The Andrews Labor Government announced that it has walked away from the Commonwealth Mobile Black Spot Programme, in favour of its own system. The $11 million planned for the third round of the Commonwealth program will instead be redirected to the as-yet untested state program.
This new program is simply moving existing money around, with no new funding commitments for regional Victorians. In the same week, Minister for Innovation Philip Dalidakis claimed that “there will always be towns that will not be able to get coverage.” Minister Dalidakis’ comments show an unacceptable attitude towards telecommunications outside metropolitan areas.
“We shouldn’t be shooting for mediocrity here. We have to lift our ambitions. If the minister is deciding which regional areas receive telecommunications services, perhaps he will also decide which urban areas receive the fruits of regional areas’ labour, like food,” said Brett Hosking, Victorian Farmers Federation Vice President.
Telecommunications have become essential services. Beyond personal use, mobile phone voice and data are key resources for farm businesses. The VFF Telecommunications Survey found that many farm businesses are particularly concerned about the occupational health and safety implications of poor or non-existent coverage, with respondents unable to contact emergency services in case of an accident.
Communications technology is also vital to developing new and innovative farming practices. Poor coverage is hampering farmers and preventing them from improving sustainability and pursuing productivity gains from improved analytics.
“We need greater partnership from all levels of government, rather than more partisanship. Neither political party has bragging rights on telecommunications. The federal, state and local governments all need to collaborate on this issue,” said Mr Hosking. “All sides of politics have got to lift their game.”
“Bluntly speaking, we need more investment in regional mobile coverage for voice and data. As of last week, Australia dropped behind Kazakhstan for average broadband speeds. For a highly developed country like Australia to be in this position would be laughable if it didn’t have such serious repercussions.”