Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – 2GB Overnights with Luke Grant – Mobile Black Spot Program

Subject: Mobile Black Spot Program


Luke Grant: Hopefully you remember a story we mentioned a little earlier in the year, it was originally the work of Sharri Markson from the Australian and from Sky News, it revolved around funding for mobile phone black spots, and there were 54 locations that were selected for this special black spot funding, obviously to enhance the mobile phone reception. 54 places, 40 of which were in Labor seats. Now we don’t have to go back too long to see that when the boot was on the other foot, in other words, when the former Coalition Government were granting funds to Coalition held seats, of course all hell broke loose. This was pork barrelling and it had to stop, blah, blah, blah. Now I’m wondering where this story has progressed. David Coleman is the Shadow Minister for Communications. He’s been on this from the beginning. I noticed Sharri Markson through the week, talked about a document that goes back to January of this year and it states, it goes through a detailed analysis of the 54 locations and of the 40 I think Labor seats, there were 20 listed on this comprehensive document as having no known issue. No known issue. What the hell. So, 40 of 54 go to Labor held seats, half of which we’re told, had no known issue. Why aren’t people jumping up and down about this? I know what had happened at the hands of a conservative politician, then you know, all hell has to break loose, but we can’t just give the Minister a leave pass here. As I say David Coleman is a Shadow Minister for Communications and joins me on the line. G’day David, hope you’re well.

David Coleman: Good to be with you Luke, thanks for having me on.

Luke Grant: Not at all. This was red hot when we first heard about it. Now it’s even hotter, isn’t it?

David Coleman: It’s an absolute shocker Luke. The Minister has been caught red handed and this is as clear cut as it gets. So basically, what’s happened here is that Michelle Rowland has personally chosen 54 locations for mobile black spot funding and she actually admitted on Ben Fordham’s show, I think since the last time we spoke, so this was a couple of weeks ago, she admitted on Ben’s show that she did this. 54 locations, 40 of them in Labor seats, it’s about three quarters, even though Labor only holds a minority of regional electorates. So, it just makes no sense at all. And then one of the other issues that we’ve uncovered is, there’s a document called the Grant Opportunity Guidelines that goes through in some detail this whole program and so on for these 54 locations. And in the document, there’s a category where it says or a column, that says, ‘specific areas with coverage issue if known’. And this is where the Department would have gone through and said what the identified specific issue is in each of those locations. Now, in 20 of the 54 locations, that column is blank. So, for the others, the Department has said, I’m just looking at some now, to identify particular spots in particular suburbs or roads or whatever it is. 20 of them completely blank. And, this is a very serious issue because the use of public money in these programs is a very serious thing. And in the scheme of the Federal Government in the hundreds of billions of dollars in the Federal Government, some people might say, well, $40 million, which is this program, that’s a relatively small amount in the scheme of things. Well, last time I checked, $40 million was a hell of a lot of money. And this program has not been done properly. And it’s an outrage.

Luke Grant: It is indeed in fact, the whole thing. It would appear to me, a Labor Party sludge fund, how have you gone getting any kind of inquiry going here?

David Coleman: Yeah, so we tried to get an inquiry up in the Senate and I think the last time we spoke was around the time that was happening. Now, we got very close. We actually got within one vote in the Senate, of getting an inquiry up. So, most of the crossbench senators, to their credit, supported the inquiry, but surprise, surprise, the Greens got together with Labor and blocked it. The only people who actually voted against the inquiry were the Labor Party, the Greens and Senator Lidia Thorpe. Everyone else who voted, voted for it, but we missed by one vote. So that was unfortunate. But we press on because this issue isn’t going away. I recently wrote to the Auditor-General, and as you know, Luke the Auditor-General’s job is to look into the administration of government, make sure appropriate rules are being followed, that money is being spent in the appropriate way. So, I wrote to the Auditor-General a couple of weeks ago and I’ve asked him to conduct a thorough review of this program. He’s still reviewing that request and I would hope to hear back from him fairly soon and certainly it would be my very strong hope that he will conduct a full investigation here because I think it’s very clearly needed.

Luke Grant: Absolutely. Just on the electorates or perhaps the parts of Australia that missed out in this round of funding, were any of them significant in terms of, you know, they might be in an area where we’ve seen natural disasters or the like.

David Coleman: Yes, absolutely. And one of the examples is the Upper Yarra region in Victoria, the town down there called Healesville, where it has been affected very badly by bushfires in the past, the council, the community, everyone got together with a proposal for how they could get improved mobile phone coverage, to assist in an issue. They weren’t allowed to apply, because in this context, unfortunately for them, they weren’t on the Minister’s list. In Victoria, every location that the Minister provided funding to was in a Labor seat. And in New South Wales, every location the Minister provided funding for was in a Labor seat. There’s 30 locations across those two states. Every single one of them is in a Labor seat. And it’s not merely a Labor versus Coalition sort of situation because the Minister actually also included Helen Haine’s electorate, now she’s the independent down in Victoria in the seat of Indi. In this program in previous years, they’ve got grants many times because they do have a lot of issues with bushfires and natural disasters and mobile phone coverage. And so, they’ve actually got numerous grants, but they weren’t even allowed to apply, even though everyone knows that it’s an area that really needs this sort of support. So, Helen Haines, and again to her credit, Helen Haines came out publicly, did an interview on Sky about this and was very critical of the Government and she supported our call for a Senate inquiry. But, unfortunately, the Greens didn’t. But we press on because every single day, we will continue to raise this issue and continue to focus on it because the Australian people deserve answers about how this was allowed to happen. One of the things you mentioned Luke about, the things that the Labor government has said about these sorts of issues. I mean, I found a quote from the Prime Minister or the now Prime Minister, Mr Albanese in 2021. Where he said words to the effect of, taxpayers deserve better than to have their hard-earned money funnelled into marginal electorates on the basis of a political whim, words to that effect. And of course, that’s exactly what the Minister has done here. I mean, the seat of Eden-Monaro and not suggesting that there isn’t a need for mobile coverage and I’m not saying that but, but it is noticeable that, that seat which is held by a Labor member, a Labor Minister in a marginal seat, they’ve got 9 or 10 different locations, whereas the seat like Hume, Angus Taylor’s electorate, which is next door, and also has a lot of issues with natural disasters and the need for mobile phone coverage. Well, they didn’t get any. Sussan Ley’s electorate of Farrer which adjoins Eden-Monaro, they didn’t get any. Michael McCormack’s electorate of Riverina, all of these places that all have significant needs, they didn’t get any support. And I’m actually next week heading down to Victoria, to really highlight this issue and the communities that are in real need of support or have missed out. So, I’m going down to Healesville, that town I just mentioned a few moments ago. I’m going to go see Dan Tehan in his electorate in the town of Colac which missed out and also down to Shepparton as well. Because this issue has really galvanized a lot of people around the country, because no sensible person could look at this and say, oh yeah, fair enough.

Luke Grant: You’re right, no one can say that and what parlays into all of that, David as well. As you know, the now Prime Minister said, ‘politics will be done differently’ and wherever you start to look now there are just cracks appearing, I think many people imagined that would be the case. But to think that they were going to come to power and be this model of the perfect democratically elected government that looked after the interests of the people, that was purely folly, purely folly and good on you for calling them out.

David Coleman: Thanks Luke, it’s a very important issue. As I say, this issue is going to confront Michelle Rowland every day that she holds this portfolio, because it’s a very important principle that we’re defending here, which is, that these programs should be administered properly. They should not be the political plaything of the Labor Party. And that’s what they have turned this program into, and it’s not on.

Luke Grant: Well done. And we’ll keep in touch. Thanks so much for your time.

David Coleman: Thanks, Luke

Luke Grant: David Coleman, Shadow Minister for Communications.

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