National Farmers' Federation

Farm accident reiterates NFF’s call to better connect all Australians

If there’s anyone who knows how vital telecommunications are in the bush, it’s Will Picker – a farmer who crawled 1 kilometre with a broken back to get enough phone service to call for help.

This is just one example why this Federal Election, National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson is calling for a $5 billion commitment to make meaningful, future-focused improvement to communications in the bush.

Mobile phone coverage and internet connectivity is a perennial issue for the peak body, which wants the funding to be directed into an independent Regional, Rural and Remote Telecommunications Fund.

“Through the advocacy of the NFF and the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition, recent commitments by both major parties have certainly been welcomed, making inroads into improving rural Australians connectivity,” Ms Simson said.

“However, there remains a significant inequity between the services available to regional Australians and their urban counterparts. An ongoing need to expand mobile phone coverage across a greater area of our regions continues to put the safety of rural Australians at risk, like that of Will Picker.”

A sheep farmer from Bigga, north west of Goulburn, Will crawled for 1 kilometre with a broken back after a motorbike accident in an area with zero mobile phone reception. He was also unable to make an SOS call.

“I was mustering sheep when the bike hit a wombat hole and I was thrown off. It all happened pretty quickly,” he said. 

Alert to the risk of spinal injury and knowing he had no choice but to move to get help, Will made the judgement call to crawl in case he was suffering from internal bleeding or a punctured organ.

Will made it to a roadside where there was just enough reception to call his partner Hannah Sparks, who luckily had some idea of where he was.

Will was airlifted to Orange Hospital where a team of 20 doctors were waiting. An examination found Will had floating vertebrae.

“The doctors said had the vertebrae moved a millimetre or so more, there was a real chance of permanent damage,” he said.

More than one year later, Will is back working on farm, but has ongoing back pain. 

He also still doesn’t have mobile phone coverage where the accident occurred.

“I’m not saying every square kilometre of Australia should have mobile coverage, but we have to work together to find smarter ways to extend our coverage further.

“We also can’t just rely on mobile coverage to keep us safe on farm, but increasingly these days our mobile is the device we have with us. It is one of the most effective and accessible tools to keep us connected to help when we need it, especially considering many farmers work alone,” Will said,

“Not only would greater coverage have helped my situation with bike accident, it would also open the door to making productivity improvements through incorporating more ag-tech onto the farm.”

Ms Simson said stories like Will’s unfortunately were all too common, which was why the NFF is seeking a clear commitment this election for telecommunications.

“The $5b we are seeking would help contribute to reducing black spots, like the one on Will’s property, but this funding will also make inroads into broader connectivity requirements for regional businesses, education, health services and lifestyle.

“These requests form part of the NFF’s election manifesto #TimetoThrive, helping our regions grow and agriculture to reach its goal to be Australia’s next $100b industry by 2030.”

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