The Australian National Audit Office has 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 this 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.
Clearly, the number one criterion for site selection was politics, not community need.
Perhaps the most damning finding is that the Abbott – Turnbull 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 the electorate of McEwen, held by Labor MP Rob Mitchell, barely received any assistance.
McEwen was heavily affected by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and is one of the five most fire prone in all of Australia. Yet the entire electorate only received funding for one tower and the reinstatement of one more.
It’s the same story in the Labor-held seat of Wakefield held by Nick Champion. It received no funding for any of the nominated 78 mobile black spots. The 2015 Pinery bushfires in this very electorate resulted in two deaths and the lack of mobile phone reception hampered emergency communications.
While ignoring seats like McEwen and Wakefield, the Deputy Prime Minister favoured his own seat of New England, which received more than 28 mobile base stations.
It’s not as if the Government hasn’t received fair warning about the importance of mobile phone reception in areas prone to bushfires and other natural disasters. After Black Saturday, the Federal Government developed a $23 million national warning system to send texts to residents threatened by bushfires.
But systems like this – which are designed to save lives – are useless when a mobile phone signal can’t be found.
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.
FRIDAY, 2 SEPTEMBER 2016