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Opinion with Agricultural Region MLC Sandra Carr: Storms uncover harsh truths about communications in regions

Sandra Carr MLCMidwest Times
The severe storm that occurred late Wednesday caused extensive damage to WA's main electricity network in the Central Wheatbelt and Goldfields areas.
 The 220KV transmission line that supplies Kalgoorlie-Boulder sustained significant damage with five large transmission towers downed, along with hundreds of kilometres of wires, with repairs on the towers expected to take some time.
Camera IconThe severe storm that occurred late Wednesday caused extensive damage to WA's main electricity network in the Central Wheatbelt and Goldfields areas. The 220KV transmission line that supplies Kalgoorlie-Boulder sustained significant damage with five large transmission towers downed, along with hundreds of kilometres of wires, with repairs on the towers expected to take some time. Credit: Western Power/Western Power

Listen — we really need to talk about Kevin (not his real name).

Kevin is a communicator of sorts, in fact, we could say he “owns” communication, because for argument’s sake, let’s say Kevin owns the largest telco in Australia.

Kev is big. Huge actually. And his profits are . . . well you can imagine the rest.

Kev sells products and services to people all over Australia. And he sells them in WA too (I have to add that because a lot of people don’t realise WA is part of Australia). Kev does though. And Kev also lets WA help to pay for things, like paying to fund telecommunications towers and various accoutrements to improve what he calls “coverage”.

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Kev says things like: We have the largest mobile network in Australia, with around one million square kilometres more coverage than any other mobile network”.

Kevin, as he tells us, has us covered.

He says “coverage” a lot. But in regional WA people are looking at each other sideways and wondering if Big Kev might be a few chips short of a packet . . . because goodness knows his “coverage” certainly is.

So, let’s take Kev for a quick spin to the regional WA town of Dowerin, just a squidge over a two-hour drive from Perth.

Dowerin was one of the many regional communities impacted by the recent storm that caused power infrastructure to fold like a bloke struck with anxiety in a high-stakes poker game, taking out power from the Kalgoorlie area through to parts of the Wheatbelt. This meant telephone towers lost mains power too. Bit of a worry, right? Emergencies, heatwave, people on medical machines, isolation — reliable comms would have been more than a tad handy.

Sidenote: To their credit, Western Power crews have worked like the clappers and much of the region now has the lights back on. Huge thanks to Western Power crews – you really are champions!

But back to the road trip and the towers without powers.

Kev must surely have been experiencing some serious deja vu on this road trip, right? After all, this is alarmingly similar to what happened right up the State after ex-tropical Cyclone Seroja hit. Power infrastructure out, and telecommunications out right up the coast and way north of where the cyclone hit.

So, surely Kevin wouldn’t suggest power outages were the problem this time? Surely Big Kev would have learned, adjusted, and built in some network resilience? He would have upgraded generators across the whole network of towers having learned they need longer than four to eight-hour capacity? Empowered people from local government areas with skills to assist in making sure towers were plugged in and/or fuelled up? Added those new “user-friendly” plugs to towers that Kevin has been talking about that any Tom, Dick, Shazza or Kev could sort? In fact, Kev’s flashbacks might even extend back to the good old days when he used to have people employed out in the regions where the towers were. People who could pop down in a jiffy and plug in or fuel up the generators to keep people connected?

Surely? Right?

Yeah, nah.

In fact, even after the lights came back on in Dowerin in regional WA, the Telstra tower went down again and didn’t come back on until after 7am the next morning.

That’s odd, Kevin. Really odd.

I mean, Kev is the kind of bloke who likes to send emails dobbing on his nemesis and arch-rival Stevo (not his real name either) about people not being able to call triple-0 due to an internal issue at Stevo’s joint. So where is Kev’s same level of concern when regional WA is cut off from telecommunications in a disaster or extreme weather event?

Where is the outcry?

Why can’t we talk about Kevin?

I mean, Kevin has values.

Kev cares.

He even cared to put them in writing: “We show care in all that we do. We do the right thing for our customers, our communities, the planet, ourselves and each other — even when no one’s watching”.

And that’s awesome, Kev! Now if you’d just care to provide appropriate back up and service to towers in regional areas, which would be great. Not to mention potentially lifesaving.

Let’s talk, Kevin.

Regional WA is vulnerable and watching.

PS – Stevo called, he said his tower in Dowerin was working just fine last night. He’s a cheeky bugger that Stevo.

Sandra Carr is a Labor MLC for the Agricultural Region

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