Subject: Mobile Black Spot Program
Sharri Markson: Now, you will remember this story about Labor’s pork barrelling for funding to fix the mobile phone black spots. We broke this story in March to remind you out of the 54 electorates that received funding to fix their mobile phone black spots, 40 were in Labor seats. Other areas that missed out we’re in flood or bushfire zones. It’s a very blatant case of pork barrelling. Well, now there is new information. There’s a January 2023 department document. It states it goes through a detailed analysis of the 54 locations that were selected by the Minister and that was the Communications Minister Michelle Rowland to receive funding. In appendix A it lays out the target locations, issue descriptions, and it has a column for what specific areas have the coverage issues and for 20 of the locations on the Minister’s list, 20, there is no known issue listed. This is the department’s own document, and it couldn’t identify a specific mobile phone coverage issue in 20 of the electorates that were given funding, announced by Labor. This is major hypocrisy from Labor because as you know, they pursued and rightly pursued the Coalition Government over the sports rorts and carpark rorts. But they’ve done the same thing with funding for mobile phone black spots, and unlike the sports programs, having mobile phone coverage if you’re in a bushfire zone or a flooding zone is a matter of life and death. This isn’t just a Labor or Liberal issue. The independent MP Helen Haines was very annoyed about this blatant pork barrelling and she came on my program to talk about it. The Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman has been shining a light on this and has written to the Auditor General to ask for an inquiry into this after the Greens have vetoed a Senate inquiry. And David Coleman joins me now. David, thanks for coming in to talk about this.
David Coleman: Good to be here Sharri.
Sharri Markson: So, this is quite extraordinary. I mean, it was extraordinary enough that 40 of the 54 locations given funding to fix mobile phone black spots are in Labor areas. Now we learn 20 of them, the department couldn’t identify an actual problem.
David Coleman: Yeah, there’s an actual column in the document that says a specific area with mobile coverage issue, if known. Twenty of them, it’s blank. And this whole program, the more you look into a layer after layer, it just gets worse and worse.
Seventy-four per cent of the spots are in Labor electorates, Michelle Rowland admitted on 2GB that she personally selected those locations and in our two biggest states, New South Wales and Victoria, 100% of the locations that Michelle Rowland chose, are in Labor seats. And the department, in putting together this document hasn’t been able to identify the specific area in 20 of those 54 locations.
Sharri Markson: Now, you did have some independent support for an inquiry, Helen Haines of course is in the Lower House. When this went to a vote for a Senate inquiry, the Greens blocked it. You’ve now written, sent two letters now to the Auditor General. Are you expecting he will conduct an inquiry into this grants program?
David Coleman: Well, I certainly hope so. I certainly think he should. It’s an open and shut case. How more clear cut could you get than a Minister allocating 100% of funding in our two biggest states to Labor electorates, or 74% across the country. No serious person could suggest that’s a fair allocation of funding. And clearly, the Auditor General’s looked into lots of things over the years and it seems to me this is absolutely right in the wheelhouse of the Auditor General. So yes, absolutely. Great respect for that office. And I look forward to the response and certainly hope he investigates it.
Sharri Markson: And I should remind viewers the response from Michelle Rowland, the Communications Minister when I put the questions to her. Originally, she said, well, these were election commitments that she had made during the course of the Federal Election Campaign. That’s why that first round or this round of funding was going to Labor seats, she said there will be other rounds of funding for other electorates in the future. We asked her today about this document, why 20 different areas had no reason, had no specific problem allocated and her office didn’t provide us with an adequate response. David, I just want to come back to the point why this matters, right? Because it’s not just a case of blatant pork barrelling and hypocrisy. The issue is that mobile phone coverage is important in a bushfire zone in a flooding zone. Which areas have missed out?
David Coleman: Well, there’s lots there, there is a place called Healesville in the Upper Yarra in Victoria, lots of terrible issues with bushfires there. The whole community got together and wanted to put forward an application, they were told no, you’re not allowed to. Crookwell in Angus Taylor’s electorate has had a lot of issues over the years with bushfires. They couldn’t put in an application. And even in Helen Haines’ electorate, the independent as you mentioned. Her seat has got a lot of grants in the past because it’s bushfire prone and because it’s got mobile phone issues, and she wasn’t allowed to apply her electorate in this either. So yeah, this isn’t just some sort of abstract issue. This is a big deal because it goes to community safety.
Sharri Markson: All right. David Coleman, thank you for your time. And of course, pork barrelling happens on both sides of politics, the Coalition Government was, there was an inquiry into their pork barrelling rightly, and there should be one into this as well.
The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks