“POLITICAL REASONS” DRIVING COALITION’S MOBILE BLACK SPOT PROGRAM, SAYS PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION
Following the release today of the Productivity Commission Draft Report into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation, Labor’s spokesperson on Regional Communications, Stephen Jones MP, called on the Turnbull Government to urgently revise its approach to the Mobile Black Spot Program.
“First we had the damming ANAO Report into Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spot Program that highlighted serious flaws – and now we have the Productivity Commission echoing those same findings.
“Just how many warnings from government watchdogs do we need before the Minister for Regional Communications gets the hint and fixes this mess?”, Mr Jones says.
“Today’s PC report says that:
‘… the Commission is concerned that there is a risk 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.”
[Productivity Commission Draft Report into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation, page 266]
“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 ahead of the next funding round.
‘Before it proceeds with further funding rounds, the Government should amend the program to:
• more closely target locations where significant additional mobile coverage is likely to benefit mobile customers
• revise infrastructure sharing requirements to be consistent with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s findings in the ongoing Domestic Mobile Roaming Declaration Inquiry
• prioritise areas for funding based on community input — rather than on nominations from Members of Parliament.
[Productivity Commission Draft Report into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation, page 13]
“This is a program is supposed to improve public safety and expand mobile phone coverage across Australia,” Mr Jones said.
In Round 1, of the funding promised to deliver 499 new and upgraded mobile base stations across Australia, more than 80 per cent of the locations for new mobile phone towers announced were in Liberal or National electorates with less than seven per cent in electorates held by Labor Members, and 1 in 4 of the base stations did not extend coverage.
“In Round 2, announced just last week, again we see that 80 per cent of locations are in Liberal or National Party electorates, with around 11 per cent in electorates held by Labor members.
“There is a pattern of behaviour here that puts party politics above community need. We know that there are black spots in Labor-held electorates like McEwen in Victoria and Wakefield in South Australia that have been missing out, despite being in high bushfire prone areas of the highest community need.
“While ignoring seats like McEwen and Wakefield, Minister Nash has been happy to help out her National Party leader Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce whose seat of New England received more than 28 mobile base stations in Round 1 and five more in Round 2.
“It has been clear to me for some time that this program is being mismanaged and delivering poor outcomes, based on party politics, not community need.
“I am calling on Minister Nash to urgently re-think her approach to fixing mobile black spots and to heed the advice of the Audit Office and now the Productivity Commission,” Mr Jones said.
TUESDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2016