Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Speech in Parliament: Telecommunications

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (16:34): I was pleased earlier today to join with many colleagues for the announcement by the Minister for Communications and the parliamentary secretary to him of the important mobile phone black spot program funding. As you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, who is at the table, know, in outer suburban rural and regional electorates, such as those we represent, this is a vitally important issue. I want to speak today about the two communities I have worked very closely with that have received funding for base stations. It is going to make a real difference to mobile phone connectivity.

I will speak first of the Steels Creek community. The Minister for Communications mentioned this in question time today. Back in March 2013 I drove the now minister to Steels Creek to meet 30 or 40 locals who were desperate to see what they could do to get a mobile phone tower. There was little coverage in the area. In fact, most people had no coverage at all at their residence. They were understandably passionate about this issue in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires that had such a devastating impact on the Yarra Valley and the Steels Creek community in particular.

That meeting with the minister and subsequent meetings over the course of 2013 helped form the basis of the policy that we took to the election that led to the funding commitment, the assessment and the announcement of the locations today. I want to pay particular tribute to some of the leaders in the Steels Creek Association—Eva Matthews, Allan Giffard, Jo Spears and Athel Smith—and many others in that association for all of their hard work. They will be very pleased with the announcement today and even more pleased when the mobile phone tower goes up. In April of the same year, I attended a large and robust community meeting in East Warburton, where similarly mobile phone coverage was negligible or nonexistent for many residents, as it is today. A group was formed out of that public meeting. I want to pay tribute to them: John Harry, Noel Arnold, Roger Lynch and Jane Halper, who I have spoken with at that meeting and subsequently.

Having gone to those meetings and seen those two priority areas, when the program came into existence when we formed government I met with the Yarra Ranges Council when the time came for submissions. I want to pay tribute to the council. In electorates like ours there are lots of challenges with mobile phone connectivity. If submissions for tens of areas were put in it would not be as effective as if we could agree on the two priorities. The council agreed that Steels Creek and East Warburton were the two most important locations at that time and joined with me in putting in a joint submission to the department on those two locations, which have now been funded. I thank the chief executive officer, Mr Glenn Patterson, for his intense interest, and Ali Wastie, the director of social and economic development. I thank the two councillors representing those communities—Councillor Jim Child, who represents East Warburton and the upper Yarra Valley, and Councillor Fiona McAllister, who represents Steels Creek and the Yarra Glen and Healesville area. And I thank the mayor of the Yarra Ranges, Maria McCarthy, for her ongoing interest in and vigorous representations on the issue. This is a wonderful program and it is a wonderful day for those two communities of Steels Creek and East Warburton.

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