3rd June 2020

The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE (Chaffey—Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development) (15:26): I rise today to speak about a long-term problem faced by regional South Australia: the Black Spot program, which the previous government ignored because there were no blackspots under a Labor government, only under a Liberal government.

We have seen fit to make a $10 million commitment to regional South Australia, in collaboration with the commonwealth government, and in some instances with local government as well as with our telcos. We are alleviating the issues around blackspots in regional South Australia. Since coming to government, we have collaborated with 42 blackspot towers in regional South Australia.

Just as importantly, we are now addressing the blackspot issue in the seat of Chaffey. I recently went out to a couple of my grain growing communities—one at Paruna, which is east of Loxton, and another at Peebinga, further along the Loxton road to the Pinnaroo road—to announce that those communities will now have mobile phone coverage. Under a Labor government, there were no issues with blackspots in South Australia, particularly in the regions. The Liberal government is addressing it. We are paying for these towers and we are making sure that we have digital connection in the majority of regional South Australia.

We have a long way to go. We are putting priority on some of those blackspot towers and working our way around regional South Australia to address those mobile blackspot issues. In Chaffey, the District Council of Loxton Waikerie saw fit to come in as a partner with Peebinga to make sure that they were given the opportunity to address the issues around not having mobile phone coverage.

Out in that highly productive country, a number of our grain growers and businesses, including a lot of broadacre horticulture, have not had mobile phone coverage. They have now been given an assurance that we will give them that connectivity, and not only for safety reasons. We have seen how essential connectivity is, particularly going through this COVID-19 pandemic, but this is about day-to-day life, and there is also a safety aspect.

It is about giving those competitive grain farmers the advantage they need to have contact with their trucking companies and their markets, and making sure that they can have contact with the doctor's surgery in town if needed. That community has seen fit to acknowledge that this government is prioritising that the regions of South Australia have the digital connection they have sought for an extended period of time. Under a previous regime, they were ignored. Most of regional South Australia was ignored at every post, but particularly in relation to the Black Spot program. It is essential that we deal with it.

The Brown's Well Football and Netball Club now has connection. The community of Peebinga are skipping up and down the main street knowing that they now have a government that cares for their community. The competitive nature that those grain growers need—some of it is very marginal country. For them, a few dollars can make all the difference when negotiating a truckload of grain or a complete harvest. We are making sure that they have those issues covered.

It also needs to be acknowledged that those constituents out there have been lobbying for an extended period of time, and those lobbying efforts fell on deaf ears. I can proudly say that going out there, listening to those communities, listening to business, listening to the farmers, listening to the local government and listening to telcos, and working with the commonwealth government has given this government the capability to go out there and connect regional South Australia through the Black Spot program.

The commitment of $10 million has fast been used, but it is not only giving us the capacity to work with the telcos—whether we are working with the two majors, through Telstra or through Optus—but it is now bringing those communities together to lobby the three levels of government and make sure that they are heard, that those towers are a priority, as an essential service in today's climate and today's business world, and that they are listened to. We know that the Black Spot program is a great initiative for regional South Australia because #RegionsMatter.

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