Telecommunications in Macquarie

Mobile phone reception matters a lot in a
bushfire. Messages and phone calls go flying back and forth as people make decisions about
what to do, when to go and who else they need to make sure has left. In the bushfire-prone
areas of the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, we know this because, nearly every spring
or summer, some part of my electorate experiences it. Here we are several weeks into another
fire season. In fact, 17 October marks the sixth anniversary of the Winmalee and Mount
Victoria bushfires that destroyed 200 homes, mine included. But there are anniversaries
for fires just about every month in our area, whether it’s in December, when the Warrimoo
bushfires of 2001 and 2014 occurred, or August, when last year we saw fires in Bilpin and
Maraylya. That helps explain why there is disbelief
at the government’s failure to keep its promise to install mobile phone towers in Mount Tomah
and Yellow Rock and its apparent unwillingness to show any interest at all in fixing mobile
blackspots right across the area. We are often considered too close to Sydney to be regional
or rural, but that is no comfort when the mobile signal drops out. When I think about
the Morrison government’s—and the Turnbull and Abbott governments’—performance in delivering
the Mobile Black Spot Program, I feel despair that the government can so willingly agree
to relocate the promised Mount Tomah tower to another area outside the electorate and
that it can accept the enormous delays that occur when the telcos are unwilling to negotiate
efficiently with landowners in order to locate a tower on their land or even when it’s state
owned land. Things like this have caused years of delay in my area alone. When I was last
in St Albans, there was still no mobile reception even though the tower was promised in 2016.
What I say to the government is: put aside your politicking in making decisions about
where the next round of sites go. Prioritise bushfire-prone regions where loss of life
is a real danger. The Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, located within a World Heritage area, are
among the most fire-prone areas on the planet, and people who live there need the certainty
that a phone will work, not like the experience that Bilpin and surrounds had a few weeks
ago when power was off at both the mobile phone tower and the exchange.
We know that things are not going to get better for us as far as bushfires are concerned.
The 1,000 people who gathered at Springwood recently for the student climate change rally
know that. Before those who would rather bury their heads in the sand say, ‘We’ve always
had bushfires; we shouldn’t worry about them,’ it is time to accept the science and listen
to the scientists. Dale Dominey-Howes, who is a professor of hazards and disaster risk
sciences at the University of Sydney, says: It’s the first time Australia has seen such
strong fires this early in the bushfire season … what we are seeing now is absolutely not
business as usual. And although these bushfires are not directly
attributable to climate change, our rapidly warming climate, driven by human activities,
is exacerbating every risk factor for more frequent and intense bushfires.
Firefighters know it. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons,
said five years ago that climate change was having an impact on every level of fire management.
He said there is ‘a shrinking window of opportunity to carry out back-burning and other hazard
reduction’, and he said: If our window of opportunity continues to
shrink, in order to get those really important pre-season activities underway then, yes,
there’s a broader argument that needs to be had around matters of climate change and its
effect on fire management and fire seasons. Greg Mullins, the second-longest-serving fire
and rescue commissioner in New South Wales and now a councillor with the Climate Council,
says we need governments to ‘take climate change seriously, rather than making jokes
about it in parliament with lumps of coal’. So let’s stop pretending that it is going
to go away. It is not. The community I so proudly represent lives with this every day,
especially in the long months of spring and summer. I say to those of you who haven’t
done it yet: clean your gutters and get your fire plan ready; have a conversation with
the family about when to go, where to go and what you’d like to take—although, as so
many of us have learnt and the recent tragedy in northern New South Wales reminds us, it’s
not the stuff that matters; it’s the people.

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