17 April 2022

Fight to improve Eurobodalla's communication infrastructure ramps up ahead of federal election

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Mount Wandera

A campaign calls on NSW and federal governments to protect telecommunications infrastructure on Mount Wandera. Photo: Eurobodalla Council.

A South Coast business group said governments cannot allow telecommunications loss like that caused by the Black Summer fires to occur again amid a push to improve Eurobodalla infrastructure resilience ahead of the federal election.

Last year, Eurobodalla Shire Council called on the NSW Government to take action to protect infrastructure on Mount Wandera near Moruya, which transmits to police and emergency services, ABC and commercial TV and radio and mobile phone and internet services.

Council’s infrastructure services director Warren Sharpe OAM said the loss of communications in the Black Summer bushfires placed first responders at increased risk and added to the broader community’s trauma, but was largely avoidable.

“The timber poles that serviced our main telecommunications tower on Mount Wandera burnt to the ground and by necessity at that time had to be replaced [with more] timber,” he said.

“We’re fighting to get the NSW and Australian Governments to fund Essential Energy to upgrade these 21 power poles with more resilient composite poles, such as those that survived the intense bushfire in the Merricumbene Valley.

“We’re also seeking a commitment to upgrade and maintain an asset protection zone around the site, improve the safety of the access and to make telecommunications infrastructure more resilient to fire.”

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Mr Sharpe said the work would mitigate the risk to the whole community and could be done at relatively low cost – about $750,000, with the essential power upgrade representing half of that.

Emergency services, police, government agencies, local chambers of commerce and community associations, as well as Regional Development Australia and the Canberra Region Joint Organisation of councils have joined Eurobodalla Council in ramping up the campaign for action ahead of the federal election.

In its letter to the Australian Regional Communications, National Recovery and Resilience Minister Bridget McKenzie, the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce said businesses could not activate EFTPOS facilities during the disaster, when residents were desperate for food and fuel.

The Chamber also said a critical part of community recovery was to act on the lessons learnt.

“From the community perspective, everyone was technologically blind and deaf to fire updates, warnings and news for a period of six days. This is not a situation that governments can allow to recur,” the Chamber wrote.

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A council-led steering group resulted in a few wins. These included an agreement for Essential Energy to fund part of the work, improvements to back-up power, some infrastructure work and agreement by RFS to undertake asset protection maintenance as a one-off. However Mr Sharpe said a whole solution was not yet actioned.

“We are really grateful that everyone is getting behind this critical change for our community. The actual work is straightforward and can be implemented before next fire season, if the government decides to act,” he said.

“We need this work done now, before the next summer; not in another two years.”

The federal election will be held on 21 May.

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