Bushfire season: Dereel residents still without mobile phone coverage

DEREEL residents will be forced to endure another bushfire season without mobile phone coverage, meaning they are unable to receive warning messages during the region’s most dangerous period. 

The town, which residents say has been listed as one of the 10 most dangerous in the state for bushfires, was told yesterday they may be waiting until the end of 2015 before a phone tower was erected. 

Even then, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher and Corangamite MP Sarah Henderson could not promise a phone tower would be erected in the area. 

“The people of Dereel just want an answer,” resident and advocate Julie Donaghy said.

About 60 residents headed to the Dereel Community Centre yesterday as part of a community consultation tour by the MPs to discuss the federal government’s $100 million Mobile Coverage Program.

The pair also made stops in Gellibrand and Birregurra to discuss the program, which is designed to eliminate black spots across the country, however, residents were not convinced at the meeting yesterday. 

“It is the frustration of having to wait and constantly wait,” said another advocate and resident in the area, Tracey Taylor. 

“We have another fire season before that and the rest of this one to get through as well.” 

The $100 million is expected to be used as leverage to bring phone carriers to the table and discuss the possibility of erecting more towers. 

A new emergency warning system, which broadcasts on local radio stations, was also shown to attendees, however, due to regulatory issues the device is not yet ready for use. 

A fire in March last year destroyed 16 houses and burnt 1300 hectares south-east of Dereel.

Residents at the meeting yesterday expressed their frustration at not receiving any messages during the fire.

“We understand that there is a process, but the residents are very passionate about this because they have been through this time and time again and we don’t want to hear in 2015, we ‘might’ be able to get part of that government grant,” Ms Taylor said. 

“We won’t stop, will keep going and we will go higher if we have to and that is what we are looking at after today’s meeting. We will just be the squeaky wheel and we will keep making noise until someone shuts up and gives us what we want.

“There is no guarantee that we will actually qualify for it.” 

Mr Fletcher described the feedback received as “robust” and said it helped to distinguish the town as a priority area for the program to consider. 

The community is now organising a petition to send to the  government in support of erecting a tower. 

Ms Henderson called on Telstra to help fix the problem and build a tower and said she understood the anger and emotion in the issue for many of the residents. 

“It is understandable, because this community has gone through hell and back after the March fire,” she said. 

“Now Telstra is saying it doesn’t have the capital for this project, which I think isn’t good enough.”

matthew.dixon@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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