that at least a couple of these mobile phone black spots can be addressed.