THE Federal Government has decided where the next round of mobile towers will be built under the Mobile Black Spot Program in a move which some say is playing favourites with marginal electorates.
The government has released a list of 125 priority locations that will share in the $60 million it budgeted for round three of the infrastructure program. But just how the locations were prioritised has raised a few eyebrows.
In the first two founds of the program mobile network operators including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone selected locations to co-invest in. Typically these locations were close to population centres. Now, the government has stepped in to build towers at sites deemed commercially unviable by the these networks.
“Priority locations were chosen using community feedback for places which the telecommunications companies had not made a bid for in rounds one and two. All towers will be delivered,” said a spokesperson for Regional Telecommunications Minister Fiona Nash.
But Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive Teresa Corbin said the government’s new list leaves behind many needy elecorates. She said the list was an instrument to “home” the large number of mobile towers promised at the last election.
”Until now there hasn’t a been clear list of which locations were likely to get the funding and it’s been a bit of a concern that there hasn’t been any transparency in that,” she said.
“Just because you’re not on the list doesn’t mean you’re not equally in need.”
Priority locations revealed
In NSW, 31 locations made the government’s priority list, most of which fall in marginal electorates. The Northern Territory missed the list altogether.
The marginal seat of Eden-Monaro attracted the most amount priority locations in this round. The electorate, currently held by Labor’s Mike Kelly, is now pegged to receive five towers.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s New England electorate will receive four towers as will the swing seats of Page, Macquarie and Gilmore.
Mark Coulton’s massive electorate of Parkes didn’t make the government’s priority list. It received 14 towers through earlier rounds of the program, though with boundary changes this was reduced to eight.
By comparison, in the first and second rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program the New England won funding for 32 towers, Page 20 towers and Eden-Monaro 13 towers.
A “political plaything”
The opposition’s Minister for Regional Communications Stephen Jones said the Mobile Black Spot Program had become “nothing more than a political plaything”.
“Not surprisingly, there are three times as many government priority locations in Coalition electorates,” Mr Jones said.
“All of the 29 locations that fall in Labor electorates are those that were marginal at the 2016 federal election.”
But Minister Nash’s spokesperson said Labor has never delivered a single tower nor invested a single cent in mobile coverage.
“The Coalition is delivering 765 mobile towers across Australia and 183 in regional NSW.”