Wednesday, 26 August 2020
Shortland Electorate: Telecommunications
Access to mobile phone reception in our homes is something most of us take for granted. It's an essential component of life in the 21st century. However, many of my constituents do not have access to mobile phone reception in their homes. The suburb of Mount Hutton is five minutes from my electorate office. It is 95 minutes from Sydney. We are contacted regularly by constituents in Mount Hutton who have little, very poor or, in some circumstances, absolutely no mobile phone reception in their homes.
I particularly want to draw to the attention of the House a doctor, who has asked not to be identified, who works both at the John Hunter Hospital and for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service. He cannot effectively perform his work, including the vital role of being on call, because he has next to no mobile phone coverage in his home. This is a medical professional working in a public hospital, and for a rescue helicopter service, who in the middle of a global health pandemic cannot be contacted by his employer at his home.
He raises another point: that in the event of an emergency like a bushfire his family would not be able to receive emergency messages on their phones. This constituent had better reception in remote parts of the Northern Territory, where he previously worked. He moved back to a suburb in Lake Macquarie, about 10 kilometres from the Newcastle CBD, and he cannot use his mobile phone in his house. That is an absolute disgrace.
I have also been contacted by Sandra and Graham, an elderly couple in Mount Hutton. Graham had a stroke and, unfortunately, has Parkinson's disease. Living in the period of the COVID pandemic his telehealth appointments with his treating doctors have been essential. But because of the poor mobile phone coverage these appointments have been unnecessarily difficult. Sandra has said that, whilst they have been able to do verbal appointments on their landline, specialists such as Graham's neurosurgeon must observe him. The last appointment had to be conducted standing in the hallway of the house, which was the only part of the house that could get reception. Even on their landlines they've had difficulties with reception if the incoming caller is ringing on a mobile. They've even had to have phone calls on their front footpath. Yet this is 90 minutes from the Sydney CBD. Mount Hutton is one of many suburbs all throughout Shortland that have this problem. Just last week, another constituent, a small business owner in nearby Jewells, was also in touch. He too has to go outside his house to make calls. This is not good enough in the year 2020.
I have made repeated representations to the minister and his response is, basically, that it is the responsibility of the telcos to invest in infrastructure. So I've written to the CEOs of Telstra and Optus drawing attention to the fact that hundreds of my constituents have little or no phone coverage in Mount Hutton, and asked that they invest in much-needed infrastructure so that their paying customers can access the services they are paying for.
It's also worth noting that the minister has told me that suburbs in Shortland are not eligible for the government's mobile phone black spot funding program because we are a regional area and the program only funds projects in rural areas. This is absurd. We've a whole suburb that is basically a mobile black spot. There is a government program to fund mobile black spots, and the government tells my constituents, 'Bad luck, you're not eligible.' Meanwhile, they use the program to pork-barrel in rural National Party seats. It is beyond unfair; it is an insult to my constituents and every resident in Shortland and my region.
I cannot believe that I have to make the point to the government that access to basic services such as mobile phone reception in your home are essential in the 21st century. My constituents in Mount Hutton and in suburbs all around the electorate where there are reception issues, from Redhead in the north to Budgewoi in the south, deserve better.
I take this opportunity to urge Telstra and Optus to invest in the much-needed infrastructure so my constituents can use their mobile phones in their houses. I also call on the minister to enable the Mobile Black Spot Program to fund projects in regional as well as rural areas. I also draw to the attention of the House the fact that the government often does not allocate all the funding available in the different rounds of this program. There is money in this fund not being spent—money that could solve problems in my electorate right now if only it was deemed eligible. In the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the government urgently needs to be investing in infrastructure to stimulate and grow the economy. It is a no-brainer that mobile black spot funding should be allocated to Mount Hutton and other areas with issues in Shortland. My constituents deserve better than this. I'll continue to fight for my constituents to have access to genuine and reliable mobile phone reception. They deserve this. I will fight for this every day.