Subject: Referral of Mobile Black Spot Program to Auditor-General
Sharri Markson: Tonight, we can exclusively reveal that Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman has written to the Auditor General today calling for an investigation into this pork barrelling. In his letter he writes, it is clear in my view that round six of the program was designed for political purposes and represents a misuse of taxpayer funds. Every single one of the 54 locations to receive funding under the program were personally chosen by the Minister. He writes that of the 27 locations in New South Wales, all 27 were in Labor electorates. In this context, I note that the Minister is also the president of the Labor Party in New South Wales. He writes, plainly it is impossible to argue that 100% of the need for mobile coverage in regional New South Wales is in Labor electorates. He says, if communities were not on the list chosen by the Minister, they were precluded from applying. And David Coleman joins me live now from Canberra. David, thanks for your time. Why is this issue so important? We see pork barrelling in politics all the time. Why does it matter in this program in particular?
David Coleman: This is hugely important Sharri because there are three problems with this round six of the Mobile Black Spot Program. It’s dodgy, it’s dodgy, and it’s dodgy. There are people out there in bushfire affected communities who desperately need improved mobile coverage, for safety reasons. If those communities weren’t on the Minister’s handpicked list, they weren’t allowed to apply. And that’s just wrong. No sensible person can say that 74% of the need, three quarters of the need across the country is in Labor electorates. In New South Wales and also Victoria, actually, 100% of the allocations are in Labor seats. So, this isn’t a sort of line-ball kind of issue here. This is just an incredibly egregious example of pork barrelling. It’s totally unacceptable and a full investigation is really required here.
Sharri Markson: Tell me about some of the areas that did miss out on this funding that desperately need it because they might be in areas that are prone to floods or bushfires and where the people would need mobile phone coverage where as you say, it might be a matter of life and death.
David Coleman: Sure. There’s an example in the Upper Yarra town called Healesville down in Victoria, which has had a very serious issues with bushfires in the past and the community and the Council have got together and prepared documentation about why they need mobile black spot coverage. But unfortunately for them, they’re in the Liberal electorate of Casey, and they weren’t on the list. And I just think that’s wrong, Sharri. The interesting thing here is the Minister’s not even really seeking to defend or say that my characterisation of the program is wrong because she’s acknowledged that she did personally select the list of sites. She’s acknowledged the numbers that we went through before, and I just don’t think that is acceptable. I think that a fair minded Australian would say that for a Government that has talked a big game on integrity, this is very different. I just want to read Sharri, something that Anthony Albanese said in 2021. I don’t want to misquote; I’m actually going to read it. It said, “taxpayers deserve better than to have their funds, their taxpayer funds from their hard work funnelled into marginal electorates on the basis of a political win.” So that’s Anthony Albanese before the election, 2021. But this is what his Government has just done.
Sharri Markson: Yeah, because of course Labor was very critical of similar pork barrelling schemes or pork barrelling that happened under your Government, under the Coalition when you were in Government. I raised those in my interview with David Littleproud on the show about this a few weeks ago. Just very quickly, before you go, David, you did try and get this up with a Senate inquiry. The Greens didn’t support it. I’ve had independent MP Helen Haines on my show. She did support inquiry. She’s really upset about this program having funding only gone to Labor areas. Are you hopeful that the Auditor General will conduct an investigation?
David Coleman: I certainly am, and I have great respect for the Office of the Auditor General, I certainly hope that he will do so. I think the Greens conduct was shameful. I mean, Senator Pocock to his credit, voted for this inquiry. Helen Haines, of course supported it as well, but you know, the Greens didn’t, and we can work out the reasons for that, it’s pretty obvious. But yes, I certainly do hope that the Auditor General will investigate this because it is a very serious matter.
Sharri Markson: All right. David Coleman, thank you very much for your time.
The Hon. David Coleman MP
Shadow Minister for Communications
Federal Member for Banks