While the NBN is being rolled out across the nation, Katunga farmers are still waiting for mobile phone reception.
The district, north of Numurkah, has experienced poor coverage for a number of years and, despite promises by the Federal Government in the lead-up to the federal election, is still waiting to receive funding after being labelled a ‘priority location’ more than 18 months ago.
The Victorian Government has slammed the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program, vowing to pull $11 million in funding from the third round of the program and go it alone.
Victorian Innovation and Digital Economy Minister Philip Dalidakis said the program failed to properly consult when choosing sites and there was complete lack of transparency about how sites were chosen, sparking concerns site selections were fuelled by political interests.
Dairy farmer Daryl Hoey struggles to get reception anywhere on his 150 ha Katunga property or in town and holds grave concerns for what the poor reception could mean in an emergency.
“It’s an essential service, it’s not a luxury,” Mr Hoey said.
“We are entitled to first rate communication services, especially when it comes to life and death situations.
“We’re so used to promises being made by governments that we don’t take notice of it. It’s just another hollow promise.”
Katunga resident Paula Hansen was unsure whether the Victorian Government’s decision would deliver mobile towers to the town.
“We would love to think that that might happen but we won’t be holding our breath,” she said.
More than 140 mobile towers have already been funded in Victoria under the previous two rounds of the Commonwealth program, and 79 of these are finished.
VFF vice-president Brett Hosking said the Victorian Government’s decision “reeks of lunacy”.
“We’re facing an uphill battle and the governments say all the time they want to help but unfortunately their actions don’t seem to reflect their words,” Mr Hosking said.
“The outcome is more important than the politics.”
Federal Regional Communications Minister Bridget McKenzie said the Victorian Government was playing “pure politics” and that regional Victoria would be worse off.
Both Katunga and Gunbower were identified as eligible locations under the priority locations round of the Mobile Black Spot Program and will be assessed ahead of an announcement regarding which locations will receive funding, expected in the coming months.