Victoria to go it alone on mobile blackspots program, accusing federal government of pork barreling

An audit found 80 per cent of phone towers were built in Coalition electorates under the federal government's blackspot program. Picture: DARREN HOWE
An audit found 80 per cent of phone towers were built in Coalition electorates under the federal government's blackspot program. Picture: DARREN HOWE

MORE than 30 locations in Bendigo have been raised as mobile phone blackspots, but they were overlooked in the first three rounds of the federal government’s blackspots program.

The Victorian government has now abandoned the last round of the scheme and will deliver the final $11 million itself to build new towers in regional Victoria in consultation with councils, Emergency Management Victoria and regional partnerships.

The state’s innovation minister Philip Dalidakis made the announcement on Wednesday, accusing the federal government of using the program for pork barreling in Coalition seats.

In 2016, the National Audit Office found 80 per cent of locations for new mobile phone towers were in Coalition electorates, and fewer than seven per cent were in Labor-held seats.

In the first round, 25 per cent of new towers did not provide new or extended coverage.

Bendigo has not received funding under the program for several rounds.

Mr Dalidakis said the program lacked consultation and transparency.

“Malcolm Turnbull continues to choose sites that are in his political interests, not the interests of regional Victoria,” he said.

Victoria has existing commitments with the Commonwealth, Telstra and Optus to co-fund 141 new mobile towers.

Locations of upgrades under the second round of the federal government's blackspots program.

Locations of upgrades under the second round of the federal government's blackspots program.

A separate partnership between Optus and the state that would see another 25 towers erected, was struck in October.

It will use the $11 million to fund new towers in regional Victoria.

Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said the City of Greater Bendigo is “littered with blackspots” that have been ignored in repeated rounds of funding.

”In my first letter to the then Minster responsible I listed over 30 locations and since then the list has grown,” she said.

“Sadly the funding criteria restricts MPs to provide only a list of their top three black spots in your electorate.

“It’s diabolical that areas at high risk of bushfires with large communities, growing industries and tourism have been ignored by this government.”

Some Coalition MPs were quick to defend the blackspots program.

Member for Ripon Louise Staley was critical of the state government’s move, claiming the Commonwealth’s blackspot program had helped rural communities in her electorate, including Korong Vale.

She said people in these communities would disagree that the program was not making a difference.

“Which towers in Amphitheatre, Moonambel, Landsborough, Marnoo, Wallaloo, Avon Plains, Mount Bolton, Korong Vale not needed, Philip Dalidakis?” Ms Staley said.

“Many Ripon communities have benefited from mobile black spot programs.

“For Philip Dalidakis to say sites not chosen on merit augurs poorly for future needs being addressed.”

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