Go to top of page

ABC Great Southern and South West WA - Interview with Christine Layton

E & OE

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
The Federal Government has announced round four of the Mobile Black Spot Program to the tune of $25 million. Locations are yet to be decided and they're asking for your input. Federal Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie joins me now. Good morning, Minister.

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
$25 million. How many towers will that get us across the country?

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
Well, it's a really good question and it's tough to answer. I guess my focus will be working in partnership with state governments, local councils and industry groups to really leverage that $25 million as far as we can. We know connectivity is so essential for us out in the region, not just for emergency service provision and connecting with family and friends, but also to access world class health and education services, and importantly for those of us that rely on agriculture and mining to drive our local economy. So, I'm interested in those partnerships, and extending that $25 million as far as we can. I know the $220 million that we've already invested as a Coalition government in this program, I have been able to deliver over 867 towers, because we've been able to partner and partner particularly with state governments. And in WA really in rounds one and two led the way in terms of leveraging that money.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
And we'll come to that. So what criteria are you looking for if areas have missed out in rounds one, two and three. What do they need to be able to demonstrate this time?

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
Well, we are writing the criteria right now and releasing that in coming months. The two guiding principles for me will be those areas that back themselves and really can demonstrate that this is very much essential infrastructure to drive their local economy. We know sometimes when we go to the telcos they say, "Oh no, that's not a black spot. Look at our map," but we all know when we drive the highways and byways that there's certain topographical issues, particularly out in the regions where we might need a smaller local solution, not a big tower. So I'm looking for very targeted local solutions. And the other key factor for me will be co-location so that we don't just have one telco providing coverage across the regions, that actually you'll be able to have more of a choice in who you go with. And so more co-location of the three telcos on the same tower. That is where I'll be incentivizing.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
Okay. We'll come back to how people can apply. There has been a lack of information around round three and what locations were chosen. Can you clarify where, for example, in the South West and Great Southern we will be getting towers?

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
So the priority location round Great Southern was unsuccessful in any of those announcements and that's been clear. Round one and two, Great Southern and the electorate of O'Connor got 86 towers, we've still got 20 of those to build over the coming six months, and that'll be finished by the end of this year. And that was a significant investment, one of the highest rates of mobile phones have provision in rounds one and two across the whole country. So there's still more work to be done, obviously, but we've made a great investment and a great start that we look at keeping on growing in round four.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
And arguably one of the most important towers for O'Connor would be the one that was proposed out in Salmon Holes and recommended a mobile phone tower be built near that area to provide coverage in emergencies off the South Coast. So the Department of Parks and Wildlife did say, they went on the record and said that they didn't want to put a tower there due to impacts on visual amenity. Has this issue been resolved yet?

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
​I mean, I just find that incredible, when you're talking about people's safety, that we're not actually going to put a mobile phone tower up while people are unsafe in an area. I don't understand the department's approach to this. I've gone to my department and told them to get ahold of the telco and at least put a small cell solution there so that we can have a level of connectivity that will allow people to access emergency services in those areas. But I'd really call on the WA Department to reconsider that decision. We can't put people's safety at risk over visual amenity.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
How soon would you like to see that happened Minister?

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
​Yesterday, you know, months ago. I think it's incredible that we put people's lives at risk. We put human safety below visual amenity in a national park. It's just incredible. So I'm doing what I can at a federal level. I'm getting, hopefully, Telstra to get a small cell out there in coming weeks, but that's where my hands are tied. Obviously, the WA department has responsibility for this area, and I would be calling on them to reconsider their decision and put the lives and safety of human beings first.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
It's 18 minutes past 7, you're listening to ABC South West, and Great Southern. If you just tuned in I'm speaking to the Federal Minister for Regional Communications, Bridget McKenzie.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
The other point that I want to mention is that I went to the Federal Government Communication Minister's website and there is a list of top priorities, which was updated in April this year. There are seven WA locations listed, all of which are greater metro. So there's Bickley, Bullsbrook, Chidlow, Lake Clifton, Parkerville in the hills, Serpentine, probably the furthest, and then the Swan Valley. My understanding was that this project was for regional and rural. So why are there seven greater metro areas listed as black stop priorities?

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
​Well, the Swan Valley, Boddington-

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
-not Boddington unfortunately on the list.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
Sorry. You know, those decisions were made by the department and by the previous Minister. Obviously part of the connectivity piece is ensuring that you can travel the highways and byways as you leave Perth and head out into regional WA, and so having those linkages along some of those transport connectors, et cetera, is incredibly important. And we must remember that there's also some great agribusinesses in the Swan Valley. So I think the point is well made that there's more to do, and that's why I'm so proud to be able to announce the fourth round. There was no state investment also for round three, from the WA government, which then obviously affects how we can leverage the money available in round three to its greatest effect, which we were able to do for WA in rounds one and two, as is a testament by the 86 towers, in the seat of O'Connor as a result of those rounds.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
So, if people have been listening this morning, Minister and they do want to get in touch and see if they can leverage some of the round four funding, what should they do?

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
I'll be releasing criteria to guide those bids going forward. But if you have an area, go on the website, check if your black spot is still on the list, which it should be, and I would be encouraging people and businesses to go to their local council, to approach their state and federal member of parliament, and get a collaborative response together so that when we come to receiving the bids, we can actually go to the telcos with a really sound proposal from local communities. And I'm really excited about how we can leverage this. I'm less interested in massive towers across the country and finding those very local targeted solutions. There's a whole spectrum of new technology on the market now that wasn't available, particularly in round one. And if you think back then, it took us all weekend to download a movie in many cases. So, I'm interested in getting that new tech on the ground, solving those very local problems and getting more of regional WA connected.

CHRISTINE LAYTON:
Alright, Minister, it's been great to have you on the program this morning. Thank you so much for your time.

MINISTER MCKENZIE:
Anytime.

[ends]