Digital Economy – Connecting Victoria Question without Notice

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:24): My question is to the minister for the digital economy. Minister, under your Connecting Victoria mobile program, 76 out of 97 of your government’s locations of strategic interest are in Melbourne. Of those in regional Victoria, over half are in the Labor-held electorates of Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. Minister, when rural communities struggle to get one bar of 3G telecommunications signals, why are you prioritising 5G for Melburnians?

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (12:25):
I thank Ms Bath for her question and for her interest in the Connecting Vic program. This $550 million program was part of the big stimulus budget in November 2020, and we have been working hard to roll it out ever since. There are a whole lot of subcomponents to it, so bear with me a sec as I explain how it works and what its objectives are. Of course members will understand that telecommunications is clearly a fundamental and an underlying responsibility of the federal government. We have worked in partnership with the former federal government, and we are really excited about the election commitments that the new federal government has made. The point of Connecting Vic is to supplement and complement and turbocharge Victoria’s transition to a gigabit state on top of federal service delivery requirements and obligations.
The first part of Connecting Vic involved a partnership with NBN Co for a whole bunch of fibre to business zone upgrades and some residential. The second part is the first part of the mobile program, which is what I gather Ms Bath is referring to. As with the broadband part of the program, both part 1 and part 2 of the mobile program have been informed by detailed analysis of where connectivity is insufficient, and the program is designed to create better telecommunications inclusion for people right across the state and significant economic uplift.
When we talk about being a gigabit state, people might be familiar with the notion of a ‘gigabit city’ s basically being about a gigabit uploading and downloading within a second, so it is next level in terms of industry development and telecommunications capability. As Ms Bath knows, the 3G network is decidedly old-school compared to what 5G capability will be. These Gs have a 10-year life, and Ms Bath would well know the work that I have done in numerous portfolios over a long time around improving telecommunications connectivity to rural communities and the work that the government has done and continues to do around black spot eradication.
But back to the Connecting Vic mobile program, the first stage has been rolled out and the places announced, and that is typically a partnership with Optus and TPG. The second stage is just being
finalised, and we look forward to making announcements about those locations. In total there will be a thousand across the state, so there is a whole lot more to come in the next month or two.

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:28): I thank the minister for her response, but she went nowhere near to answering the question about prioritising Melbourne over rural and regional. Minister, speaking with Toongabbie CFA captain Scott Mitchell today, he is highly concerned that the town’s woeful service will fail the community during emergency events, leading to tragedy. Minister, you said the program will ‘help more regional Victorians get connected’. Why are you gold-plating priority suburbs like Richmond, Brunswick and Broadmeadows over regional communities like Toongabbie?

Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (12:29):
Again, just to recap, there will be a thousand sites, and for the first part of the mobile component of the program—not the broadband part but the mobile part—most of those locations have now been announced. But the larger second part is being finalised. The suggestion around gold-plating and sandbagging and choice of locations is unbelievably offensive. This program is about creating significant economic uplift for Victorians. It is about creating effective partnerships that dramatically increase the level of investment that the state has made on top of the investment that federal governments over years have made and will continue to make, and it has been informed by deep data analysis of where we will get that economic uplift and also where— (Time expired)