10 May 2023

Cape York needs telecommunications back-up: MP

| Matt Nicholls
Start the conversation

MEMBER for Leichhardt Warren Entsch says it’s time for Telstra to put together a plan to protect the Cape and Torres Strait from phone outages in the wet season.

Last week, residents in the NPA and most of the Torres Strait were without mobile phone coverage for the best part of four days.

It caused havoc in the business community, with many unable to access cash or make emergency calls to Triple Zero.

The problem, which was first reported on Tuesday morning, was a result of a malfunction at the Sailor Creek Crossing exchange.

It took a Telstra technician two trips with a helicopter to identify and fix the problem.

With just one main phone cable servicing the entire Peninsula, Mr Entsch said Telstra should come up with a proposal to safeguard the region from future outages.

“It’s something that would need government support, no doubt, but we can’t be having outages every wet season,” the MP said.

“There’s got to be a solution because these outages can be a matter of life and death.”

Rachel Cliffe, Telstra’s regional general manager for the state, said she acknowledged the challenges of only having one transmission pathway.

“It’s something we’re working on … a ring of resilience,” she said on Friday afternoon.

“We’re currently extending the fibreoptic from Burketown to Normanton. That might seem irrelevant but there is potential to build from that and create different pathways to Cape York.”

Ms Cliffe said Telstra did all it could to fix last week’s issue in the shortest time possible.

“We got an alarm early on Tuesday morning that we had a transmission issue,” she said.

“We couldn’t secure a helicopter on Tuesday but sent a technician to the site first thing on Wednesday.

“Despite the efforts of the technician, it kept failing so we had to get a new part in.”

The part was flown to Weipa on Thursday and sent north to Thursday Island.

The technician was at Sailors Creek Crossing on Friday morning and services were restored on Friday around 3pm.

Ms Cliffe said there were many options businesses could take to build resilience against network outages.

“The NBN was available the whole time and those with an ADSL connection were able to access the internet,” she said.

However, those on Thursday Island were without both mobile and fixed line connections, she admitted.

Community Enterprises Queensland CEO Michael Dykes said the IBIS stores in the NPA and Torres Strait were able to operate last week.

“We’re fortunate that in the last few years we’ve been investing in satellite back-up,” he told Cape York Weekly.

“In Lockhart River, for example, we’ve moved to Starlink because it connects to low-orbit satellites. It’s made a huge difference there.”

However, some businesses and organisations did not fare as well.

A patient of Bamaga Hospital had their appointment cancelled because the ultrasound tech didn’t travel.

The hospital was unable to alert patients of cancellations.

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service put a post on its Facebook page to inform people that its hospitals and clinics were running as per usual, but those with an emergency should call Triple Zero.

However, Cape York Weekly understands that emergency calls did not connect throughout the outage.

An NPA resident experienced a break-in and was unable to call Triple Zero to contact police.

Some people also had their wages delayed due to businesses relying on ADSL.

“We understand that things go wrong with technology but this happens every wet season,” Mr Entsch.

“It’s not about pointing the finger at Telstra but clearly we live in a remote area that experiences harsh weather conditions.

“Can we do better? If so, what can we do to help?”

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.