"It's appalling": Horsham council takes mobile phone coverage fight to Canberra

HORSHAM Rural City Council will ramp up its fight for adequate mobile phone coverage for the municipality’s worst black spots by taking a deputation to Canberra.

Council voted to seek face-to-face meetings with federal communications officials at Monday night’s meeting in Horsham.

The decision follows anger over Wartook Valley residents being left without access to vital emergency services on January 16 and 17 while bushfires raged in the region.

Cr Pam Clark said while council had been advocating for mobile coverage in the Wartook and Laharum areas for decades, last month’s bushfire crisis brought the issue to a head.

“We’re supposedly a developed country, and we can’t even ring our neighbour to see if they’re okay during a bushfire,” she said.

“That is appalling. As a council we really need to push hard while we’ve got this incident to use as a banner.”

Council chief executive Peter Brown said council would seek meetings with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Parliamentary Secretary Paul Fletcher.

He will ask Member for Mallee Andrew Broad to facilitate the meetings.

“Andrew Broad is very supportive of the need to fix mobile phone blackspots in the region,” he said.

Mr Broad and Member for Western Victoria David O’Brien toured fire-affected areas with council representatives on January 28.

Mr Broad revisited the region yesterday.

“They got the opportunity to meet with people from the communities – such as Luke and Rachel Dunn, Steve Price and Russell Peucker – to hear first-hand stories from the people who were involved as volunteer fire-fighters, farmers and residents,” Mr Brown said.

He said Premier Denis Napthine also expressed his support for need for mobile phone coverage in Wartook, Laharum and Brimpaen while visiting the fire zone on January 18.

Mr Brown said Dr Napthine would support council’s bid for federal funding to fix the issue.

“It was a terrible situation, not having mobile phone coverage during the bushfires,” he said.

“There was potential for the worst to happen – we are very, very lucky the outcome wasn’t much worse.”

Mayor David Grimble said council was not just reacting to the recent bushfire.

“We also need to pick up the issue on behalf of the agricultural sector, businesses and tourism, along with its social impact,” he said.

“Lack of coverage has been well recognised in a number of community events council has been involved with and we’ve written letters over a number of years.

“Let’s not write another letter – let’s actually have face-to-face contact and really press the point home.”

“Let’s not write another letter – let’s actually have face-to-face contact and really press the point home.”

Mr Brown said council was also working with neighbouring municipalities to lobby for money to eliminate blackspots across the region.

The Federal Government is taking submissions for a mobile coverage program discussion paper until February 28.

Mr Brown said Wimmera Development Association and Wimmera Mallee Tourism were working on submissions on behalf of the Wimmera and Southern Mallee regions.

He said the Federal Government had allocated $100 million towards a black spots program.

Council has written to Dr Napthine and Prime Minister Tony Abbott to stress the importance of improved mobile phone coverage for the municipality’s worst-affected communities.

“We believe that the needs of the Wartook Valley, Laharum and Brimpaen should be a very high priority and should be funded through this program,” Mr Brown said.

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