LABOR REFERS NEW ENGLAND MOBILE TOWER TO NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE

Labor has referred allegations of irregularities in the award of contracts under the Mobile Phone Blackspot Program to the ANAO (the Australian National Audit Office).

The referral comes after Fairfax media revealed  that the mobile base station lobbied for by the community of Kingstown is not addressing their connectivity problems, leading to questions around the site selected for the tower.

Residents had sought a new tower to be collocated with emergency services communications on a high point in the district.

The tower was eventually built in a different location that does not provide optimum coverage.

The Coalition’s mobile black Spot program has been plagued by poor administration, bad program design and delays.

In September 2016 the Australian National Audit Office issued a damning report on the Government’s handling of Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spot Program and identified numerous flaws in the programs design and administration.

The ANAO report found that:
  • The criteria used to assess the merits of proposed base stations did not sufficiently target funding toward the expansion of coverage where none previously existed.
  • There were not established methodologies to inform the technical and financial assessment of applicant proposals from across Australia.
  • There is insufficient performance measurement and evaluation.

In addition, the ANAO found that nearly 20 per cent of new mobile phone towers funded in Round 1 (89 of 499) provided no new or extended coverage and up to 39 base stations were planned to be built in the same areas by carriers without the need for public funding.

More than 80 per cent of the locations for new mobile phone towers announced are in Liberal or National electorates with less than seven per cent in electorates held by Labor Members.

The Productivity Commission's 2016 report into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation raised concerns that Australian Government funding is directed at expanding mobile coverage in locations for political reasons rather than to locations where overall community wellbeing might be better served.

The Productivity Commission has said that the design of the Mobile Black Spot program has become so politicised that the government has been urged to amend the program to more closely target locations where significant additional mobile coverage is likely to benefit mobile customers.

The actions of the Member for New England suggest the Coalition is more concerned with their own interests, rather than making a genuine attempt to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia.