Mobile and broadcast black spots

Mobile and broadcast black spots Main Image

10 November 2020

My question is to the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts. My electorate of Eden-Monaro has some of the worst mobile and broadcast black spots, including ABC black spots. You don't have to drive far from this place to experience these dangerous and frustrating black spots.

We saw during last year's devastating bushfires that reliable coverage can make all the difference in a crisis. That is why I'm committed to improving mobile coverage across Eden-Monaro, with a particular focus on community black spots and transport corridors; the installation of power back-up for broadcasting transmission facilities, so they work for longer during natural disasters; providing essential facilities and providers across our region with satellite phones, power generators and satellite NBN so they can stay connected during emergencies; and improving broadcast coverage across Eden-Monaro, with a focus on ABC local radio black spots in areas of high bushfire risk. Communities across Eden-Monaro shouldn't have to wait any longer for this to happen.

Back in September I wrote to the minister about the loss of the SBS signal in the town of Bermagui. Overnight, more than 1,500 people lost access to SBS and NITV without any warning. The company maintaining the transmission site was doing so for free and couldn't afford to keep footing the bill. As a result of this government's inaction, the broadcasters have been forced to pay an extra $600,000 per year to run these transmission sites. How many programs, services or jobs will the ABC and SBS need to cut to fill this $600,000 hole? This is simply not good enough, and regional Australians deserve better from this government.

It is shameful that the minister is cutting ABC funding and refusing ABC proposals for enhanced service provision in regional Australia. The Morrison government rejected an ABC proposal to invest tens of millions of dollars in regional services and emergency broadcasting capabilities. By refusing to reverse the $83.7 million worth of cuts to the ABC, the government has short-changed regional Australia when it comes to vital news and emergency broadcasting services. These revelations expose the utter hypocrisy of the Morrison government when it comes to regional Australia and keeping Australians safe.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, several government sources have confirmed that Mr Fletcher did not reply to the letter, nor did he discuss the proposal with the ABC or his National Party colleagues, who have constantly raised concerns over the future of regional media outlets following a spate of natural disasters, including last summer's fires. It beggars belief that The Nationals did not know about these proposals. Regional media is in crisis and has been pushed to the brink of market failure on the seven-year watch of this inept Liberal-National government.

In June last year, the ACCC delivered a report to government which warned that news deserts are emerging in Australia and that public broadcasters are not adequately resourced to fill the breach. Since then, the devastating closure of hundreds of regional and community newspapers means there is an increasing and urgent need for ABC news gathering. What's more, evidence to the bushfire royal commission made it clear that ABC local radio broadcast network resilience is an area of need which the government has neglected.

This government makes a lot of saying that the ABC doesn't do enough for regional Australia, even as it cuts ABC funding. ABC emergency coverage saved lives during the summer bushfires, and staff came off leave to ensure Australians were kept informed. This year, over 200 dedicated ABC staff faced the sack during a recession and a pandemic, as a result of the Liberal-National government's cuts.

Minister, when will the government act to make these vital improvements to regional communication? When will the government improve mobile coverage across Eden-Monaro; ensure the ABC and SBS are funded to maintain regional transmission services, previously maintained by a private company for free; ensure broadcast transmission sites in regional Australia are hardened to ensure resilience during bushfire; reverse its short-sighted and dangerous cuts to the ABC; and support local news and emergency broadcasting in regional Australia, including in my seat of Eden-Monaro?