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Mobile outage meant four days without the ability to buy food or fuel for some

Aleisha Orr -

Some residents in the remote community of Maningrida in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory were unable to purchase food or fuel for four days due to a Telstra mobile outage.

Mobile phone coverage was down from Monday to Thursday and affected ATMs, EFTPOS machines, mobile phone and internet connections.

Many people in Maningrida have been placed on income management by the government, meaning the majority of their welfare payment goes onto a cashless debit card which can only be used at certain outlets.

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said people had been unable to buy essentials such as food and fuel and some families were going hungry.

"This wouldn't be accepted in Melbourne or Sydney, it should not be accepted in Maningrida."

Senator McCarthy said she believed the Morrison Government had ignored the situation that she described as a 'crisis.'

"The West Arnhem Regional Council has raised telecommunications issues in their region months ago with Minister Wyatt with no response," she said.

"The Morrison Government has left remote Territorians hungry and in the dark."

This is not the first time such an outage has occurred in the community and Senator McCarthy said Telstra and the Government need to come up with long term solutions.

According to a post on the Maningrida Notice Board Facebook page, the local supermarket had managed to connect one ATM via a wifi connection on Monday morning.

Breannan Totten posted the update to the community.

"Please be mindful ATMs have been down since Thursday meaning the line to get cash out is a bit of a wait," she added.

The majority of people in the Northern Territory on the income management card in the Northern Territory are Indigenous.

Senator McCarthy said this outage was another example of how dysfunctional and punitive compulsory income management is.

"Families who have no choice but to go on the Basics Card or Cashless Debit Card by the Morrison Government cannot even access their own money," she said.

Telstra Regional General Manager in the NT Nic Danks confirmed that the matter had been resolved on Thursday afternoon.

"A Telstra technician travelled to the site by helicopter this morning with a number of replacement parts to undertake further investigations and restoration works," he said.

Mr Danks said a hardware issue at the local telephone exchange had been impacting the transmission network.

"Telstra apologises for any inconvenience caused to local residents during this time and will continue to monitor the site over coming days to make sure it continues to operate effectively," he said.

Mr Danks pointed out that landline and NBN internet services had not been impacted and encouraged stores across the NT to have a backup connectivity option for EFTPOS facilities "to ensure they can continue trading and supplying services in case of an outage".

The National Indigenous Times contacted Communications Minister Paul Fletcher who referred the matter to Minister Bridget McKenzie as it relates to regional communications and the Mobile Black Spot Program.

A department spokesperson said the Australian Government understood the importance of communications access and was acting to support the mobile operators to increase their network size and coverage in remote Australia through programs such as the Mobile Black Spot Program and the Regional Connectivity Program.

The Arnhem Fibre Upgrade Project is part of the latter project which the spokesperson said would upgrade core transmission equipment at Telstra sites across Arnhem Land, including Maningrida, increasing existing backhaul transmission capacity between Darwin and Nhulunbuy.

"Local communities are encouraged to contact their local council as well as the mobile network operators to make their coverage issues known. Past experience has shown that when local communities and councils engage with the mobile operators it increases the likelihood that a mobile base station application will be put forward under the program," the spokesperson said.

By Aleisha Orr

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