Mobile Phone Blackspots


Click here to watch Sharon’s speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (12:52): I commend the member for Indi for the motion. It is an important issue and increasingly one that we all get significant representations on in our electorates. I represent a seat that covers the third largest city in New South Wales, Wollongong, yet we have significant black spot areas that create a real difficulty for people just trying to lead a normal modern life.

I was reflecting, as other members were speaking, that as an MP, if somebody had rung your office and said they wanted to talk to you about mobile phone coverage, nine times out of 10 it would have been to complain about the proposed siting of a mobile phone tower. I well remember when I chaired the infrastructure committee of this House and we looked at the legislation that covers those sorts of issues, because there was a great push to clamp down on and narrow the sorts of places that mobile phone towers could be located. You are always dealing with these competing problems: on the one hand, people complain they cannot get mobile phone coverage; on the other, nobody wants mobile phone towers. It has been a vexed problem for members of parliament at all levels, including our local government colleagues, for quite a long time. It is interesting that that has changed in more recent years as people become far more reliant on their mobile phone technology and their mobile broadband technology, which nowadays happens to be in the one device often, and more tolerant of the need to put infrastructure in place in order to get the sort of coverage they expect.

A couple of years ago I had a number of organisations come to me from the little town of Bundeena. If you are not familiar with it, it is right on the headland with the sea on one side and the mouth of the river on the other, and it is surrounded by the Royal National Park. It is a beautiful spot but it is really difficult to get mobile phone coverage. Organisations like the local Rural Fire Service, who have to provide services into the Royal National Park, were having real concerns. City based people would come down to have a lovely day and do a walk through the park and so forth. In emergency situations very often people were out of mobile phone range. People are quite complacent; they tend to presume that they can get mobile phone coverage pretty much everywhere these days, and they can be quite put out when those sorts of situations arise.

So the Rural Fire Service and the Bundeena Progress Association have been talking to me for quite a while about their problems. We got some of the carriers to come out and have a look at what they might be able to offer. The problem is that the geography, which makes it such a beautiful place, also limits the population size. It is difficult to get a competitive business argument up for better coverage.

It will not surprise anybody that I have put that on my list to Minister Turnbull as a site I would like to see this blackspot program go to. I am shamelessly using the opportunity of this motion put before us by the member for Indi to publicly lobby the minister to look kindly upon our application.

The other thing I want to touch on in the bit of time left to me—the shadow minister is doing a fabulous job in this space by inspiring understanding of the sector—is, as the previous speaker mentioned, the fact that private providers will often say to you, 'We've got this 90, 95 or 99 per cent coverage.' They are talking about people not place. That, by its very nature, ignores the fact that you are talking about mobile technology. People are mobile, so they are often moving into places that the footprint does not cover.

The other two things that the member for Throsby and I have asked the minister to look at are the transport links—the road links coming into the Illawarra and the train line. A number of people who commute for work want to use their mobile devices to have conversations and access their broadband. Those transport corridors—road and rail—are significantly important. So I hope my plea is heard. It is a genuine one. As a large commuter corridor, this area has many people from Sydney moving down. They are often quite horrified when they discover that our topography means that the coverage is not great. I think it is an important aspect of modern life and I am happy to put the plea in on behalf of my constituents.