Thursday, 17 July 2014
Questions without Notice
I thank the honourable member for her question. I note that her concern for better connectivity in rural Australia is shared by all of my colleagues here, but it is not shared by the men and women on the opposition benches. For the six years of Labor government, not one cent of Commonwealth money was spent on rectifying or addressing mobile phone black spots in regional Australia. Tens of billions of dollars were committed to the NBN. Yet they knew—as we all know—that when you are out of the big cities the biggest telecommunications issue is invariably black spots for mobile telephony, wireless broadband and wireless voice services. That is the biggest issue.
Under the Howard government, over $100 million was spent on dealing with those black spots and, under the Abbott government, $100 million has been committed over the next four years to address those black spots. The honourable member has nominated a number of black spots in her electorate. I note that my parliamentary secretary, Paul Fletcher, has gone the length and the breadth of the country. He has been to 50 public meetings in 32 electorates to hear from people about mobile phone black spots. The wide, open spaces of Sydney's North Shore cannot constrain him! He has gone all over the countryside and he has found out that there are many, many deficiencies in our mobile coverage.
I am not sure that I would be as confident as the honourable member is that Thailand and Bhutan have 100 per cent mobile coverage. I am sure there are a few black spots there too. But, nonetheless, while we do have very good mobile coverage overall in Australia, there are many areas where it is not good and we are addressing them. This is what we are doing: we are spending $100 million over four years. We have a process underway which will shortly be released for consultation with the industry and then, very soon after that, made public. It will be a fully transparent, competitive process.
We are looking, naturally, for the mobile network operators to make contributions to these new towers. We expect that we can fund between 250 and 300 of them. We are delighted by the interest being shown by the government of Victoria, which is promising to commit $40 million—and that should become part of the co-funding with us—and the government of Western Australia, which has committed $45 million. We are also looking forward to support from local government, whether it is in cash or in kind, such as providing land and access. This is a serious commitment to addressing the biggest telecommunications deficiency in regional Australia and it stands in marked contrast to the six years of neglect by Labor.