Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Shadow Minister for Communications, Transcript – Sky News Sharri

Subject: Pork Barrelling in Labor’s Mobile Black Spots Program




Sharri Markson: Now let’s move on to a story that we broke on this program last year that then sparked an investigation into Labor’s mobile phone black spots scheme. Now, the program promised to fix mobile phone black spots in regional communities. And last February we reported that Labor stood accused of pork barrelling by hand-picking the locations that would get funding. Have a look, rather than allowing communities to apply based on their need for improved coverage based on their black spots, the Government seems to have hand-picked the 54 specific locations. Tonight, we can reveal the vast majority of locations being funded are in Labor held seats. As it turns out, 40 of the 54 locations are in Labor electorates and just 11 locations are in Coalition held seats. Now, our report sparked an investigation by the Auditor-General and today it was handed down and it found that 74% of all target locations selected by Minister Michelle Rowland were in Labor electorates. The report finds that departmental officials conducted themselves appropriately, but it did highlight the political composition of the locations picked by the Minister. And I’m joined now to discuss this by Shadow Communications Minister, David Coleman. David, thanks for your time. Look, of the 54 target locations, 44 were in marginal seats. So, this was clearly a political program.

David Coleman: Oh 100% Sharri. I mean, this is hypocrisy writ large. Before the last election, now Prime Minister Albanese was out saying funding shouldn’t be allocated based on seats being marginal. I mean, the Auditor-General has found today that more than 80% of the seats for which funding was allocated by Minister Rowland were marginal seats, and even worse, 74% of them were Labor seats. So, I mean the Minister here has done absolutely the wrong thing. She has allocated funding based on politics. Absolutely the opposite of what the Government said they would do, and they need to be called out on it.

Sharri Markson: There were no damning findings, though, were there? Even though they were political locations, it wasn’t in breach of any laws.

David Coleman: The report has found that the departmental officials acted appropriately, and they had to deal with the hand that they were dealt. And what the report shows very clearly is that the so-called target locations were not chosen by the Department, but by the Minister. So the Minister basically handed over a list and said here are the target locations. It just so happens that three quarters of them are in Labor seats. And then the departmental officials did their jobs in an appropriate fashion. But the bottom line here is this is a massive pork barrelling program that the Labor Government has put in place and the Auditor-General has said very clearly that it’s important to look at the political composition of funding. And that’s exactly what’s happened here.

Sharri Markson: I mean the reason we kept highlighting this issue is because it was a case of pork barrelling. And other regional communities who did have black spots and they can be life threatening if it’s a flood zone or a bushfire zone, and people need to be able to contact emergency services and they can’t get coverage. That’s why this is a serious issue. And yet the report finds that Labor was allocating funding based on politics rather than where it was desperately needing that funding. But David, I want to put to you though, that both sides of politics engage in pork barrelling. So do you think that if you’re in Government, can you commit to not giving funding to programs based on politics, based on where will be politically advantageous?

David Coleman: I think it’s incredibly important Sharri, that funding is allocated on a fair basis on the basis of need, not on the basis of marginality of seats. That’s what the Government said they did. They have done the exact opposite. And in the report, it specifically talks about the fact that communities were going to the department and basically saying, hey, why can’t we apply? And the reason they couldn’t apply was because they weren’t on the Minister’s hand-picked list. So it’s very important that funding is distributed in a fair way and that’s not what’s happened here.

Sharri Markson: All right, David Coleman, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We’ll approach Michelle Rowland about this, and we’ll see if she can come on the program tomorrow evening.