Tania Maxwell pushes more action on digital blackspots

Tania Maxwell MP has again called on the Victorian government to do more to fix mobile phone and internet blackspots in bushfire-prone communities.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria asked Digital Economy Minister Jaala Pulford at the Legislative Council sitting in Bright today about steps the government will take to solve longstanding, ongoing problems with internet connectivity and mobile reception in rural areas.

Ms Maxwell said the Minister’s recognition of citizens’ legitimate concerns and frustrations around coverage issues was welcome but reminded parliamentarians that the 2019-20 bushfires had brought digital communication gaps into sharp focus.

“Indigo Shire chief executive officer Trevor Ierino spoke about these problems very publicly last year when he said the lack of mobile service along major roads in and out of Beechworth, for example, made it near impossible for people in high-risk areas to receive even basic alerts, warnings or updates on conditions,” Ms Maxwell said. 

“The state government must ensure that emergency management considerations are the most critical priority when scheduling mobile blackspot and internet access fixes in Victoria.

“Community members who addressed the parliamentarians here, including Alpine Community Recovery Committee chair Fiona Nicholls, Alpine mayor John Forsyth and Bright P-12 student Claire Lock, pointed to the fear and uncertainty created by ‘app-gaps’ and then by rapidly changing information advising residents to evacuate or to stay put during the January 2020 emergency.

“I was very pleased to hear the Minister confirm that Emergency Management Victoria’s services provide the last piece of advice to government about where funding to fix black spots should be directed.

“I also welcome Minister Pulford’s commitment that regional and rural communities will be extensively consulted about where funding from the government’s $600 million broadband and mobile connectivity program announced in the last Budget, of which $300m is specifically to eradicate black spots, will close critical gaps.”

Justice Party seeks government help to speed housing fix in bushfire communities

Tania Maxwell MP will seek Victorian government support to alleviate the challenges and financial costs still faced by people who lost homes to last year’s Black Summer bushfires when the Legislative Council meets in Bright on April 29.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the regional sitting had been convened to acknowledge the fires’ impact in the North East and the serious business and tourism knock-ons from these disasters in communities that she represents, including Alpine, Towong, Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta and Wodonga.

“The Victorian government has worked hard to help people back on their feet, but we must be able to expedite rebuilding and recovery,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This includes finding ways to accommodate tradespeople so they can get the job done and families can move into their new homes.

“The fires had an enormous physical impact across our communities, especially in Towong, Alpine and East Gippsland local government areas.

“But mental trauma and stress brought on by these disasters continue for many families.

“Bushfire Recovery Victoria data shows 458 homes were destroyed or damaged in Victoria and almost 18 months later it’s estimated that fewer than three per cent of the people displaced have moved back into permanent housing.

“The motion I’ll put to the sitting encourages us as parliamentarians to recognise the devastation and distress suffered by people in our communities whose homes were destroyed or damaged, who have been living in temporary accommodation and who are going through the arduous process of rebuilding.

“At a practical level, I want Parliament to be keenly aware of the challenges delaying and compromising the re-housing effort.

“Often there are significant financial gaps between insurance pay-outs and the costs of building in a bushfire-prone area, particularly the spending needed so new buildings comply with Victoria’s Bushfire Attack Level ratings system.

“There’s also a severe shortage of readily available accommodation so builders, plumbers, electricians and other essential tradies can deliver what they’re engaged to do in the communities where this help is needed.”

Ms Maxwell said her motion would ask the government to consider urgent changes to policies and regulations to alleviate fundamental, ongoing problems.

“As an elected representative of communities that have been so seriously affected, it’s my job to make sure all parliamentarians understand the personal, economic and community impacts, and for the government to find ways to deliver swift and effective solutions,” she said.

Ms Maxwell said estimates of the fires’ economic impact in eastern Victoria showed:

  • $114-199 million decline across all industries in Alpine, Towong and East Gippsland
  • $79-181m decline across all industries in Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta, Wellington and Wodonga local government areas
  • $330-350m in tourism losses in bushfire-affected regions between December 2019 and March 2020.
  • 10,000 livestock lost
  • 742 properties required clean-up

Offering collaboration to reduce family violence

The state government last August committed $1.67 million to a 12-month pilot of the Perpetrator Accommodation Support Service, which allows for family violence offenders to be rehouse away from home for short periods while they receive professional help and supervision. I support the initiative but we need to find ways to make it work practically in rural and regional areas where there are housing and service shortages.

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