The Victorian government says it has “abandoned” the federal mobile program, announcing this morning that it will establish its own program to fund mobile infrastructure in underserved areas.
The state government said that it would spend $11 million originally earmarked for co-investment as part of the federal scheme on its own program.
Victoria has previously committed to co-funding 141 Telstra and Optus cell towers as part of the federal program and in October revealed it had partnered with Optus to help fund the roll out another 25 towers.
Funding for the new state program will be drawn from the $45 million Connecting Regional Communities Program contained in the 2017-18 state budget.
The state government argues the current black spot program lacks transparency and that the federal government has failed to “properly consult” on which sites receive funding.
In 2016 the Australian National Audit Office released a report that criticised some elements of the program’s first round.
The ANAO report said that 46 of the 499 base stations funded by the first round provided “no new coverage to either premises or major transport routes”.
Labor has claimed that the program has been politicised, with the vast majority of funds being funnelled to Coalition-held electorates; the federal government has said this merely reflects the Coalition’s relative strength in regional areas that lack adequate mobile coverage.
In December 2016, the South Australian government requested an “urgent investigation” by the auditor-general into the second round of the program. Like Victoria, the SA government has criticised a “lack of transparency in deciding sites”.
“Malcolm Turnbull continues to choose sites that are in his political interests, not the interests of regional Victoria,” Victoria’s innovation and digital economy minister, Philip Dalidakis, said in a statement released today.
“We are putting regional Victoria first – helping people stay connected in their homes, at work and when they’re travelling.”