SUBJECT/S: Labor to boost mobile phone coverage for North West Tasmania, Printing and Communications Entitlements

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS: It’s great to be back here in Sulphur Creek in North West Tasmania with Senator Anne Urquhart and Labor’s Justine Keay.  The last time I was here we were talking to this business about the problems they were having with mobile phone reception.  In fact, it was affecting their income; their eftpos was dropping out all the time and right along the North West, you will find there are problems with mobile phone connectivity.

There are over 110 mobile phone black spots on the Government’s own mobile phone black spot database.  And yet….

JOURNALIST:  Just in the North West?

JONES:  Just in the North West.  And yet, the Government has put no money aside in their most recent Budget for addressing the problems with mobile phone black spots.  They think the job is done.  We don’t.

Which is why I’m here with Justine and Anne, today, to announce that a Shorten Labor Government will invest up to $2 million in a Connectivity Plan to address mobile phone black spots in the North West.  We’re focusing on the problems over in King Island, in Circular Head and in the North West in this district here.

We want to work with local stakeholders.  We know we can get a much better outcome if we work with the local Councils, the State Government and telecommunications companies themselves.  To make that $2 million stretch as far as possible, to get co-contributions from the phone companies as well as other tiers of government to ensure we can fix as many of the problems along this stretch and out at King Island as possible.

JUSTINE KEAY, LABOR’S CANDIDATE FOR BRADDON:  So we know that the lack of mobile connectivity is having a huge impact on our tourism sector and agricultural sector.  I’ve been speaking to farmers around their inability to connect when they are on the farm, even though a lot of our dairy companies want farmers to use technology to help reduce their costs, their inputs and boost production.  We know it’s impacting, particularly down the West Coast with mining operations as well.  Mayor Vickers has written a very strong letter to Telstra around that.

There are towns like Tullah that might have an Optus tower.  Not a lot of Tasmanians are connected to Optus.  The Telstra reception there is nearly nil and businesses are trying to operate there and they are trying to grow.  People want to live there and visit there.

What we are proposing is to help connect more communities, more businesses, more enterprises to the mobile network so we can boost productivity, service communities and particularly provide emergency services to towns, especially if there is a bush fire so that they can use their mobiles.

JOURNALIST:  And how will you prioritise these 110 black spots?  How do you decide what goes first?

JONES:  We have identified a number of the places where we think there is a need for priority.  So we have identified Circular Head, the West Coast and King Island as priority areas but we know that if we work with local stakeholders then we can make that money stretch a lot further than a top down approach which has been a problem with the Government’s scheme.  It’s been a problem with the delays in the Government’s scheme as well.  They’ve announced 12 black spots over the last four years – not all of them have been switched on because they have not worked with local stakeholders.  There is so much more to be done.

Justine mentioned the importance of emergency communications.  We know that around 30 per cent no longer have a landline.  We know that mobile phones are increasingly important.

If you look at the people who call ‘000’ during an emergency, 61 per cent of those calls are made from a mobile device because it’s always on. It’s in your hand and when something goes wrong people want the peace of mind to know that they can contact – they can hit ‘000’ and get emergency services.  Whether it’s bush fire or ambulance, that they have got those services on call.

So tourism, businesses, households – it’s important for everyone.

JOURNALIST:  The Federal Government’s black spot program is still continuing, isn’t it?

JONES:  No, it’s not.  I was quizzing the Minister in Parliament, yesterday, and they have admitted that there is no money in their Budget for further rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program.

JOURNALIST:  And there’s still yet 10,000 identified black spots across the country; and there was just the two rounds… three… three rounds.  Senator Colbeck said this morning that this announcement doesn’t really mean anything because, even if you were elected, you are still in opposition and wouldn’t be able to do anything.  How would you respond to that?

JONES:  We know there is going to be an election.  Whether it’s sometime between now and August, or sometime between now and Christmas… there is going to be an election.

KEAY:  I’ve been making funding announcements since last year.  There was no criticism then because they are just so out of touch that they don’t even know what’s happening in the community.  I think any Member in opposition should be out there listening to the community and identifying areas for funding where the Government is failing – at any point in time.  There is no point leaving it to the last minute.  I’ve been doing it throughout the term as Member; they are just clutching at straws.

JOURNALIST:  Another claim that they made was that since the State Liberal Government has been in power that they have fixed nine black spots and have three more to go.  They claimed that under the previous Labor State Government there was no black spots fixed.  How do you respond to that?

JONES:  Nine out of one hundred and ten – the job is not yet done.  Let me talk about the whole issue of addressing mobile phone black spots.  I’m glad that you’ve raised the issue.

To get a mobile signal into a place you need three things – power, you need what’s called backhaul cable which connects a tower to the rest of the network; and then you need the tower itself.  If you don’t have the backhaul cable then all you’ve got is a pole in the paddock.

Our priority when we were in government was making sure that when the NBN was building their wireless NBN towers they were able to be co-located with mobile technology.

So they are fixing mobile phone black spots at the same time as they are putting in wireless NBN services.

Secondly, getting backhaul in to remote places around the country.  We spent $250 million on the regional backhaul program to ensure that we had the cable in so that you could then come along and put a tower on top of it so you had a service.

JOURNALIST:  So this rollout it needs to include tower, backhaul and power?

JONES:  Unless you have all of those three things then all you have is a pole in a paddock.

JOURNALIST:  Have you been in discussion with Telstra about this?

JONES:  In developing our policy, we have had discussions with Telstra, with Optus, with Vodafone – in fact, all of the large telecommunications companies because the announcement that Justine and I are making today needs to work hand-in-hand with the mobile phone operators, themselves.

What we want is three way investment – State and local governments, the mobile phone companies and the Commonwealth making a contribution.  That is where you get the best results.

JOURNALIST:  And local government have been speaking with, particularly, Telstra.  Telstra were pretty much hauled down to Tullah a few weeks ago to front a public meeting about this.  The King Island Council have been in discussion with Telstra about the issues on their island.

For Tasmanians, Telstra is really the only choice if you want good coverage.  Do you think the other companies are interested in boosting their coverage here so that people actually have a choice?

JONES:  So one of the things that we have been critical of; and the Australian National Audit Office has been critical of the Government is, the way in which they have managed - in fact, mismanaged – the mobile black spot program.  They haven’t put enough emphasis on ensuring that the towers can co-locate different company’s equipment.  A feature of our program will be that there has to be an offer of colocation.  They have to do everything possible to ensure that if Telstra builds a tower then they make space on their tower available to Optus or Vodafone, or any of the other competitors who want to strap their gear on that tower.

That way people don’t have a handcuff on saying if they want a phone signal in North West Tasmania then they only have one option available to them.  It’s about providing coverage and competition.

JOURNALIST:  That is all my questions on that subject.  I just have another question for you. Senator Abetz claimed that you have spent more than $68,000 on printing and communications in three months.  Firstly, is that correct?  And did you spend this amount because you knew that you were heading to a by-election?

KEAY:  I spent the amount because I was the Member for Braddon.  All that communication was communicating with my constituents.  We did our pensioner information kit – we printed that.  We did our veterans information kit – we printed that.  We have a new section being re-distributed into Braddon – so communicating with that community.

Notifying my constituents of mobile offices, which I have held throughout the electorate, for people to come and meet with me. 

They are the communications as a Member of Parliament that you would expect any Member of Parliament to do.  That’s what they were for. 

It was for no other reason than being a Member of Parliament and the Member for Braddon. 

Communicating with my electorate so that they had the opportunity to meet with me, I was informing them of what pensioners are entitled to, what veterans are entitled to.

JONES:  If the worst thing (Abetz) can say is that (Justine is) communicating with the electorate, then go hard.