Storms in June and October caused significant power problems in Lancefield and Romsey, with residents unable to use their mobile phones due to telecommunication tower not having a back-up.

By Colin MacGillivray

MACEDON Ranges and Mitchell residents have slammed a ‘disgraceful’ Federal Government response to their concerns after petitioning for better telecommunications infrastructure following June’s devastating storms.

Many homes across the region were left without power for days following the storms, and Lancefield resident Erin Foster said it became clear the region’s telecommunications capacity was lacking.

Without the ability to contact loved ones, call for help or receive updates on the situation, Ms Foster said many residents were left anxious and confused.

“I had my 18-month-old in the car and we couldn’t get in the driveway, and it was lucky that my partner had a chainsaw and could come and get us in,” she said.

“There was one woman in Pyalong who had no phone reception and no power, was at home alone and had a broken ankle.

“There were all sorts of stories of people not knowing where to turn, people not being able to contact anyone.

“To wake up with no communications at all and not know if anyone was okay was scary.”

Following the storm, Ms Foster said she and a friend organised a community survey to get a better understanding of what people’s priorities were.

About 100 people responded, and she said an overwhelming priority identified was emergency backup power for mobile phone towers.

“We felt as a community that services were woefully unprepared for something like that,” she said.

“It seemed really strange because I know the Lancefield phone tower operated using a generator for months at one stage because there were some issues getting power, but then when we actually needed backup generation there didn’t seem to be any willingness to make that happen.”

Ms Foster took the community’s concerns to Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell, who wrote to Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher asking what was being done to improve the region’s telecommunications.

Two months later Mr Mitchell received a reply from Mr Fletcher’s office saying the government would address the problem through an $18 million Mobile Network Hardening Program, MNHP, which could upgrade the emergency capacity of phone towers to a minimum of 12 hours.

Mr Mitchell said Victoria had hardly received any funding under the program.

“There’s the headline that this is available, but it only seems to go into the Coalition’s marginal seats in New South Wales and Queensland,” he said.

“We have always had problems with telecommunications infrastructure under this government, whether it’s mobile phones or proper broadband.

“It’s really a no-brainer, and why they haven’t done it perplexes me. Having battery backup for mobile phone coverage means people can still keep connected in times of emergency, which creates a safer environment for people.

“We’ve learnt this lesson time and time again, but the government has continually disregarded the voices of people right across our region and the rest of Victoria.”

Ms Foster said she had been disappointed by Mr Fletcher’s reply.

“I think the response was pretty disgraceful. There doesn’t seem to be any willingness at the federal level to help us,” she said.

Ms Fletcher said there were plans to host a meeting in Lancefield once COVID restrictions permitted to formalise a community emergency action plan.

“Our next step is to do a public forum and get everyone together in one room when we’re allowed to and work out as a community what the key actions are,” she said.

“A big part of that is obviously the phone towers, another thing that has been raised is having a central point in town for everyone to go to where we could possibly get a satellite set up for internet and a generator and have food going.

“We’ve been talking to Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the Lancefield Neighbourhood House, as well as groups like the local football and cricket clubs.

“We want to keep trying to put a bit of pressure federally on the government to do something.”


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