Premier says PM should step up on south-west 'economic disaster'

PREMIER Ted Baillieu yesterday called for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to visit Warrnambool and the south-west to understand the widespread impact from Telstra’s exchange blackout.

“She should be here,” Mr Baillieu said in Mortlake after he met leaders from five shires who related how businesses and residents in their areas had been hit hard since the November 22 fire took out 65,000 landlines, 15,000 internet broadband lines, more than 80 mobile phone towers and thousands of mobile phone customers.

“She should come and have a look at what is effectively an economic disaster.”

The Premier, who has not yet seen the damaged exchange for himself, invited council leaders to meet him in Mortlake due to his tight schedule in officially opening the Origin Energy power station.

When asked if he would visit Warrnambool later for a follow-up he said “yes, we’ll do that for sure”.

He said the federal government, as the regulatory body for national communications, should have stepped up much earlier.

“The federal government simply has not understood the significance and didn’t appreciate the depth of the problem,” Mr Baillieu said.

“I’m pleased there’s going to be an inquiry, but that needs to be stretched to the social and economic impacts as well, not just what happened and how it could be prevented.

“If this had been a flood or fire there would have been an appropriate response from the federal government.

“Albeit this is arguably the first time something of this dimension has occurred, we have to now understand it better and respond in an appropriate manner.”

He will raise the issue at the Council of Australian Governments meeting today and tomorrow attended by Ms Gillard.

Mr Baillieu said he had been alerted on the morning of the fire and had been kept regularly informed through South West Coast MP Denis Napthine and other local MPs. He said he was pleased Telstra had committed to compensating affected customers and financing a regional marketing campaign.

“We’ve all had a significant learning from this experience, that is there are huge vulnerabilities around our communications system.”

Dr Napthine described the outage as a regional disaster of “significant proportions”.

“It’s put businesses and jobs at risk and cost local communities literally millions and millions of dollars,” he said.

“This has been devastating for retailing, tourism, accommodation and other businesses.”

“Now we want to get the message out there that we are open for business for Christmas, for the holidays.

“We need tourists to come in from other parts of Victoria and interstate.”

Warrnambool City Council mayor Michael Neoh and chief executive Bruce Anson said they understood about $650,000 would be allocated to the campaign.

They said there seemed to be little understanding outside the south-west.

“There’s growing anger and frustration in the general community and businesses as the outage continues,” Cr Neoh said.

Moyne Shire mayor Jim Doukas and Corangamite Shire councillor Peter Harkin said people wanted assurances that steps would be taken to prevent a reoccurrence.

“There are lessons here that Australia needs to learn,” Cr Harkin said.

West Wimmera chief executive Mark Crouch said the Warrnambool outage affects towns as far as Edenhope, Apsley and Harrow.

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