REGION - Mobile telephone coverage and the eradication of blackspots was the focus of discussion during a forum involving key stakeholders in the region last week.
The forum was attended by Paul Fletcher, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister for Communications, on invitation from Member for Wannon Dan Tehan.
Mr Fletcher and Mr Tehan took part in meetings with representatives from councils, emergency service organisations and mobile service providers, with the aim of discussing the Coalition's Mobile Black Spot Program.
Meetings were held in well known blackspot areas including Landsborough, Moonambel and Mirranatwa last Wednesday.
Mr Tehan said the policy, released prior to the 2013 election, will invest $100 million to improve mobile phone coverage.
"This is the first visit to rural and regional mobile phone black spot areas by Mr Fletcher since he became the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications," Mr Tehan said.
"I am pleased that we have been able to use these meetings to give Mr Fletcher the chance to hear about the need to improve mobile phone reception in Wannon.
"Today's meetings have been extremely informative - this type of community consultation will result in more effective government policies and will deliver real benefits to our communities.
"The former Labor government didn't spend a cent on improving mobile phone reception in Wannon in six years. The Coalition's policy is designed to fund wider and more reliable mobile coverage in outer metropolitan, regional and remote communities."
Mr Fletcher said he also welcomed the opportunity to address concerns of residents over blackspots in the region.
"A key plank of the Coalition's Mobile Black Spot Programme is providing $80 million for a Mobile Network Expansion Program that will improve mobile phone coverage along major transport routes, in small communities and in locations prone to experiencing natural disasters," Mr Fletcher said.
"The Coalition also committed to provide $20 million for a mobile black spot program to address unique mobile coverage problems, such as locations with high seasonal demand.
"I have heard today of the significant impact of mobile black spots in the Wannon Electorate, including lack of competitiveness of local industry, impact on local health and education services and the lack of connectivity to emergency services in critical situations.
"Today's discussions gave me a good sense of the importance of mobile phone coverage to rural communities like those in Wannon.
"The funding for this national program will be allocated via an open and transparent process with the detailed rules to be announced in due course following consultation with stakeholders."
Northern Grampians Shire Council's Director Marketing and Community Development, Jim Nolan, said it was a fantastic opportunity having Mr Fletcher in the region, to show him first hand how the mobile telephone blackspots impact.
"We certainly welcomed the visit by Paul Fletcher, because we do have a number of blackspots in our shire that need addressing, including Navarre, Marnoo and the Grampians," Mr Nolan said.
"Now the Coalition has committed $100 million and given that it impacts so much on our communities, our rural businesses and farming enterprises by not having access to basic mobile telephone and internet coverage, this will have a very impact impact for them.
"The capacity to share resources is also limited given the lack of connectivity that we have to high speed broadband internet services. It certainly impacts on our council as we struggle to share resources between Stawell, St Arnaud and our rural areas."
Finance Director, Vaughan Williams, said having reliable connection to the mobile telephone network and high speed internet meant more to communities than just staying connected.
"While it is keeping people in rural areas connected, it is also about safety," Mr Williams said.
"It would be a real boon for rural and regional communities to have access to a sophisticated high speed broadband internet network and also reliable mobile telephone coverage. Their safety and their livelihoods depend on it.
"For people in rural and regional areas, connectivity is definitely the key."