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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2323

Telecommunications


Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:29): My question is to the Minister for Regional Communications, Senator Nash. In May 2016, the member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey, released a statement which guaranteed that, following a further $60 million allocated by the federal government to the Mobile Black Spot Program, three sites, at Marree, Robertstown and Bute in South Australia, would be upgraded. The member for Grey again expressed his satisfaction with this announcement only just this week in the House. Given that it has been almost six months since the announcement, when can residents in these areas expect to see the government deliver on its promise?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:30): I thank Senator Griff for his question. The Mobile Black Spot Program is something of which I am very proud as a member of this coalition government.

Senator Kim Carr: How many have actually been turned on? How many have actually been switched on? Not one. They were an election stunt, weren't they?

Senator NASH: I will take the interjection from Senator Carr. Do you want to know how much money was spent on mobile phone black spots under Labor? Not one cent in six years, Senator Carr. I come back to the question. Senator Griff might like to hear the answer, unlike Senator Carr. Senator Griff, thank you for that question. Under the black spot program, you would be well aware round 1 was announced addressing 3,000 black spots of the 6,000 black spots that were identified as areas that need to be addressed. Four hundred and ninety-nine towers were addressing those 3,000 black spots under round 1. We do, obviously, need to have a period of time while those 499 are addressed. There is a rollout of towers obviously according to the telecommunications carriers that roll these out. I am aware, of course, that not all of those have been done to date and that there is a rolling time line. I am very happy to come back to the senator with an indication of timeliness for the specific towers, but I reiterate: it is this government that is investing $220 million into addressing the very real issue of mobile phone black spots. Again, as I indicated earlier, under six years of Labor government, not one cent was spent in regional Australia on mobile phone black spots. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a supplementary question?





Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:32): As residents of Marree have no mobile phone coverage—and I am very pleased to hear that that will soon change—placing a heavy reliance very much on landline phones, during the South Australian power blackouts Marree was without any landline phone coverage as well, twice in one week, and it took over 24 hours for communications to be restored. Does the minister believe it is acceptable to be without any form of phone communication for over 24 hours?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:33): Of course, as somebody who actually resides in a regional area, I can understand the frustration of people in regional areas who had to do without their phones for that period of time. Clearly, this was an unprecedented weather event. I do understand the frustration of people who got caught in that circumstance and were not able to access those landlines during that period of time. But I think we also need to look at those who have a very strong focus, shall we say, on renewable energy. We need to make sure that the policies of those opposite, from Labor and the Greens, do not compromise our energy security in this nation. That is a discussion we need to have and a very serious one, because energy security is something about which we should all be concerned, and we certainly are on this side of the chamber. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a final supplementary question?



Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:34): Minister, there are just two remote area nurses in Marree. They service an area of several thousand square kilometres. How do you propose that these two nurses call for help if a health emergency arises during periods when no phone coverage whatsoever is available?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:34): I appreciate the question from Senator Griff. This is not a situation that we want to see at any point in time. Of course, it would make it incredibly difficult not only for those two remote area health nurses but also for health workers across South Australia who were caught up in those very, very difficult circumstances. But I do think that we need to acknowledge that it was an unprecedented weather event and that there were interruptions to telecommunications during that period of time that, while very concerning, I think need to be understood. I do understand the concerns from Senator Griff. It is not a situation that any of us want to be in. We do need to ensure that we have communications in regional areas that are as good as they can possibly be. That is why this coalition government is investing $220 million into the black spot program. Again, I inform the chamber that the Labor Party never invested a cent. (Time expired)