House debates

Monday, 22 November 2021

Private Members' Business


6:39 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] I thank the member for Mayo for raising this important issue of regional communications. Before I get to the body of my speech, I want to make a short comment on the contribution made by the previous speaker, the member for Berowra. I'm sure he's very earnest in all of his views, but let's not forget that he is a member of a government that has allowed this state of affairs to manifest. He's also a member of the political party that we can lay this at the feet of. The cause of all this began with the privatisation of Telstra, so many years ago, under the party that he represents. So if the member for Berowra is serious about the issues he's raising, he needs to do a lot more to get his colleagues in the government on board.

The member for Mayo understands, as I do, the vital role that is played by telecommunications in a regional electorate. We share a vision of equitable access to reliable and quality telecommunications across regional Australia. We both know that our constituents, the people that we represent, are not being looked after by this government. Making a call and jumping online should not be this hard, yet, just 20 minutes from my office here in southern Tasmania, driving down Back Tea Tree Road on my way home, the signal drops out. It's a very busy road.

Further down the Tasman Highway, towards stunning Port Arthur, one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country, you'll find the same issue. There's no connectivity. Conara, in the Northern Midlands, just off our busy Midland Highway and barely half an hour south of Launceston has the same story. Not only no mobile connectivity, but this is a small township that is on satellite. I was pleased to hear the member for Mayo draw attention to this issue, as there are far too many places that are on satellite that should not be. Satellite should be a last resort for remote homes that can't get any other service. Conara and the town of Fingal, in the municipality of Break O'Day in my electorate, are both townships that use satellite. They should be on fixed wireless at the very least. In far too many places across my electorate, no bars, no internet, nothing.

I once met with a constituent from Interlaken in our Central Highlands who was mobility impaired. She could barely walk, let alone safely drive. Yet she still had to drag herself into a car and head east for 45 minutes just to find a signal so that she could call her family for assistance. Not good enough! Throughout my electorate there are black spots, and not just on isolated country roads: the back blocks of Bicheno and a section north of Triabunna, swathes of the Central Highlands—it shouldn't be this way. There are black spots even in fairly well populated areas—as I say, Conara, Fingal.

Telecommunication is not a luxury anymore. It is an essential service to modern society. Smartphone technology and internet access support social connectivity, business activity and help deliver health and education services. Every Australian, no matter their postcode, should have access to quality, reliable and affordable telecommunications. It is laughable that a government hell-bent on moving services online—My Aged Care, all the Centrelink services—can also fail to make connectivity a priority for their voters and for Australians. There must be equitable access to these services. We must close the digital divide between country and city, but under this Liberal government we are seeing a growing inequity. We've seen Australians, and Tasmanians in particular, who live in rural, regional and remote areas left behind. A recent survey conducted by my office found almost 80 per cent of the 400 respondents had experienced issues with their internet connection: poor speeds, service dropouts, limited assistance from operators—the list goes on.

Reliable quality, high-speed reception and internet is not a luxury or a 'nice to have'; it is essential 21st century infrastructure. We've wasted 20 years of this century. Let's get serious about it now. It's clear that this tired Liberal government cannot be trusted to deliver to regional Tasmanians. But Labor does have a plan to tackle this growing issue. An Albanese Labor government will secure quality high-speed internet for more Australian families and businesses by expanding full fibre NBN access to 1.5 million premises.


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