The Australian National Audit Office has today issued a damning report on the Government’s handling of the Mobile Black Spot Program.
This $220 million program is supposed to improve public safety and expand mobile phone coverage across Australia.
The Abbott–Turnbull Government committed $100 million to round one of the program to deliver 499 new and upgraded mobile base stations across Australia. However, 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 ANAO report, tabled in Parliament Thursday afternoon, 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.
On top of that weaknesses in the programme’s guidelines resulted in diminished value for money with the assessment of applicant costs lacking sufficient rigour. There was also insufficient attention paid to specific local issues to inform the delivery of future funding rounds.
Labor’s Regional Communications spokesperson and Whitlam MP Stephen Jones said that the number one criterion for site selection was politics, not community need.
“Perhaps the most damning finding is that the Government has been caught funding sites that would have been built by the mobile phone companies anyway. 25 per cent of new mobile phone towers funded in round one provided no new or extended coverage.
“Even though the Government promised that the scheme would improve mobile coverage in areas prone to natural disasters many fire-prone Labor-held electorates missed out.”
Mr Jones said that black spots were a serious issue in his own electorate.
“In the seat of Whitlam none of the 16 identified mobile black spots were included in round one of the Mobile Black Spot Programme. This is a high priority, particularly since many communities in the Southern Highlands can’t get a good mobile connection. People in places like Exeter really need the situation to improve.
“As I have said many times before, it is a concern that Mount Murry and Yellow Rock don’t have quality reception. Macquarie Pass is a hazardous drive that features many car crashes and drivers need to be able to contact emergency services.
“Unfortunately, for these communities and communities across Australia, there are serious flaws with the Mobile Black Spot Programme. The Government needs to get on top of this right now.”
Labor’s policy on mobile black spots is to place a far greater emphasis on a fair distribution of funds across a fairer spread of electorates. We will make sure that areas affected by natural disasters are given strong consideration, especially where human safety is at stake.
The ANAO report should be a wake-up call for a Government which has promised the world on fixing mobile black spots but mostly ignored non-Coalition held seats.