• Tony Bosworth

Bilpin comms tower saga rumbles on - we'll try and get a meeting with Telstra says Mayor

At last night’s council meeting, independent and Greens councillors urged the council to broker a meeting in Bilpin between the Bilpin Region Advancement Group (BRAG) – which counts a third of Bilpin residents among its members – and Telstra to help residents get better power back-up for Bilpin comms tower – but Mayor Patrick Conolly urged the locals to talk to MP Susan Templeman, saying “that’s her job”.

A meeting was eventually agreed to but the motion from independents to arrange a physical meeting on the ground at Bilpin between BRAG and Telstra was defeated on the casting vote of the Mayor.

What was agreed – after the Mayor again used his casting vote - is that the newly formed Innovations and Partnership Committee will try and organise a meeting between Hawkesbury residents – because there are communications issues across the local government area, not just in Bilpin – along with MP Templeman and Telstra.

If there is an eventual meeting – if Telstra agree to come to the party - it may be on audio-visual link or it may be a physical meeting – that is still to be decided.

Veteran councillor Paul Rasmussen was not impressed. “Here we go again. Talk about the democratic process. What you are suggesting is the community members come to Council. What is wrong with going to our community? They have been to hell and back up there [Bilpin]. What’s wrong with us turning up and talking about this? That’s democracy.”

“You talk about undemocratic processes and there you have it in one.”

Following a strongly-worded letter almost two weeks ago from BRAG to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher after Bilpin communications tower was not one of 467 tower battery back-up upgrades listed for government funding, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack stepped in and immediately put Bilpin on the register available to bidders, including Telstra.

The Deputy PM told the Post this meant Bilpin residents should call Telstra to get them to bid for a share of the government money for the work.

BRAG are asking for a generator – estimated to cost around $10,000 to buy and install – so that power cuts don’t cut off communications in the area.

But Telstra told the Post they fitted a 14-hour battery back-up over last January and February after the bushfires, and they believe that will do the job.

Telstra say they have no plans for further upgrades to the tower.

At the council meeting on Monday evening, Mayor Patrick Conolly said he did think it was an important issue and that he believed council did have a role in looking at issues like this for all residents.

“But this is not a council issue,” he said. “If the people of Bilpin can’t get a meeting with Telstra, Susan Templeman [Federal MP for Macquarie] needs to get this done.”

“I think Susan Templeman has to arrange it because that’s her job.”

Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett said it had nothing to do with Ms Templeman and said it was important for the council to engage with the issue because it was something the community wanted.

Cllr Pete Reynolds said it made much more sense for the meeting to be a “public meeting on the turf at Bilpin so the people from Telstra can see the terrain and remoteness. To call a meeting within the [council] chambers with Telstra, that won’t work”.

Deputy Mayor Lyons-Buckett said: “It is disappointing the community will have to come down here when they are facing so many challenges. They will have to come here if they want the issue spoken about.

“I don’t think this will be of any comfort to the people of Bilpin who are looking for our support. Many of them are still very traumatised [because of the fires].

“I personally feel this has let them down.”

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