Mobile Blackspot Program Politicised

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (19:33): It is unparliamentary to refer to a person in this place as a liar, and out of deep respect to you, Deputy Speaker Coulton, and the rules of this place, I will not do it, but the persistent indifference to the truth that has just been displayed by the member for Durack and the mover of this motion, the member for Capricornia, really does test the patience of every Labor member of the House. They persistently show their ignorance when it comes to the engineering requirements of mobile phone telephony in this country when they peddle the lives and indifference to truth about how this program has been rolling out and about Labor's contributions to mobile black spot funding in the past.

Before the government came into office there was history. There was a world before the government came to office. There was a program known as the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program. It was a Labor initiative of $250 million, which was invested in putting the backhaul infrastructure—that is, the cable that joins the mobile phone towers together—to ensure that those mobile phone blackspots could be filled in. So these 500 mobile phone towers that they brag about simply could not exist if Labor had not invested the $250 million in the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program. I can guarantee you that that money was not siphoned off, as it has been under this program, for political and other purposes.

A few months ago, the Australian National Audit Office published a damning report of the government's management of this program. Not one government speaker mentioned it, for good reason. Only the National Party could take a fundamentally good idea and muck it up the way that they have, turning it into a slush fund for their own rank political purposes. They love to talk about the contribution that they have made for remote and regional communities. Well, I have had a look at some of these regional and remote communities that have been funded by this program. There is a place called Belmont. It is as far away as 12 kilometres from the CBD of Brisbane, and it is funded under round 3 of this program. There is another place called Karana Downs, which is 22 kilometres away. That is a skateboard and a short bus ride from the CBD of Brisbane. Yet these champions of regional Australia say this is a great program and they have done a fantastic job by funding these mobile phone black spots in areas that you can see from the CBD of Brisbane—or from Perth. I could go around the entire country and find examples where the minister has used public money for a political purpose. It is not just us who are saying this; it is the Australian National Audit Office who are saying this money has not been efficiently used.

In round 1 of this program, 20 per cent of the mobile phone black spots that were funded did not extend coverage. Twenty per cent of the towers—that is one in five of the towers—that were funded did not extend coverage. When pressed on this issue, the minister said, 'Oh, well, it wasn't all about extending coverage.' There are many people who think that a mobile black spot program is about filling in black spots, but, 'No,' the minister went on to say, 'some of this was about competition and ensuring that we had more competition in the bush.' Fair enough, except that over 70 per cent of the funds went to the incumbent mobile telephone operator. How is that for improving competition? They actually entrenched a monopoly for mobile phone coverage in the bush.

So we will not cop a lecture. We will not cop this persistent indifference to the truth from the mover of this motion and the champions who come in here after her saying that this program has been an unmitigated success. It has not. The Australian National Audit Office was damning in its criticism. It appears that the government have learned nothing from their mistakes in round 1. So we again call on the Australian National Audit Office to run a ruler over the operations of this program, because it appears that the National Party have stuffed it up again.