Telcos say more needs to be done to ensure phone and internet services can be kept available during bushfires or restored quickly if they are damaged.
Australia’s biggest network carriers and the industry lobby Communications Alliance will meet this week to review the bushfires’ impact on services.
The alliance wants telcos added to a priority list for fuel to run generators in emergency situations with power loss the largest cause of communications blackouts in bushfire hit areas.
Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton said carriers had been working hard to restore services in affected areas.
“The scale of this disaster is unprecedented and has put enormous pressure on telecommunications networks,” Mr Stanton told AAP.
Telcos and the alliance will also review how cooperation between carriers could be improved during emergencies as well as interactions with emergency services and defence personnel.
The meeting comes amid estimates from Westpac the bushfire crisis will cost Australia $5 billion in direct losses and lop off 0.2 to 0.5 per cent from its economic growth.
The bank sees the cost of the disaster as comparable to the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, which destroyed 2029 homes and killed 173 people.
“That would put the cost in terms of insured and uninsured losses at around $5 billion,” Westpac said.
As of Friday there have been 10,550 insurance claims lodged with an insured valued at $939 million.
A rough rule of thumb for disasters is that the total cost is about double the insured loss, the bank said.
“Assessing the economic impact of disasters is always very difficult, particularly when the full extent of the damage is still unknown,” it cautioned.
But the most severely affected areas only account for about one per cent of the Australian economy, the bank said.
In terms of agriculture there have been thousands of livestock killed, downed power lines have disrupted dairy production and some vineyards have been burned while others will have smoke taint.
But most of the fires have been in forest rather than agricultural areas, and overall the agricultural impact will be minimal compared to the ongoing drought, Westpac said.
The wider impacts on tourism and consumer confidence, and from the airborne pollution, could be even more economically damaging, however.
The widespread global media coverage and the smoke pollution in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne is likely to have a significant effect on Australia’s image as a holiday destination and cut into tourism.
The economic costs of the health effects from the smoke pollution are harder to quantify but could also be significant, Westpac said.
Meanwhile, Labor has called for a nationally-led response to cleaning up bushfire debris similar to the state-led clean up in Victoria after Black Saturday.