Rural and remote children are being disadvantaged by lack of government funding in telecommunications

17 November 2014

Inadequate government investment in telecommunications is denying basic health and education opportunities to some children in rural and remote Australia, says Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan.

Senator O’Sullivan said these funding shortfalls were putting additional and unnecessary strain on rural families, who are already grappling with the worst drought to impact Australia in a century.

Senator O’Sullivan has just returned from an eight day tour of Far-Western Queensland where every single community and local government leader expressed ongoing frustration that their regions were falling behind the rest of the nation in being able to access affordable and reliable technology services.

He said family owned and operated businesses were the hardest hit.

“The vast majority of businesses across rural and remote Queensland are family owned – many are multi-generational,” he said.

“Just like many households in the cities, parents are juggling work and family commitments. However, the isolated nature of work in rural and remote Australia means access to basic services is often difficult and sparse.

“Where once people had to simply endure the problem – technology offers the opportunity to connect these rural and remote families with the rest of the nation and, in fact, the rest of the world.

“But government has to first deliver this infrastructure to their regions. And it needs to be high enough quality that it can actually make a difference.”

Senator O’Sullivan said there was no more urgent example than the exclusion of the Barcoo and Diamantina Shires from receiving optic fibre services under the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The areas are currently in the 3 per cent of the population who will receive a satellite-only service.

“When I visited Birdsville I saw state-of-the-art X-ray machines that cannot be used because the online services are not adequate to send and download images.

“I also met a mother who had been forced to move away from her husband and into town so her children could attend school because the available internet access was not adequate for School of the Air.

“Even postal services were under serious threat, meaning that some communities faced the prospect of almost third world conditions when it comes to mail, telephone and/or internet services.

“I am certain that the greatest majority of ordinary Australian wouldn’t consider this as being fair and reasonable.

“In some rural and remote areas, women are being forced to go to hospital months before they are due to give birth because a lack of adequate technology means doctors cannot monitor their progress remotely.

“My recent trip through Far-Western Queensland confirmed the problems these regions confront in attracting and retaining young families.

“Many parents simply feel they cannot offer their children the best start in life because of the lack of services. The only way government will change this perception is by taking action and investing in these communities.

“We need young people in rural and remote Australia because these areas are highly productive and make a significant economic contribution to our economy.

“The people of inland Australia feel abandoned by Canberra. They deserve better.”

Senator O’Sullivan said he would consult with Federal colleagues in the coming weeks about whether there is a need for a Senate Inquiry to investigate the current state of telecommunications in rural and remote Australia.

MEDIA CONTACT: Troy Rowling 0400 386 666.