Regional Communications top of the agenda
Communications is a big issue for country people. Since becoming Parliamentary Secretary for Southern NSW I have had the opportunity to travel around areas right across the Riverina, Murray, Tablelands and South East, to hear the biggest issues facing families, small businesses and communities. And everywhere I go, I hear the same issue: Communications. We hear time and time again about the opportunities that the digital age provides for health, education, business and tourism. But right across New South Wales we’re dealing with mobile blackspots, unreliable landlines, and frustrations with broadband services; and it is holding us back.
I was really pleased to be able to host a Regional Communications Forum last Monday the July 10. The aim was to bring together industry, government and community representation to have a very honest conversation about what has worked, where the gaps are, and what NSW could do to help the situation.
There is no easy fix when it comes to telecommunications. We have the problems that come with our huge state and dispersed population. Providers who have shareholders – including plenty of you - to whom they have responsibilities. And also the need to respect the fact that communications falls largely under the control of the Federal Government and that any work in that space should be collaborative with them.
As with so many issues, we can thank Labor’s blindness to country areas for setting us behind the pace. In Labor’s six years in office, they failed to invest a single cent in mobile phone coverage. Under the direction of our amazing Federal Deputy Leader and Senator for NSW Fiona Nash, the mobile blackspot program has just celebrated the activation of its 200th mobile base station. They are also rolling out the NBN and adjusting it to meet the challenges, such as the recent announcement of the doubling of data allowances for Sky Muster customers.
Participants at the forum in the Jubilee Room of NSW Parliament
The NSW Government committed $39 million to deliver the Mobile Blackspot Program with the Federal Government because we recognise how critical telecommunications are to drive regional growth and provide. But there is so much more to be done.
Last week we had community organisations such as the CWA, NSW Farmers and the Country Mayors in the room, and they did not pull any punches. But the Forum was also about so much more than just venting our frustrations. It was about trying to collaborate and to come up with ideas and solutions, about how we can use our state resources to improve these services. The outcomes from the Forum will contribute to policy, although it won’t be the silver bullet; the issue is too complex.
We need to use our big name providers, but there is also potential there to work with lesser known and smaller providers to plug gaps. We also need to figure out how to leverage off existing programs to the best effect; there are opportunities out there where just a small investment would have a huge impact on regional growth.
Regardless, I am just proud that we are having the discussions and working together to try and find the solutions. I know that the Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, is passionate about this issue and I look forwarding to continuing this work with him. The Regional Communications Forum was an important first step into this new era.
Bronnie Taylor MLC
Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Premier and Southern NSW
Main image: Annette Turner (President – CWA), Bronnie Taylor MLC, Tanya Mitchell (ICPA), Katrina Humphries (NSW Country Mayors’ Association), Joe Dennis (NBN Co)