Wimmera bushfire-prone areas to wait for mobile coverage

RESIDENTS in bushfire-prone areas who have poor mobile phone cover will have to endure another fire season before the Federal Government fixes the problem.

A spokesman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications Paul Fletcher confirmed that even in the event that an area such as Wartook was approved for mobile upgrades, no work would begin until next year.

“We’ll be looking at distributing funding some time next year,” he said.

A discussion paper for the $100-million project was released in December last year, with the Federal Government committing $80 million to improve mobile coverage along major transport routes and in small communities and areas prone to natural disasters.

Submissions are now open for suggestions on how the program will be designed, with the focus on the structure of the policy’s implementation rather than areas needing improvement.

In the second half of this year submissions will open for people to propose areas requiring mobile phone improvements.

Following those submissions, Mr Fletcher will tour electorates with parliamentarians to survey black spot areas.

On Wednesday, Member for Mallee Andrew Broad told the House of Representatives the Grampians fires had highlighted mobile phone cover as a major issue.

“Mobile phone coverage in our area must improve,” he said.

“Our government has made a commitment to spend some dollars on it, and it will be my ambition as the local member to make sure that we can get enough dollars into the electorate of Mallee to address the issue of mobile coverage.

“I will bring the minister responsible down to the electorate. We must make sure that this part of Australia receives its fair share when it comes to telecommunications.”

The areas will be chosen on the basis of representations from citizens, organisations and elected representatives.

Horsham Rural City councillor Pam Clarke said it was encouraging to hear politicians talking about the issue in state and federal parliament.

She said a continued campaign would be the only way to achieve results.

“If we’re silent nothing will happen,” she said. “Often the squeaky wheel gets the funding, so we need to keep being the squeaky wheel.”

Cr Clarke, who has campaigned for mobile phone upgrades at Wartook, said she remained cautious about what the funding might achieve in the northern Grampians area.

“I think there are quite a few catches with this funding so it will depend on the fine print,” she said.

“In reality, $100 million is not going to go far across Australia so I don’t hold high hopes for it.”

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