• Tony Bosworth

Lower Macdonald to get mobile boost but nothing for rest of the Hawkesbury in latest funding round

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

As most Hawkesbury residents know, poor mobile reception across many areas of our region is an ongoing problem, yet in the latest round of federal funding to fix black-spots, only Lower Macdonald is getting a boost.

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman who has been on a crusade to get more mobile tower boosting funding across the Hawkesbury, says the federal government continues to do as little as possible to fix mobile black spots in the Hawkesbury, putting lives in danger during natural emergencies like bushfire and flood.

But Minister Bridget Mackenzie who is now responsible for the roll-out of new and enhanced towers told the Post, “to suggest that the Liberal and Nationals Government have not improved mobile phone coverage across the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury is factually incorrect. Labor have not funded one base station.”

To be fair, Labor has not been in government federally since 2013 but it is true the Coalition have funded eight towers, at Colo Heights, Kurrajong, Webbs Creek, Grose Vale, Upper Colo, Megalong Valley, Macdonald Valley School and Central Colo.

Unfortunately these upgrades still leave many areas without good mobile coverage. Bowen Mountain residents, to take just one example, experienced little or no improved mobile coverage when the nearby Grose Vale tower was turned on, perhaps because it was in a valley.

Hundreds of residents responded to a survey of local mobile black spots conducted by Ms Templeman’s office last year.

“Hawkesbury residents responded in droves, identifying areas right across the region as problematic,” Ms Templeman said.

“And those who responded were really worried about the implications of poor coverage in emergency situations like bushfires or illness.

Just one location in Lower Macdonald has been approved for funding – it will be a new Telstra tower - under the latest round of a Federal program to fix mobile black spots, a situation Ms Templeman said was simply not good enough.

But Minister Mackenzie’s spokesperson said the government had already improved the resilience of mobile network infrastructure to disasters.

“Since Round 3 of the Mobile Black Spot Program, all macro cell base stations have been required to be provided with at least 12 hours of back-up power to keep them running longer during emergency situations,” said the spokesperson.

“This includes two Round 1 and 2 base stations in the Electorate of Macquarie at Webbs Creek and St Albans. The Webbs Creek upgrade is complete.”

Ms Templeman says, “while any funding to address the appalling communication situation Hawkesbury residents endure every day is obviously welcome, it appears the Federal Government is doing as little as possible to fix the myriad of problems in relation to mobile coverage,” Ms Templeman said.

“Only a single location at Lower Macdonald has been approved under this latest round of funding, which was allegedly focused on helping bushfire-prone areas.

“This announcement really is an insult to people living in areas like Mount Tomah, which lost so many homes in the devastating Black Summer bushfires," she said.

This latest round was aimed at helping bush fire-prone areas but one area which is not getting any help is Mt Tomah, at the centre of bushfires in the 2019-20 emergency in an area where lack of mobile reception was an issue well into the Hawkesbury too.

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman has been building a heatmap of poor mobile reception areas thanks to feedback from hundreds of Hawkesbury residents

“While it’s technically not located in the Hawkesbury, the lack of signal affects Hawkesbury locals. Bushfire certainly doesn’t discriminate and I know the problems Mount Tomah residents – as well as those in nearby areas – have due to poor coverage.

“People who battled the bushfires have told me of the problems in organising crews during the crisis because they didn’t have mobile coverage, and other residents expressed concern for the wellbeing of elderly residents whose personal alarms only get weak signals.

“Keep in mind Mount Tomah is also the area that was promised a new mobile tower by the Federal Government, only to have it ripped away and plonked in the NSW Central West to shore up support for the Nationals in the lead-up to an election.

“This is more than just cynical politics. This is putting lives in danger.

“The need for a black spot solution at Mount Tomah is overwhelming, and I have worked closely with the Blue Mountains Rural Fire Service to put forward a solution. There is simply no mobile coverage for much of the area and along the Bells Line of Road.

“The bushfires also caused massive damage to the Telstra landline network, leaving many people without communication for a long time.

“This current round of funding (Round 5a) was allegedly more focused on bushfire-prone areas, or those with elevated natural disaster risk.

“You have to question, then, why the Blue Mountains area of the electorate of Macquarie received not one cent in funding, and why the bushfire and flood-prone area of the Hawkesbury received funding for just one location.

“Both areas are prone to storms, lighting and floods. The electricity network, particularly in the Hawkesbury, is fragile and prone to outages in severe weather and bushfire impacts.”

“Mobile black spots are annoying to everyone every day, they interfere with people working and studying from home, but in a bushfire emergency – and, indeed, in a pandemic lockdown where people are working from home – it’s magnified.

“In addition, the transition to the NBN has increase dependency on services that require electricity. When the electricity network is down people lose their home phone and internet services. So apart from convenience and when not at home, people need a mobile network as a communication backup in times of disaster and in an emergency.

“I have previously written to the Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, about this issue, and specifically about the need for funding under Round 5a in these priority areas.

“It’s now very apparent to me that the Liberal Party – from the Minister down – clearly has no interest in providing the residents of Macquarie with the vital infrastructure we so desperately need.

“It certainly won’t be the last time he hears from either myself or angry local residents on this issue,” Ms Templeman said.

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