Subject: Mobile Black Spots Program
Sharri Markson: At the start of the show, I brought you an exclusive story about the Labor Party being accused of pork barrelling, reminiscent of the Spots Rort Saga under the Morrison Government. This is called, Improving Mobile Coverage Round and that’s the funding from the Labor Government. As it turns out 40 locations out of 54 are in Labor electorates, even though Labor only holds 33% of regional seats. And just 11 out of the 54 locations are in Coalition electorates, even though the Coalition holds 62% of regional seats. I spoke to Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman a moment ago.
David Coleman: Sharri, there’s a lot of questions to answer about this. So, Labor’s got 33% of regional electorates, 74% of the money they’ve allocated to Labor seats. Coalition has 62% of regional electorates. 20% of the locations in the Mobile Black Spot Program are in Coalition seats. The thing that’s particularly important here is it appears that the Minister, Michelle Rowland, has personally directed the Department to do this.
Sharri Markson: Based on what do you make that accusation, that she personally directed this?
David Coleman: Well, normally what would happen is that you would have the Department recommend a whole process and you’d allow people to apply from different locations and so on. But from the Minister’s press releases, it does appear that she has specified the 54 locations overwhelmingly in Labor electorates. And so, I actually asked her in Parliament recently, were any of these locations based on the advice of your department, or did you actually pick every one of them? She didn’t answer and I’m pretty sure the reason she didn’t answer is because she did in fact, direct every one of these locations. But of course, she can clear that up if I’m wrong. She can hold a press conference and really explain what’s going on here.
Sharri Markson: So, do you think this is similar to the Spots Rort Saga? Do you see this as pork barrelling?
David Coleman: Obviously, those issues were well litigated in the previous Government and in the media and elsewhere. What I would say is that Labor was very holier-than-thou in relation to these sorts of electorates and the Prime Minister has very strong language to describe grants programs. Jim Chalmers said words to the effect of, we won’t consider whether electorates are marginal or not. It will be about community concerns and nothing else. Now that’s blatantly not the case here. It’s just not the case that you could objectively come up with a list that had 74% Labor seats on it.
Sharri Markson: So, what answers would you like? Do you think there should be an inquiry to determine the process by which this funding was allocated?
David Coleman: I think the first step should be for the Minister to come forward and explain all this. Let’s see if she does that. Let’s see if she’s transparent. There are obviously options open to us in terms of seeking further inquiry through different avenues of the Government. But I think, the Minister should be given an opportunity come forward and release documents related to this.
Sharri Markson: Should there have been departmental advice on this?
David Coleman: I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t any departmental advice. It would be interesting to see what the Minister has told her department and the communications of her staff within the department. If the Minister is proud of this program, it’s her program- handpicked lists, and if she’s proud of it, come out and explain to the country how it works. It’s a bit ironic, but for the Minister for the media, seems to be a little media shy, and she hasn’t answered questions on this.
Sharri Markson: I want to ask you about another topic as well. Elon Musk’s satellite business Starlink already has 100,000 active local subscribers in Australia. That’s just in two years. Do you think this is going to render the NBN obsolete and an utter waste of money?
David Coleman: The NBN’s got a big problem here and the Minister again, likes to put her name on press releases, about the NBN and so on. But this is a huge issue because Starlink has more customers than Sky Muster, and it’s only been available across the entire nation since November last year, after a progressive rollout over a couple of years. The NBN is a very valuable asset for taxpayers. We inherited an absolute mess. Labor had spent $5 billion on the NBN and had only 50,000 customers. We fixed it and the NBN was working very well. But if the NBN can’t compete with Elon Musk, that’s going to cause huge problems in the value of the NBN. It is a very big issue for the Minister, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, well, the NBN is arm’s length, I don’t run it. And on the other, put your name on every press release that comes out from the NBN. So, Michelle Rowland needs to explain how she’s going to fix this.
Sharri Markson: David Coleman, thank you for your time.
The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks