Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – ABC News Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett – Mobile Black Spots Program

Subject: Mobile Black Spots Program

E&OE…

Greg Jennett: Welcome back David and congratulations on that appointment. Now you are launching out in one of your first forays in this area, to an analysis of a recent batch of mobile phone Blackspot towers by the Albanese Government. What have you got against Wee Jasper, Westheimer Highway, Cudlee Creek? These are not exclusively Labor held seats that get these towers. What’s wrong with that?

David Coleman: Oh, nothing against those places whatsoever Greg. The problem here is that this is a very dodgy process by the Government. So, the Labor Party holds about 33% of seats in regional Australia according to the Australian Electoral Commission, but surprise, surprise 74% of the locations that Minister Rowland has specified are in Labor electorates. 62% of regional electorates in Australia are held by the Coalition. But under Minister Rowland’s handpicked list of locations, only 20% of the mobile blackspots under her rules, are in Coalition electorates. So, it’s blatantly political. It’s a misuse of taxpayer funds and it’s particularly egregious given the extensive focus of the Labor Party when in opposition on grants programs and so on. And what Minister Rowland has done here is completely inappropriate.

Greg Jennett: Okay, well, but why isn’t this, to run the counter argument, swings and round about correction? I ask that in the context of a quick search of news stories through the election year. On the 20th of April last year it was reported in the Australian, Scott Morrison will roll out a funding blitz targeting marginal Coalition seats and vulnerable held Labor seats, particularly with mobile phone blackspots funding and connectivity issues. I mean, they might have been Coalition heavy last year, and a little tilted towards the Labor side now. That’s possible.

David Coleman: Well, a couple of things on that Greg. I mean, firstly, the Government has been in for 278 days. So, they’re the Government. They are not the new kids on the block anymore. Secondly, as I said, there was extensive discussion on those various programs last time, during the last term of Parliament. And thirdly, the Labor Party was extremely focused on these issues and the Prime Minister made many, very aggressive statements about grants programs and so on. What we’ve got here is a situation where Minister Rowland and look she can clear this up if what I’m saying is inaccurate… she should clear it up through a press conference, but basically what’s happened here is, Minister Rowland hasn’t asked her department to run a process and objective process. She’s actually said, these 54 places get the funding and other places don’t. And I’ll give you an example. A place called Healesville, which is in the Casey electorate, held by Aaron Violi in regional Victoria. They’ve had very serious problems with bushfires in the past, they have very serious mobile phone issues. They would like to apply for funding, they’re not allowed. Crookwell in New South Wales in Angus Taylor’s electorate, very similar situation. This is just dodgy, Greg. I do think that for Minister Rowland, it really is important that she comes out and really, if she’s proud of this program, which you know, is her program, she should be very happy to come out and describe in great detail how this has come about. And so far, she seems to be very reluctant to do that.

Greg Jennett: Well, we will ask her when the opportunity arises. But, again, coming out of an election year, it’s entirely probable, isn’t it? That there were, you know, correctly, honestly made election commitments that have to be honoured. I know, people perhaps including yourself today, David Coleman, tried to equate this to corruption, the process of making commitments and then delivering on them, but that could be exactly what we’re seeing here, isn’t it?

David Coleman: Well, what we’re seeing though, Greg, to the extent it is election commitments, why is 74% of them in Labor electorates, if the Labor Party’s purpose was to provide quality mobile phone coverage for regional Australia, why is 74% of it in regional electorates and the other problem that the Minister has is this wasn’t implemented the day after the election. This wasn’t announced for I think, 176 days until after the election. It’d be very interesting to see what advice the Minister obtained from her department. Did the Minister seek advice about locations? Did the department, in fact, tell the Minister that there are a whole bunch of other places in Australia that might benefit from funding as well?

Greg Jennett: Alright, well again we will take that up. Thank you for highlighting your concerns, David Coleman. We’ll do what we can to get some answers in the days and weeks ahead. Great to talk today.

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