I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important matter, the matter of providing mobile phone communications to people throughout Australia no matter where they live.
For all of the reasons outlined by the Member for Gilmore, Labor supports this programme.
It is an important programme because it ensures that mobile phone black spots and the base stations which support mobile phone telecommunications can be subsidised and distributed in those areas where there is demonstrated market failure.
Deputy Speaker Mitchell, I know that you have been a strong advocate on this particular issue. I am also delighted to have the opportunity to talk in this debate because it is the first opportunity the Parliament has had to discuss the issue of mobile phone black spots since the Australian National Audit Office released its damning report into the Government's handling of the program.
I will go to some of the findings of the Audit Office's report. In summary, the Audit Office has found that this is an important programme but it has been monumentally mishandled by this government.
I will give you a few examples. In a programme which has been designed to extend coverage into areas where base stations have not already been placed, the Audit Office has found that of the 500 base stations that were funded by this government 89 base stations provided no or minimal benefit to consumers.
In fact, the Government provided base stations in areas where base stations already existed!
What was the price tag of this monumental blunder? $28 million of precious taxpayers' money wasted on a scheme designed to fill in mobile phone black spots, as the program's title suggests. Why would you be putting mobile phone base stations in areas where there is no black spot?
They are not extending new coverage. $28 million has been wasted on this monumental blunder. Twenty five per cent — that is one in four — of base stations funded under this programme provided no new coverage.
There are 10,000 areas around the country listed on the public database that are mobile phone black spots.
People there will be saying, “I now know why I still have a black spot: because $28 million has been wasted and one in four of the base stations funded by this Government has been placed in an area that does not extend coverage.”
In fact, what it does is actually concentrate the market position of the dominant mobile phone carriers within the regional telecommunications market.
Thirty nine of the selected base stations were located within 10 kilometres of a base station already on another telecommunications company's network 39 of them.
And, when pressed about this the hapless minister responsible, the senator from the other place Fiona Nash, said, “Well, what we were doing is providing additional competition.” Well, no new competition was provided, because over 90 per cent of the towers funded went to the dominant incumbent, Telstra.
Normally, when something like this occurs, you would see the parliamentary secretary or the minister responsible dragged into the Prime Minister's office and told, “Explain yourself for this monumental blunder.” There is only one reason why that will not happen: because the cabinet minister responsible for this programme is the Prime Minister.
It was on the Prime Minister's watch that $28 million worth of taxpayers' money has been wasted.
During the election campaign prior to the last one, Mr Deputy Speaker, you would have been sent senseless by the Prime Minister saying, “We need a cost-benefit analysis for every major infrastructure project in this country.”
Well, a cost-benefit analysis would have made a big difference to this project!