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Robin Tennant-Wood- Palerang telco saga continues

After a series of telephone outages in the Gundillion-Krawarree region, and lack of action on the part of Telstra to address the issues, local residents finally managed to secure a meeting with Peter Hendy in April. At a community forum held at the Gundillion Hall, Hendy agreed to inform the Minister for Telecommunications, Malcolm Turnbull, of the situation. That was the last anyone heard from Hendy. His office did not return emails or phone calls and no word was forthcoming from the Minister’s office.

Last month, and only after considerable community pressure, Mr Hendy finally agreed to meet with a small delegation of local residents in his Parliament House office on 24th June. It was thought that Mr Turnbull would also attend, but in the event his Parliamentary Secretary, Paul Fletcher, attended in his place.

One local resident described the meeting thus:

“We had half an hour with Hendy and Fletcher. We sat around the table and described in detail the problems: the extended outages, exposed cables being chewed by wombats, cables hanging in the river, no mobile coverage. We gave them a folder full of photos and news clippings to support what we were talking about. Hendy said absolutely nothing and gave no indication that he was even listening until someone mentioned that we are also unable to receive ABC radio in the area. Hendy then seemed to wake up and wasted the next five minutes of our allocated 30 minutes rubbishing the ABC. I kid you not. It was like someone had pushed the On button and this was what he was programmed to say. After that he was silent again for the rest of the meeting except to say that Labor was in for three years and they didn’t do anything.”

Opportunistic rubbishing of the ABC aside, Mr Hendy’s assertion about Labor is incorrect. During the period of the Labor government an additional 12 towers were installed to service the Palerang district.

The comment, repeated ad nauseum by the politicians and various Telstra officials is that installing towers and improving service to regional communities is very expensive and the hilly terrain in the area south of Braidwood would mean extra towers and extra expense.

Indeed. But what this fatuous dismissal of the issue deliberately overlooks is that adequate telecommunications is an essential service. It is the obligation of government to provide such services regardless of cost. Developing countries are able to service their rural communities with telecommunications but the Australian government can’t provide service to a community an hour away from the national capital.

We have a government that is now seriously talking about opening an inquiry into climate science while at the same time spending billions of dollars on subsidising the dying coal industry, but refuses to provide adequate (and that’s the point – the Gundillion-Krawarree community is only asking for adequate, not state-of-the-art) telecommunications to rural communities.

This saga is far from over. Former member and now Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, has been fully appraised of the situation. While he can do nothing from outside government he can use the issue to pressure the current government’s Eden-Monaro seat-warmer into perhaps taking a representative approach to his constituents.

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