Two things you can invariably find agreement on among rural residents, especially during an election campaign: poor internet speeds and patchy mobile phone reception.
So recent weeks have witnessed a bidding war between politicians in a rush to be seen to be doing something about mobile phone black spots
First off the blocks was Kevin Hogan (Page, Nationals) who announced, new mobile base stations in Nammoona, Ramornie, Yorklea, and Kyogle in his electorate.
And during the announcement, communications minister Fiona Nash didn’t beat about the bush when she compared the Coalition’s record on the issue to Labor’s.
‘The Coalition is investing $220 million into fixing mobile black spots; in six years of government Labor invested $0. The Coalition is fixing 3,000 black spots in Round 1 alone of its mobile black spot program; Labor fixed zero black spots. The black spots scorecard reads: Coalition $220 million and 3,000 black spots so far; Labor $0 and zero black spots,’ Senator Nash said.
And while Labor’s Page candidate, Janelle Saffin, has remained silent on the issue, in next-door Richmond Labor’s incumbent Justine Elliot used the opportunity to announce that Labor now also had a black spot program.
She said that under the government’s watch there were some ‘glaring omissions in the mobile black spot program’.
‘There are locations that should have been funded but were not, Lennox Head, Ocean Shores, Pottsville and Uki are examples of this.’
Labor, needless to say, had found funds for these locations.
‘The majority of residents in Pottsville, Lennox Head, Ocean Shores and Uki are totally frustrated with Malcolm Turnbull’s failed mobile phone rollout, which means they experience poor mobile coverage at home and at work.
‘The Uki region is in close proximity to Mt Warning, which attracts thousands of tourists each year. This area suffers from little to no coverage bringing with it a whole range of challenging access, business and safety issues for locals and tourists,’ she said.
Ms Elliot added that ‘of the 499 mobile towers funded in round one of the mobile black spot program, as of 4 May 2016 only 21 had been switched on’.
This in turn brought a swift rebuke from Richmond Nationals candidate Matthew Fraser.
‘I really try to avoid negative politics’, Mr Fraser said, before going on to indulge in a bit of it himself.
‘[Labor’s] $2 million black spot announcement… seems to have been pulled out of thin air on the day.
‘It is uncosted, unfunded, and is not part of any wider Labor policy – in fact they don’t even have a mobile black spot programme,’ he said.
‘Despite being in government for six years on Justine Elliot’s watch, Labor did not spend one single dollar on improving mobile coverage – in fact, they abolished the $2.4 billion Communications Fund.’
By contrast, the Coalition is committing an additional $60 million to the mobile black spot program, bringing the total investment to $220 million.
‘For the record, the Richmond electorate is currently receiving $3.25 million in funding towards the round 1 base stations in Clunes, Farrants Hill, Kunghur, Possum Creek and Burringbar and will be completed by the end of the year – Burringbar in early 2017.
Never one to step back from a stoush, Ms Elliot responded in kind.
‘Nobody can ever trust a word the National Party has to say,’ Ms Elliot said.
The Nationals have cut $57 billion from healthcare and more than $30 billion from education funding and they’ve failed to deliver NBN to our region.
‘I was very proud to announce that an elected Labor Government will allocate up to $2 million to fix mobile black spots in Pottsville, Lennox Head, Ocean Shores, and Uki.
‘Locals are totally frustrated with Malcolm Turnbull and the Nationals’ failed mobile black spot rollout, which means poor mobile coverage at home and at work.
‘A Labor Government will fix this and invest in critical infrastructure across our region,’ Ms Elliot said.
Speaking personally, while some far-flung locations undoubtedly need attention, there are plenty of places even in town that lack reasonable mobile phone reception.
Bangalow, where I live, is one example. While things have improved in the eight years since I’ve been here, it’s not unusual to have tourists ask you where’s the nearest place they can get reception for their Vodaphone. The common accurate reply is ‘Byron Bay’.
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