Communication breakdown relayed to parliament

The Mt Ikes communications site was knocked out of action by the Dunns Road fires, cutting off communications around Tumbarumba.

After attending Tumbatrek last weekend, Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain has taken the issue of telecommunications back to Canberra.

“Better telecommunications was a major talking point as we weaved in and out of towering gums over the weekend,” she said in Parliament this week.

During Tumbatrek, walkers were taken up to the new Telstra Tower that was rebuilt last year after being destroyed during the 2019-20 bushfires. A trek leader said that defending the tower during the fires “was like fighting a war without guns.”

Snowy Valleys Council’s manager of technical services, Glen McGrath, said it was chosen to take trekkers to the tower “because communications were a big issue around here after the fires.”

Tumbarumba was without telecommunications for days during the Black Summer bushfires, and Ms McBain told Parliament of the extent of the outage.

“Tumbarumba and surrounds, like many communities in the mighty Eden-Monaro, found itself cut off from the world during the darkest days of our Black Summer bushfires,” she said. 

“The sense of isolation is now a deep part of the community’s trauma.”

She said that the Morrison government’s commitment of $2 billion for bushfire recovery was “good words but, sadly, hollow words for the people I spoke with at Tumbatrek.”

“Of the more than $27 million those opposite have committed to strengthening telecommunications against natural disasters, just $100,000 has been spent,” Ms McBain said. 

“Fourteen months on from the worst natural disaster this country has witnessed, this government has spent less than 0.36 per cent of the allocated budget. 

“Burnt-out communities I represent need these practicalities, and we will continue to fight for them – all photo ops and no follow-up.”

Eden Monaro MP Kristy McBain with Snowy Valleys Council mayor James Hayes.

Late last year, a new hazard mitigation crew was formed for the Snowy Valleys, featuring four full-time positions. One of their first tasks was establishing solid asset protection zones around critical infrastructure such as the Mt Ikes and Wereboldera communication sites – both impacted by the Dunns Road fire.

Those towers provide the link between the Snowy Valleys and ABC and local radio and mobile phone reception, as well as emergency service communications for local first responders, police, FRNSW, the SES and government agencies. 

“The crew have cleared the vegetation back around the sites just to strengthen up the two critical communications structures for our community, similar works will be undertaken around others in the coming weeks,” NSW RFS District Manager Jon Gregory said at the time.

“One of the tasks we were doing during the fire, we sent crews in to put generators in to maintain those sites,” said Mr Gregory. 

“We had to fly in because we couldn’t drive in because of the fire, and some days we couldn’t fly in due to the smoke and adverse weather conditions.”

Speaking of the Tumbatrek walk itself, Ms McBain said the landscape of the Snowy Valleys was “both beautiful and traumatised.”