Today’s claim by Minister for Regional Communications, Senator McKenzie that Round 3 of the Coalition’s Mobile Black Spot program is about meeting community needs shows the Minister isn’t across her brief.

That’s because Round 3 is funding 2016 election promises and is therefore entirely about Coalition political needs.

The Victorian Government’s decision announced yesterday to abandon the Commonwealth Mobile Black Spot Program in favour of its own system is yet another indictment of a failed program.

Other States could now follow Victoria’s lead and reconsider their support for the program, putting a big dent in the co-funding arrangements that have supported the program until now.  

In Rounds 1 and 2, six state governments co-contributed $141.2 million to the program. The loss of this co-funding would be a major blow to the viability of the program.

The Coalition’s Mobile Black Spot Program (MBSP) has failed to deliver on its stated policy objectives and has instead been used for political reasons by the Liberal and National parties.

State Governments like Victoria are clearly fed up with the lack of a fair or evidence-based approach to the funding of mobile black spots, an area which has traditionally seen cooperation between Federal, State and private operators.

Already, both the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) and the Productivity Commission have found serious deficiencies in the administration and design of the Mobile Black Spot Program.

The program is failing to meet community needs and expectations and instead has been little more than a rort to direct Commonwealth funding to Liberal and National Party electorates.

In Rounds 1 and 2, 80 per cent of the locations announced were in Liberal or National party electorates.

Critical locations in areas of Victoria, particularly bush fire prone areas, have missed out.

The Productivity Commission found that there was “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,” and recommended substantial changes to the program.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission in its major report into communications also identified that the MBSP had failed to meet one of its two objectives – improving competition in regional Australia.

Despite the condemnation of the ANAO, Productivity Commission and ACCC, the Coalition is now proceeding with a third round of the MBSP based on funding the Coalition’s 2016 Election commitments.

It’s no wonder that States like Victoria are now going it alone.

It’s time for the politics to be taken out of this program and for priority to be given to funding mobile black spots based on consultation with stakeholders like State governments and emergency services experts.