Mobile black spots could cost lives this fire season and Telstra is being urged to improve services in rural and regional Victoria.
Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan has joined forces with Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie to push the government for more commitment to rural mobile phone services ahead of the fire season.
The issue of mobile phone black spots in Benalla has been highlighted in recent weeks after Mayor Don Firth suffered a heart attack and was unable to contact emergency services.
Faced with no other option, Cr Firth was forced to drive himself to hospital, which is against the advice of ambulance services.
Should someone need to report a fire, the time lost in attempting to get a phone signal could allow a small incident to turn into a major one.
In seconding Ms Sharkie’s bill to compel Telstra to provide 24-hour back-up power to towers in bushfire prone areas, Ms McGowan pushed for more funding to address outstanding mobile black spots.
‘‘The Mobile Black Spot Program was a really important part of the government’s 2013 election commitment, but they’ve let the ball drop,’’ Ms McGowan said.
‘‘I have written to the Prime Minister this week putting the government on notice that in the 2018 budget we expect round four to be well funded.
‘‘This should be enough for the 200 remaining black spots still outstanding in my electorate of Indi.’’
Ms McGowan said the funding was needed to make sure people in rural communities had access to the same services enjoyed by their city cousins.
‘‘It is vitally important for all of rural and regional Australia, particularly my electorate of Indi, which is absolutely fire-prone,’’ Ms McGowan said.
‘‘To all the CFA in Indi, to the SES and to the local government emergency managers, it gives me so much pleasure to work together with the crossbenchers who really care for rural and regional Australia.
‘‘This is an example of how we bring to parliament issues that the major parties refuse to take up.’’
Ms McGowan is encouraging anyone seriously affected by power blackouts disrupting telecommunications to contact her office.
Infrastructure operators in the area are also doing their part to ensure the power stays on during fire season.
Ascent Services operated low-flying helicopter inspections of electricity poles in the Benalla area last week.
Specialist teams on-board identified any potential problems to determine what maintenance work was needed to keep the power on during fire season.
Ascent Services regional customer and community manager Craig Belt said the aerial inspections were an important part of an extensive bushfire mitigation program to prepare for summer.
‘‘Ascent Services is always working to keep the network safe and reduce the risk of powerline fires,’’ Mr Belt said.
‘‘Much of our electricity network covers steep and bushy terrain, such as the Alpine areas, so using helicopters allows us to inspect poles and wires over large distances efficiently.’’
AusNet owns and operates more than 49000 powerlines in Victoria and will be carrying out inspections on public and private land throughout the state’s north-east for the next week.