Labor assails govt over handling of mobile blackspot program

Program ‘monumentally mishandled’ Labor claims

Labor has seized on the findings of an Australian National Audit Office report to attack government handling of the mobile blackspot program.

The ANAO report, released earlier this month, found that a key flaw of the program was that it “did not sufficiently target funding toward the expansion of coverage where coverage had not previously existed”.

Stephen Jones, Labor’s shadow minister for regional communications, said that the ALP backs the program but the ANAO report shows “it has been monumentally mishandled by this government”.

“The audit office has found that of the 500 base stations that were funded by this government 89 base stations provided no or minimal benefit to consumers,” Jones said today during debate on a House of Representatives motion congratulating the government on the program.

“In fact they provided base stations in areas where base stations already existed. What was the price tag of this monumental blunder? $28 million.”

One in four base stations funded under the program provided no new coverage, the MP said.

In its response to the audit the Department of Communications and the Arts said that “extending new coverage is just one of the aims of the programme and that the mobile telecommunications infrastructure being funded through the programme also achieves the programme’s objective of providing the potential for improved competition.”

“No new competition was provided because over 90 per cent of the towers funded went to the dominant incumbent,” Jones said.

The first round of the program is helping fund 429 Telstra base stations and 70 Vodafone base stations and according to the government will deliver mobile coverage to 68,600 square kilometres. Telstra received funding of $94.8 million, while Vodafone was awarded $15.2 million (including GST).

In February the government launched a $60 million second round. The Coalition pledged a further $60 million for a third round of the program during the election campaign.