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18 April, 2022

Don't forget about Lockhart River, says mayor

With the worst mobile phone service in Cape York, Wayne Butcher hopes federal candidates are paying attention.

By Matt Nicholls

LOCKHART River mayor Wayne Butcher is hoping a close federal election race in Leichhardt will be the catalyst for a major upgrade to the town’s disgraceful telecommunications network.

The Cape York community has the worst mobile phone service in Far North Queensland with regular outages and almost non-existent data access.

Telstra has ignored Lockhart River’s problems while the federal government – which has upgraded many mobile phone blackspots around Australia – has yet to fund a solution.

“We need to get fibre optic cable running to Lockhart River – it’s an expensive process but a long-term solution for our community,” Cr Butcher said last week.

“Aurukun got the fibre optic cable and it was a game-changer for them. They went from having a mobile phone service like ours to having the best speeds in the Cape.

“We are not asking for 5G like the cities, we are simply asking for a reliable 4G service.”

Cape York Weekly understands the cost of running a fibre optic line to Lockhart River would come with a hefty price tag.

But Cr Butcher said the

cost of not fixing the

issue could be greater.

“We are being left behind. I was at a conference last year and there were telecommunications people from Canberra telling us that the 3G system was going to get shut down,” the mayor said.

“I was like ‘hold up, we only have 3G in Lockhart River.

“There is a lack of understanding in the capital cities about how bad we have it here.”

While satellite internet is available in Lockhart River, Cr Butcher said it wouldn’t solve all the problems.

“I reckon there are about 20 households out of 200 with home satellite internet,” he said.

“It’s not affordable for most people and it’s not that reliable in the wet season when we have heavy cloud cover.”

Cr Butcher called on the candidates in Leichhardt to commit to fixing Lockhart River’s “third world” telecommunications and bring the community in line with others around Australia.

“Kids growing up here are disadvantaged enough without being left behind with technology,” he said.

“The major parties talk about Closing the Gap but here we are with a mobile phone service that drops out several times a year for days at a time.”

The latest outage was just last month when a repeater tower had a break down – a result of Telstra still using technology from the 1980s in Cape York.

“I think they tried to drive out to Wattle Hill to fix it and couldn’t get there and then had to charter a helicopter. For six days we were without phone service.

“It’s dangerous and someone could die as a result.”

Mark Bailey, the state government’s ministerial champion for Lockhart River, said it was time for something to be done.

“It’s a known problem and it’s quite frankly a disgrace,” he said.


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