Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – 2GB Ben Fordham Live – Senate Inquiry into Mobile Black Spots Program

Subject: Senate Inquiry into Mobile Black Spots Program

E&OE…

Ben Fordham: Now there’s a war of words brewing in Canberra. And it relates to what is a massive problem in our country, even though you wouldn’t think it would still be a major problem. But it is. Mobile phone black spots. In fact, it was only on Sunday, I was talking to a mate in Melbourne and he said hang on a moment. I’m going through a black spot. I’m 2km out of Melbourne, and I’ve got a black spot. The Coalition has been trying to get a Senate inquiry over the line. They want to examine Labor’s Mobile Black Spot Program and it was established to improve mobile phone coverage in regional areas. But there are accusations of pork barrelling because under the recent round of funding 74% of the money went to Labor seats. The Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland is even accused of hand picking some of the areas. The inquiry in Canberra has been blocked after the Greens sided with Labor yesterday. So, the proposal was defeated by one vote. David Coleman is The Shadow Minister for Communications and he’s on the line. David, thanks for joining us.

David Coleman: No worries. Good morning, Ben.

Ben Fordham: Before we get into the politics, let’s talk about the black spots. How many is still out there?

David Coleman: There’s a lot. We’ve done over 1200 over the past five or six years but there’s still quite a lot more to go. An example, just on the edge of Sydney, Kenthurst Rural Fire Service up there and they’ve got huge issues with mobile black spots around their emergency operation centre. You have suburbs like Harrington Grove and Cobbitty and Ellis Lane on the outskirts of Sydney with big mobile coverage issues and the big problem with this round is Michelle Rowland, picked personally 54 locations. Places like the ones I just mentioned, not only did they not get funding, they weren’t even allowed to apply. It’s just completely wrong and a total misuse of funds.

Ben Fordham: How easy are they to fix? When you identify a black spot, how much work is involved in filling that black spot?

David Coleman: What normally happens is, you build a new tower and it varies because the more people that are in the area, in a sense, the easier it is because you can cover the cost. But it’s basically the telcos putting a new tower up. We’ve done that, as I’ve said more than 1200 times over the last six years and the normal process is communities get to apply. So, you get together with the community and say we really need some additional mobile coverage to apply through the Mobile Black Spots Program and it’s a merit-based process. But with this round, it’s not. It’s not a merit-based process at all. It’s a Michelle Rowland-based process. And if you’re in a Labor seat, you’re much, much more likely to have got funding than if you’re not.

Ben Fordham: You know where they might have got the idea from their Mobile Phone Black Spot Scheme.

David Coleman: Sorry?

Ben Fordham: Do you know where they might have got the idea from?

David Coleman: Where Ben?

Ben Fordham: From your car park fund.

David Coleman: Ben there were obviously issues that people talked a lot about in the previous Government around grants and so on. I don’t accept those arguments that were made at the time, but this is a very clear-cut case. I mean, the Minister is not actually denying that she handpicked the locations. What normally happens is you have a situation where the department makes recommendations, Ministers don’t always follow every single one of those recommendations, but obviously it’s persuasive. Here, the department doesn’t appear to have made any recommendations at all. It appears they’ve all been selected by the Minister.

Ben Fordham: When you’ve got people’s lives on the line. I mean, that’s why it should be taken out of the hands of politicians because we have had some tragic cases where people have needed emergency services and they can’t get a phone connection.

David Coleman: Yeah, it’s a really serious issue. There’s a place called Healesville just on the outside of Melbourne, where they’ve had very serious issues with mobile black spots and bushfires. The community there and the council there got together and said look, here’s a plan to improve mobile coverage in our bushfire affected regions. But they’re not even allowed to apply under this round. And so, it’s a clear-cut case of inappropriate use of funds. That’s why basically everyone in the Senate all the crossbenchers except the Greens and Lydia Thorpe voted to support this inquiry, because we really want to get to the bottom of what’s gone on here. But Labor and the Greens got together to block it by one vote.

Ben Fordham: I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll get on to Michelle Rowland the Federal Communications Minister and ask her whether this is the way it’s going to be operating going forward, where she gets to handpick who gets the help and who doesn’t. David, we appreciate you jumping on the line, thanks so much.

David Coleman: Thanks Ben.

Ben Fordham: David Coleman the Shadow Minister for Communications, so we’ll see what Michelle Rowland has to say.

The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks