Mr PASIN (Barker) (10:21): I spend a lot of time listening to my constituents, and some topics come up time and time again. One of those topics, maybe even the No. 1 issue, raised with me is mobile telecommunications or, more to the point, the lack thereof. Our Mobile Black Spot Program has delivered a whopping 867 new mobile phone towers and coverage to nearly 32,000 more homes and businesses Australia wide. Earlier this year, the government announced round 4 of the program, with a commitment of $25 million to address more regional and remote black spots. This is underway at the moment, and I’ve been working with my local communities and local councils to identify priority locations.
But I received a letter from a community member about the lack of mobile service, and it really exemplifies the issue that so many communities in my electorate of Barker, and, indeed, right around the country, are experiencing. With the chamber’s indulgence, I intend to read an excerpt of it. It said:
The Peebinga area has grain and sheep producers and two Major irrigators with a large work force.
At Peebinga we are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to being competitive in the grain, wool and lamb markets, not being able to contact agents or traders on time can be extremely costly, this is a real issue for us, not being able to use mobile phone or data services puts us at a disadvantage when we can’t make or receive phone calls, text messages or emails when we are at work on the property, waiting for someone to call you back on our landline is so non-productive.
When we have a break down or an emergency situation we have to make a dash for one of our land lines so we can make the appropriate calls to get the issue attended too. This is unproductive for modern farming enterprises and is certainly unproductive for our farm which supports several families.
The Brown’s Well Highway continues to grow in use as it is a north south freight route, and now is a designated road train route, the poor condition of the road makes mobile communication very important for heavy freight and local traffic users.
Similar stories are told to me around the electorate. It’s about productivity and safety on our farms, productivity and safety on our roads and highways.
In fact, just on the productivity front, the report tabled yesterday by the minister makes a strong case for the benefits of increased digital connectivity for the regions. Economic modelling shows that digital agriculture could increase the gross value of Australian agricultural production by a whopping $20.3 billion—a 25 per cent increase over 2014-15 levels. We’re not going to solve this problem with ad hoc funding rounds—not one, not two, not three, not four—and that’s why I’m fighting for a rolling program within government. Let’s continually invest in mobile telecommunications in our regions, because investment in a rolling program is a downpayment on a $20 billion national productivity dividend.