I rise tonight to talk about a major issue in my electorate. Residents living in the new Belmond estate in Clyde have—believe it or not—been without a phone, internet or guaranteed mobile service since November 2016. In 2017, how does it make any sense that residents who have bought a new home have no guaranteed way to communicate for several months, especially in the case of an emergency?
Over the last few months, we have been meeting with local residents, and we have heard, understandably, a number of alarming stories. In one instance, a woman was watching tennis on television when a man tried to break into her home and threatened her life. Due to a lack of phone reception and coverage, she struggled to call the police at a time of a great stress. In a second instance, a resident’s brother passed away in the United Kingdom. Family overseas were trying to call her, but she did not receive the urgent message until she left the estate the next day. These stories are a disgrace. How can it be reasonable that a suburb of Melbourne—the fastest-growing suburb in Australia—would not have a phone service, particularly for those in a time of need?
I first became aware of this issue in January 2017, when a constituent, Elyse Cumine, contacted my office and advised that she did not have access to a phone line or internet at her new residence in Clyde. She also advised that over 40 local residents were experiencing the same difficulties. These concerns were subsequently raised with the Minister for Communications, Telstra and NBN Co. But after receiving responses, the residents were obviously concerned because their problems had not been remedied. They raised these concerns with me and the media.
On 6 March 2017, The Age journalist Lucy Battersby wrote a pivotal article exposing the delays in connecting NBN services at Belmond estate in Clyde and pointing out that additional civil works had to be completed before the services become operational. According to Ms Battersby, due to the roadworks, NBN Co still had to install 7.8 kilometres of fibre optic cable from Belmond on Clyde to the nearest point of interconnect exchange to complete the connection. I think the article by that journalist was pivotal in achieving some outcomes I will talk about shortly.
In early March, I also met with residents on two occasions. Initially, we met at the estate. They were good people. We met on a Sunday morning. Then we had a special meeting at my office on Tuesday, 15 March. At this meeting, residents received a briefing from representatives from NBN Co, Telstra and the City of Casey. They were advised why the services had not been provided, and they were offered some temporary solutions. The representatives apologised to the residents for the frustration and inconvenience that had been caused. However, they were still left very dissatisfied about the temporary solutions after the meeting. Even with the Universal Service Obligation, they were required to pay extra for a satellite phone and were told that fixed phone and internet services were still months away. Telstra offered the fixed voice service, but a number of the residents had problems with the satellite phones and returned them.
It is unacceptable in a modern area such as in my electorate that, when residents apply under a Universal Service Obligation, a guaranteed phone service cannot be provided. You could understand this in a remote area or in an area that had experienced a natural disaster, but in one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia it is completely unacceptable. I would strongly suggest that the Minister for Communications and Telstra work together to improve this Universal Service Obligation, which should absolutely guarantee a phone service to those in need.
I would certainly like to thank the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network for urging NBN and Telstra to provide temporary coverage and for attending the special meeting at my office. Today I am pleased to advise that NBN Co has finally stepped in to provide an NBN service to the residents in Belmond on Clyde. That is long overdue. It was supposed to be in May, apparently, but I think a bit of attention seems to have gone a long way.
However, there are some key things that need to be done. The City of Casey needs to work with telecommunication providers like Telstra to approve, as quickly as possible, the building of a new mobile phone tower to provide mobile coverage to those living in the Belmond estate. NBN Co needs to assist residents with installing the NBN from today as quickly as possible. We need to ensure that this does not happen in the future. It is not good enough that areas all over the country may be experiencing this. The NBN should have already been rolled out. It was only because of great residents like Elyse Cumine and that brave group of residents that came together in my office that we now have a service that should have been provided the moment they shifted in in November 2016