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Thursday, 4 February 2021
Page: 346

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (10:16): I rise to speak in support of the Telecommunications Amendment (Infrastructure in New Developments) Bill 2020, which extends to unincorporated developers the requirement for incorporated developers to install functional fibre-ready facilities on building sites. It's worth pointing out that the majority of developers do the right thing, but some don't. According to government, there are around 3,000 premises a year that are sold or leased without the pits and pipes for telecommunication cabling. Some of these premises have actually been in my electorate—not many, but, for those who have saved up to buy their first home or even their retirement home, the additional expense of having to spend thousands to connect it to telecommunications is distressing and, for some, something that they just can't do.

While I've not experienced the same level of stress, I do appreciate the frustration. When I opened my satellite office at Victor Harbor some 18 months ago, the NBN infrastructure was not installed. We had to wait six months to connect telecommunications to the premises, and the contractors had to dig up the footpath. I'm advised that the cost to a developer of installing pit and pipe during construction is estimated to be between $600 and $800, yet the average cost to a new homebuyer of retrofitting pit and pipe is estimated at $2,100. That figure can easily climb to thousands of dollars if more civil work is required.

Most states and territories have planning requirements for pit and pipe. Tasmania and South Australia do not, and they have had time to rectify this. This legislation partly addresses that oversight. The message now needs to go out to unincorporated developers. Australians consider telecommunications to be an essential service in their homes, almost as important as water, sewage and electricity. In fact, in my electorate and many other electorates declared high bushfire risk, when the power is switched off on a catastrophic fire danger day, having access to telecommunications is considered to be critical for public safety.

Two areas in my electorate—Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills—were devastated by the Black Summer bushfires last fire season. Just last week, another heavily populated area of the hills—bounded by Cherry Gardens, Mylor, Bradbury and Echunga—was on fire and facing the prospect of a major disaster when they were saved by the wettest January day in South Australia's recorded history. When I went to the community fire information meeting at Echunga Football Club, my community wanted to know why they lost mobile phone coverage and internet in the early hours of the morning, when the situation was critical. It's hard to explain to people making life-and-death decisions that the mobile network is not covered by the Universal Service Guarantee, that batteries run out of power and that, if you have fibre-to-the-node NBN, you will lose phone and internet access as soon as the power is switched off.

Since being elected to office, I've strongly advocated on behalf of my community to find solutions. I've introduced private members' bills that led to policy change so that when new base stations are funded under the Mobile Black Spot Program at least 12 hours of battery life is provided. And I've advocated for the continuation of the Mobile Black Spot Program, a bespoke solution to the Cherry Gardens area, which isn't eligible for black spot funding, even though access to mobile and internet is extremely poor. I also continue to advocate for copper network replacement and upgrades to areas in my community where they cannot get their landline to work, their fire damaged landline replaced or their fibre-to-the-node service to deliver a minimum of 25/5 standard because the copper is so degraded. These issues affect the copper network inside and outside Telstra's responsibility.

Telstra receives $230 million a year to maintain the copper network, outside of the NBN fixed-line footprint. They have less to maintain, so my question is: what do they do with all of that money? Why, a year down the track, do I still have constituents in bushfire affected areas without landlines who have been warned that they may never have their copper replaced? I also question how much of the billions announced in NBN Co's latest corporate plan is going towards upgrading old and degraded copper in their fixed-line footprint so premises can actually receive the minimum NBN standard. It would be interesting to know if NBN actually received a detailed assessment of the copper it inherited in the fibre footprint when it was handed over from Telstra. I'm advised that NBN Co expects to provide additional detail on the upgrade criteria for fibre-to-the-node areas in the first quarter of this year.

My electorate is a region with one of the highest percentages of satellite. There are nearly 2,000 premises, in the hills within 25 kilometres of the Adelaide post office, that have been allocated satellite. Satellite is a technology that is much maligned, and early experience of satellite didn't help its reputation. But I do appreciate the chagrin of many in my community who live within a 20-minute commute of the major capital city and yet can only access satellite, which has always been described as the technology of remote Australia. Telecommunications is an essential service.

Western Australia is battling its own bushfire disaster right now, and the hearts of all Australians are with them as they are caught up in this catastrophe. Based on previous experiences from bushfires in my community and in the communities around our nation, I know that poor and failing telecommunications will be a perennial complaint. The government is acting to make telecommunications more resilient, with the $37-million Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters package, but more needs to be done.

We need longer-lasting batteries on our mobile phone towers, and we need to continue to address mobile phone black spots and find bespoke communications solutions for different communities. Through my advocacy and the advocacy of the state government member for Davenport, Stephen Murray, we have secured funding to upgrade a mobile phone infrastructure that's going to be erected on a new NBN wireless tower in Cherry Gardens. We cannot guarantee that the telecommunications won't fail or be destroyed by major disasters, but we can work together to make our infrastructure more resilient. I commend the bill to the House.