April 19, 2022

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: I acknowledge that we meet on the land of the Awabakal people and acknowledge any Elders past, present, and emerging. Thank you to Diane and the wonderful Eleebana Shores community for letting us come back. I am joined by Michelle Rowland

(phone interruption)

The fabulous Shadow Minister for Communications, and Stephen Jackson who is a resident here at Eleebana Shores who is going to talk about his experience in a minute. But when I had a morning tea here a couple of months ago, one of the most important issues that was raised was mobile phone reception. It’s one of the many black spots in our community that are facing, quite frankly, a dark age. It’s one where we’re 90 minutes from the biggest city in the country. We’re in a rich, developed nation, we’re in a built-up area, and the fact that we don’t have decent mobile phone coverage is a disgrace. So Michelle will be making an announcement on that shortly, but I just thought I’d introduce Stephen to talk about the experience of Eleebana Shores residents. So over to you, Stephen.

STEPHEN JACKSON, ELEEBANA SHORES RESIDENT: Thank you. Well despite my phone just going off, it just shows what we were told when we came here was correct. There is mobile reception in this village, but it’s patchy. Here, it was working. Down where we are at Block A, it works on the front end, on the roadside end, but if you go to the study, there’s just no reception at all. The ladies who are opposite us – and there are a couple of them here now – they have to come out onto the road to use their mobile phones, and the people behind us have to come out onto the road to use their phones.

So it’s not a very satisfactory situation. I raised this issue at the residents meeting a couple of months ago – unfortunately I wasn’t able to come to the meeting that Mr Conroy came to more recently – but I am pleased that someone was brave enough to raise the issue with him at that meeting, and I am looking forward to hearing what’s going to be said today about what we can do about the reception. So that’s really all I want to say except that it’s not a very good situation with the mobile phone reception, and I don’t think I need to tell anyone that. I think you all know.

CONROY: Thanks Stephen, and now I will introduce Michelle Rowland to make an announcement about what Labor would do if we are fortunate enough to be elected at the next election. Over to you, Michelle.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thanks Pat, and thanks ladies and gentlemen for coming along today, but particularly thank you for the feedback you have given to Pat Conroy as your Federal Member about in particular two key issues in the communications portfolio that is so integral to our quality of life. The first being as Pat said, the issue of mobile coverage. In this area and in surrounding areas such as Jewells and Lake Munmorah and Redhead for example, Budgewoi, there continues to be unfortunately patchy coverage that is not, in particular when we talk about this suburb right here, is not covered by any existing Federal Government programs to improve the situation. And they include the Mobile Black Spot Program and also the Peri-Urban Program.

So what we are committing to today is putting money on the table to improve this situation, with $2.25 million to improve mobile coverage in this area and its surrounds. Because we know exactly as we’ve heard, that adequate mobile coverage is not a nice to have, it’s absolutely essential, and this should go a long way to improving that quality of service and in turn residents’ quality of life.

The other important announcement that I’d like to make in the comms portfolio today arises from the significant work Pat has been doing listening to local residents over the past couple of years, and that is that there has been a series of problematic issues relating to the coverage of free-to-air television, particularly since the switchover from analogue to digital. And in some areas, this has meant that there has been patchy broadcast quality, but also a lot of people have spent significant money buying antenna and other equipment, getting specialist services in, to try and improve their signal, and often to no avail.

So today, we are announcing that if elected, Labor will put $2.5 million on the table to improve that broadcast reception in these areas, and that includes the regulator, the ACMA, undertaking a detailed study of what the options are, and also this includes in-built money for additional towers if needed. And if elected, Labor will work with the industry, with the regulator, and with local communities to ensure that both of these very important aspects are delivered, do have a measurable improvement on people’s quality of life, but also ensure that we recognise comms isn’t a nice thing to have. It isn’t a nice thing to have just to be able to use your mobile phone or to be able to enjoy free-to-air television. It’s absolutely essential in our society.

So thank you Pat for listening to the concerns of your local residents. We have put this on the table to say that we are very serious about this, that we understand that money is the way to improve this, but also ongoing consultation in the long-term to do that planning for the betterment of our entire community. Thanks Pat.

CONROY: Well there you have it, an announcement to improve mobile phone coverage in Eleebana, Redhead, Jewells, Budgewoi, Lake Munmorah, and Halekulani, something that will improve the quality of life. And just to give an example of not just how it impacts people here at Eleebana Shores – across the main road, Warners Bay Road, I’ve got constituents Graham and Sandra. Graham unfortunately had a stroke just before the COVID lockdown. Because of their poor telephone coverage, he was forced to do telehealth appointments from the side of Warners Bay Road. That is unacceptable in a modern country like this, so this will fix it. This is one of the most important issues for constituents, so I am grateful to Michelle for coming up to make the announcement, and can I thank Eleebana Shores again for their kind hospitality and for relaying to me how important this issue is.

Happy to answer any questions anyone might have.

REPORTER: How soon after the election will residents start to see the benefit of this new infrastructure?

ROWLAND: We will commence work on this as an absolute priority, so that includes getting the carriers together, getting the necessary approvals, identifying the sites, and of course there is a process of community consultation but we would make no delay on this. It’s something we would seek to prioritise as a matter of urgency upon election.

REPORTER: And sorry Pat I just had a question for you. We were just speaking to the Members [candidates] for Paterson, the Hunter and Senator Matt Canavan who said that 10,000 jobs across the Hunter region are at risk because Labor is considering reintroducing the carbon tax. What’s your response to that?

CONROY: That’s an absolute lie, and for Matt Canavan to come to our town and spread fear and scare workers is an absolute disgrace. Let’s be frank about who this guy is. I don’t normally get personal, but Matt Canavan is the greatest fraud in Australian politics today. This is a guy who grew up in inner city Brisbane, who was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers or KPMG, gets elected to Parliament, now he runs around the country smearing coal dust over his face and doing ads about how much he loves coal.

We have no plans along those lines. Our policy is to support coal mining, and more importantly to support coal miners. The most important issue for coal miners is the scourge of labour hire and casualisation that’s undermining their conditions every day of the week. There was a great court case that allowed casuals and part-time workers to get decent pay and conditions. What did this Government and Matt Canavan do? They passed a law with Pauline Hanson to extinguish those rights. They actually took away rights for coal miners which mean that we have some coal miners earning half of what another coal miner does because they are employed by labour hire. Labor will fix it with our Same Job, Same Pay policy. Matt Canavan is a fraud trying to scare people, and that’s incredibly disrespectful during this process. We support coal miners, we are grateful for what they do, and we will support them into the future.

REPORTER: Matt Canavan also said that the answer was not moving away from coal but rather introducing new technologies to cut down on emissions, and that he couldn’t see coal disappearing in the near future and he thought demand would always be strong. What’s your response to that?

CONROY: Well 80-90 per cent of our coal is sold overseas, so the future of those mines will be determined by board decisions in Tokyo, in South Korea, in India, and China. We support the industry, but we are also proud of our climate policy, and our climate policy will cut people’s power bills by $275 a year. Our climate policy will lead to 600,000 jobs being created in this country, 500,000 of which will be in regional areas such as ours. Our climate and energy policy will drive 82 per cent renewable energy into the Australian grid. But we will keep exporting coal to other countries that don’t have our fabulous solar and wind resource, and that’s really important. But for Matt Canavan to scare people just shows how low this guy is. He is treating workers as a backdrop for stunts rather than solving the problems they have which is about Same Job, Same Pay.

REPORTER: You’re up against Nell McGill again this time in the election. Last time she made quite a dent in your margin. How confident are you heading into May 21?

CONROY: Oh look, we’ve been getting positive feedback as we’ve been door knocking and phone banking, but I don’t take it for granted. We’re running on a really good, platform to improve the lives of people in our area: better health services to solve the GP crisis, bringing manufacturing home, solving the aged care crisis which is a national disgrace, and solving the communications black spots.

So I can talk to people about how we will improve the lives of every single person in Shortland if we are elected. I am not worried about what other people are doing. I’m here just to explain how we can make a positive difference to people’s lives.

REPORTER: Michelle, I just had a question for you sorry. How much has been spent already in the program do you know? Of the Black Spot Program?

ROWLAND: There currently – Round 5 has just concluded, so this is several million dollars for this one that’s just come up. What we have committed to not only in this Black Spot Program that we have been announcing, but a really important component of that is to ensure that we have a solid evidence base. So we have committed $20 million to undertake detailed evidence studies in conjunction with Australia Post. So this includes a placement of telemetry items on Australia Post assets which go right around Australia that are able to measure mobile phone signals. So we’ve announced that as part of this policy. We’ll continue to roll out these announcements because we want to ensure that no matter where people live, they have the best quality of mobile services because it’s so integral to people’s quality of life.

CONROY: And could I just supplement from a local angle on that question. The Mobile Phone Black Spot Program a couple of years ago had $80 million allocated to it but they only spent $40 million of it. The other $40 million went back to Treasury, but our area was excluded from applying for that Program, and we were excluded because we weren’t rural or regional enough. Well this Government seems to treat us like a metro area when it wants to give money to regions, and we get treated like a regional area when they want to give money to the metros.

We urgently need this infrastructure investment. The fact that this Government has ignored it for nine years again shows a level of disrespect for this region that’s quite unfortunate.

REPORTER: And is it an issue across all of NSW?

ROWLAND: It certainly is, and it particularly is an issue in those areas similar to here in Shortland where it’s not quite ‘regional’ to qualify for black spot funding, but it doesn’t qualify for any other peri-urban type projects. So whilst Pat has managed to achieve outcomes and I know recently getting the carriers to recognise there’s a business case for a new tower, it does require that level of co-investment in order to speed up this process. So it certainly is an issue. I represent an outer-metropolitan seat in western Sydney. It’s an issue particularly in fast-growing areas because there is only so much capacity that is available on those towers. So I think we need to recognise how important this is for these communities, get that solid evidence base, and fund those accordingly.

REPORTER: Do you think there needs to be measures in place whereby new developments can only be built once there is capacity in the network?

ROWLAND: I think that’s an integral question, because the current arrier powers and immunities program that we have is really designed to incorporate three elements. Firstly, it was done at a time when we talked about telecommunications rollout, it was about the fixed copper system. Secondly, whilst it does have a component of local input, we know that the biggest issue that locals raise now is the inability to get solid signals no matter where they are on their own premises. But the third of course is the time. There is that need to balance the time that it takes to have community consultation but also the urgent need to have good services now. And just as we plan for schools, hospitals, any other essential infrastructure going into developments, we should also be planning for communications, and that was the genesis for the National Broadband Network, but it also needs to drive everything that we do in other aspects including that mobile space.

So I think it is long overdue, and nothing really has progressed under this Government at all to improve this situation, but it is long overdue that we have planning in advance of when new developments are built, accounting for these new people who are going in, because the reality is that the more people you have utilising a network, the more it will degrade the quality of those services, so that’s a huge issue.

REPORTER: And that’s something Labor will commit to?

ROWLAND: Absolutely, and we have long been on the record saying we support an overhaul of this system that’s been in place for some time. It’s just a pity that nothing has happened under this Government to make those substantial improvements.