Telecommunications on the Central Coast

13 September 2017

Federation Chamber

Friday 2 March 2017

Recent storms have exposed yet again the risk to our community from gaps in communications networks. On 17 February, Wyong and Gosford State Emergency Service crews responded to hundreds of storm damage call-outs, including fallen trees, and damage to homes and cars. More than 30,000 homes lost power. Our community relies on emergency services in a crisis. I thank the SES for their rapid response and the police and ambulance officers who kept people safe. I also thank the energy workers for restoring power as quickly as possible. Fortunately the damage was not to the scale of the super storms of 2015 and 2016, but once again we are reminded of the urgent need to boost our communications network.

Emergency radio broadcasts provide vital information during extreme weather events and natural disastersweather and power updates, safety advice, information on local road closures and evacuation warnings. Unfortunately, ABC Radio Central Coast reception is severely limited. Only the Gosford CBD receives a clear signal. Many surrounding suburbs do not. I have met with members of the SES, the RFS and local residents about this. They are frustrated. They know that boosting this service would help protect people and property. Our region is large, and it is growing. We are not the outer suburbs of Sydney. How many more extreme weather events will we endure before the government acts? The Central Coast must be recognised as a stand-alone region and get the emergency broadcast service we need in a crisis.

I am particularly concerned about residents who live west of the M1 motorway having little or no mobile reception and being in a flood- and fire-prone area. Their safety relies on effective communication in an emergency. In June 2015, the government announced funding for four new mobile phone base stations at Dooralong, Lemon Tree, Wyong Creek and Yarramalong. At the time, residents were promised, 'These first bases will be rolled out in the second half of 2015.' It has not happened. Telstra currently estimates the tower at Wyong Creek will be operational in 2018, with the others up and running sometime later this year. Residents of Cedar Brush Creek, Dooralong, Jilliby, Kulnura, Little Jilliby, Wyong Creek and Yarramalong deserve accurate, up-to-date information, and I am disappointed they have not received it from this government.

Unfortunately, the rollout of new communications infrastructure on the Central Coast is equally disappointing. My office has been inundated with complaints from people switching to the NBN. There are serious ongoing issues with the rollout. Residents in Wyreema Road, Warnervale, have been badly let down. They cannot get ADSL broadband and still have no NBN, despite their suburb being switched on a long time ago.

I raised this with the Minister for Communications and months later received this letter from his chief of staff. He says, 'These residents should expect to be connected in February 2015, with a current estimate of completion for February 2017.' Well, time is up. They are not connected. How much longer do they have to wait? The government has confirmed these properties, as well as other homes in Brush Road in Wamberal and Oak Road in Matcham, for example, will be serviced by micronodes. They say this is necessary for premises that may be unable to receive high-speed broadband by the local fibre-to-the-node network. This is a startling admission from a government that backed fibre to the node as a viable alternative to Labor's fibre-to-the-home technology. If fibre to the node does not work in Warnervale, Matcham and Wamberal, the suburbs of the Central Coast, where does it work? The government has misled our community on fibre to the node and continues to bungle the rollout of its patchwork of technologies.

I support the NBN and the opportunities it presents for the Central Coast. We must make this work. The Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network is holding an inquiry, and I have asked Central Coast residents to share their experiences. You will not be surprised. I have heard from Derek, who says: 'Raining, no internet. Sunshine, internet!' I have heard from Jill, who says her NBN is simply 'unreliable'. And I have heard from Dennis, who, like all of us, says, 'Just fix it.' The chair of that committee is a Central Coast MP, so I am hopeful the region's experience will be well represented.