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26 July, 2022

Lives are at risk, says Lockhart River mayor

Cape York’s communication woes put lives at risk ahead of wet season, says Wayne Butcher


PLANNED upgrades to “notoriously unreliable” telecommunications services have been cautiously welcomed by Cape York leaders.  

The Torres Cape Indigenous Councils Alliance was briefed by Telstra on upcoming major works earlier this month, including a plan to introduce a 4G network in Lockhart River starting next year.

But mayor Wayne Butcher said lives will remain at risk until mobile phone reception improves in the area.

“We’re fortunate we haven’t had any serious injuries or deaths due to breakdowns in our community,” Cr Butcher said.

“It’s become a really big safety concern.

“We’ve had some car accidents during telecommunications breakdowns.

“We’ve been fortunate in those cases vehicles have gone past.

“There have been people trapped between rivers. I’m still a bit worried about that.”

While more expensive, Cr Butcher said delivering fibre optic cable remains the best solution for his community’s communication woes. 

“There are a lot of excuses about the terrain but I think when you look at the value – last time it was quoted at about $15 million,” Cr Butcher said. 

“Our satellites are too exposed to lightning strikes and cyclones.

“I’d prefer they put a fibre optic system straight into Lockhart River. We either need a direct satellite or a fibre optic (service) in Lockhart River.”

Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council’s acting CEO Kate Gallaway said phone and internet outages in her communities can last up to three days.

“Because of the federal government decision for remote communities to rely on NBN satellite services … we have no investment for the laying of the fixed fibre you have elsewhere,” Ms Gallaway said.

“Unfortunately, during the wet season satellites are notoriously unreliable.

“When Telstra does upgrades, if they fail, we lose all of our services across the community.

“That’s probably happened four times in the last 12 months.

“The longest outage we’ve had is three days.

“If there’s an emergency, people can’t call the ambos without a satellite phone.

“Imagine if everyone in Cairns lost their Telstra services for two days. There’d be a riot.

“We have to think about the health and safety of our community.”

Telstra has committed to delivering a new base station in Seisa and Cooktown.


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