Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts. Will the minister please update the House on what the Morrison government is doing to ensure that Australians stay connected, particularly during the upcoming disaster season?
I thank the member for Barker, who is a very strong advocate for the importance of regional communications. His question goes to the critical importance of communications in bushfires and other natural disasters to coordinate emergency response, to call for help, to get reliable information and advice and to let friends and family know you're okay. These things, and many more, are the reasons communication is critical. That's why we've moved quickly to learn and to act on the lessons of last year's bushfires when it comes to maintaining connectivity.
We announced the $37.1 million Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disasters package. Under that package, 467 base stations will receive extra battery back-up to ensure that they keep providing mobile coverage for at least 12 hours, even when there is a loss of mains power, because we know from what happened in the bushfires last year that, overwhelmingly, it was a loss of mains power and not direct fire damage that caused mobile coverage to go out.
In the member for Barker's own electorate, base stations at Mindarie, Mundulla West and Wynarka will all have extended battery back-up for at least 12 hours of operation. We've committed $10 million for temporary telecommunications infrastructure—that is, cells on wheels, or COWs. They're a little different to the cows the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology was speaking about! They're satellite connected cells on wheels—satellite COWs. They are devices that can be rolled into areas that have lost connectivity so that immediately there is mobile connectivity—so important. There are 12 NBN portable satellite kits and five satellite equipped Road Muster trucks.
I saw this morning at Namadgi National Park a demonstration of one of these new trucks. They worked well on the South Coast of New South Wales last year, in Batemans Bay and in the other locations. The truck arrives and all of a sudden, even if the terrestrial network is down and even if there's no power, you can get connectivity with your smartphone and you can get wi-fi connectivity. It's so important. It's $7 million for satellite connectivity to rural fire service depots and evacuation centres around the country. There will be almost 100 connected before the end of the year, with a total of 2,000 to be connected. Our comeback from the pandemic and from the recession is about a stronger, safer and more secure Australia. Nothing could be more important in keeping Australians safe than better connectivity in emergencies.