AUSTRALIA'S long term economic potential is being jeopardised by a lack of telecommunications investment in rural and remote regions, says Queensland LNP Senator Barry O'Sullivan.
Senator O'Sullivan, who sits with the National Party in Federal Parliament, 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 access to affordable and reliable technology services.
He said there was also a clear message from locals that they felt their economic contribution was being overlooked by Canberra.
Senator O'Sullivan said a dramatic priority shift was needed by politicians when deciding how telecommunications infrastructure funding was prioritised and committed.
"Policy decisions too often focus on the number of people living in a region and not the economic output of the area," Senator O'Sullivan said.
"Rural and remote regions punch well above their economic weight and underpin the wealth of the rest of our nation, yet are too often overlooked or ignored when delivering even basic infrastructure. Some infrastructure is almost third world.
"This is both unacceptable and unsustainable. We need these regions to prosper because of their significant economic contribution to the national coffers.
"Rural and remote regions are wealth generating regions and they need much higher consideration when we are determining priority infrastructure."
Senator O'Sullivan said declining international commodity prices for iron ore and coal was making Australia increasingly reliant on a strong and vibrant agriculture export sector.
However, he said our international competitiveness was under threat wherever rural and remote business operators did not have access to reliable technology.
"There are significant export opportunities for our agriculture sector in the coming years and decades," he said.
"We must ensure our farmers are able to compete on a level playing field in the global marketplace and in the 21st century that means access to fast and affordable wireless broadband, mobile phone reception and reliable landline services."
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.
"The councils currently have a proposal before government that would deliver optic fibre services to the regions and I believe the Federal Government should agree to it," Senator O'Sullivan said.
"Ratepayers in these two shires are willing to contribute $13,000 per person in additional costs to fund this project, which every other Australian takes for granted.
"This is technology that all Australians are not only entitled to, but will increasingly rely on. We simply cannot afford for the bush to fall behind the rest of the nation."
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.
"I am deeply concerned about the widening technology gap between city and country in this nation," he said.
"Quite frankly, the lack of investment in basic infrastructure for people living in remote Australia is a shame on our nation.
"It is a shame on the previous government and if there is no action taken soon, it will be a shame on the current government as well.
"We ignore this plight at our own peril."
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