Shayne Neumann MP
Federal Member for Blair

Australian Labor
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Telecommunication Problems in Blair

22/02/2016

Given the social, economic and geographic diversity of the Blair electorate, it is no surprise that the concerns of residents often vary according to local circumstances.

The challenges facing a farmer in Kilcoy are often different from those of a young family moving into a new housing estate in Ripley Valley south of Ipswich, a retiree in Pine Mountain, a school student in Bundamba or a young woman keen to start a home based business in Brassall. Nevertheless, one grievance unites all the people of Blair: frustration and anger at our telecommunication system.

The undeniable truth is that large areas of Ipswich and the Somerset region do not have fast and reliable telecommunication technology. This hampers local residents, hinders the educational opportunities of our students and harms our local economy.

Barely a day passes—certainly not a week passes—without a resident telling me about a problem with their landline, mobile phone or internet service.

Last year, these complaints became so frequent that I launched my Blair telecommunications survey so I could get to the bottom of problems for each constituent who contacted me and meet directly with phone and internet providers to push them to lift their game. I have met with a number of them.

Tonight I want to speak briefly about some of the telecommunications problems facing the people of Blair.

Landlines still matter to people in Ipswich and Somerset. Despite recent statistics suggesting nearly one-third of adults no longer have a fixed line, these remain a necessity for many people living in Blair. For the elderly, ill and vulnerable in the community, a home phone is the easiest way to contact family and friends.

Unfortunately, a home phone depends on an ageing copper network that is in poor condition in many parts of Blair.

Recently Telstra admitted that it did not even fully know about the quality of its own network.

What we do know is that faults and failures in the copper network frequently disrupt local phone services. I saw that last year when flooding around Esk caused by the storm and flood conditions we often get in Queensland flooded the Telstra pits. According to Telstra, that was the reason for many people in the Esk region not having access to landlines for about a month.

Poor mobile phone coverage is another common complaint in Blair.

While some areas have adequate coverage, there are several notorious black spots, particularly in the Somerset region. Some towns struggle to get mobile reception. This lack of mobile reception is a hand brake on the local economy and a real safety issue for locals and travellers.

I was pleased to lobby along with the Somerset Regional Council for $710,000 in the Mobile Black Spot Program funding in round 1 for areas such as Linville, Moore and Somerset Dam. I also lobbied hard in the second round for areas around Coominya, Esk and Toogoolawah to improve mobile phone reception.

However, on 17 February I was frustrated to learn that the Turnbull government had included neither Moore nor Somerset Dam—and that includes Linville—on the program's first six-month rollout in round 1. It means that local residents may need to wait up to a further 2½ years to see mobile coverage improvements in their community.

That is simply not good enough, and I have written to the Minister for Communications to urge him to give priority consideration to building mobile infrastructure in Moore, Linville and Somerset Dam by the end of 2016.

The NBN is another bane in the life of people in the region.

Under Labor, the country towns as well as Ipswich would all get fibre to the premises and those people living in the rural and remote areas of Blair would also get coverage through advanced satellite commissions and other technology.

On 18 February I hosted a public forum in Ipswich to allow people to voice their concerns, and I am pleased that the shadow minister for communications, the member for Blaxland, attended to meet with local residents and business owners to hear firsthand their accounts of phone and internet problems besetting parts of Ipswich and the Somerset region.

We had a good discussion that night, and business owners working in the Ipswich telecommunications industry took the time to come along and talk about their experiences.

The member for Blaxland, the shadow minister, heard many stories about the future of the NBN.

After two and a half years of the Abbott-Turnbull government, local people were understandably concerned about the NBN—about when they will get it, how they will get it and how fast it will be. They are right to be worried, because it has blown out.

Malcolm Turnbull our now Prime Minister promised his second-rate NBN would be built for $29.5 billion. That has now doubled and become $56 billion.

He promised his second-rate NBN would reach all homes and businesses by the end of 2016. That has more than doubled now to seven years.

As usual the Prime Minister says one thing but does another. On the NBN, it is simply not good enough for Ipswich and the Somerset region. The Prime Minister should do much, much better.