PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Regional Communications Minister Fiona Nash have revealed $60 million in additional funding for the Mobile Black Spot Program.
An announcement was made by the two Coalition senior leaders at Anglesea south of Geelong today, in the Victorian marginal seat of Corangamite held by Liberal Sarah Henderson.
The National Farmers Federation and other groups have identified the mobile blackspots program as a core election issue to improve regional communications infrastructure.
Ahead of the recent budget, the NFF urged the federal government to commit to further funding in the forward estimates for the program.
Mr Turnbull and Senator Nash said the Turnbull Coalition Government recognised the importance of mobile coverage for people in regional and remote Australia in committing to an additional $60m to the Mobile Black Spot Program.
“Mobile connectivity is a critical part of daily social and business interaction and it is vital for personal safety,” they said in a statement.
“This is as true for people living in remote regions as it is in cities.
“The new investment will bring the Coalition’s total investment in eliminating mobile black spots to $220 million.
“Our program contrasts with the previous Labor government which failed to allocate a single dollar of public money to address the problem.”
The joint statement said the program had already committed to erecting or upgrading 499 mobile base stations around the country, in order to cover about half of the 6000 black spots nominated by the community.
This program aims to provide additional handheld coverage to 68,600 square kilometres - an area equivalent to the landmass of Tasmania - and new external antennae coverage to over 150,000 square kilometres.
“A re-elected Turnbull Government will invest an additional $60 million to cover black spot locations that have not previously received funding under the program and locations that have been overlooked by mobile network operators because they are uncommercial,” they said.
“This new commitment will improve mobile coverage along major transport routes, in small communities and in locations prone to experiencing natural disasters, as well as addressing unique mobile coverage problems such as areas with high seasonal demand.
“We expect Commonwealth funding will again leverage investment from mobile network operators, State governments, local governments, businesses and community organisations.
“Eliminating mobile back spot locations will unlock opportunities for farmers and businesses previously impacted by little or no mobile connectivity.”
In welcoming the funding commitment, Senator Nash said better mobile coverage meant a quicker response to car accidents or bushfires and tourism operators being able to attract more guests.
She said children could also research school assignments online or adults can study at university online while farmers can sell their crops on the futures markets while sitting on the tractor.
“The Coalition’s $220 million plan to address mobile black spots will enhance productivity and improve public safety, making life easier for those living in regional and remote areas thanks to access to more reliable mobile phone coverage,” she said.
“This is another example of the Coalition’s commitment to drive investment as part of our national economic plan for jobs and growth.”
Speaking to media at Tamworth in his New England electorate, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said the mobile blackspots program started with the Labor-Green-Independent alliance not having delivered any money but his government had now provided up to $220m.
“We are miles and miles ahead of what we started with – we have actually made sure (delivery) to areas that never thought they’d get a mobile phone,” he said.
“These are the sort of outcomes that people want.
“When the former Labor-Green-Independent alliance was in power not one mobile phone tower was delivered to New England – not one.”
NFF said rural and regional Australian which had languished for years without adequate mobile coverage and welcomed the announcement but said they would continue to campaign for a commitment from both sides of politics to fund the program on an ongoing basis.
NFF President Brent Finlay said a reliable mobile phone service was “absolutely critical” to business success, education and personal safety in rural and regional communities.
He said for far too long these areas have not had connectivity that was in any way acceptable.
“We wholeheartedly welcome this $60m commitment from the Coalition but must also reiterate that ongoing funding is required to provide telecommunications infrastructure co-investors with certainty,” he said.
“This would also demonstrate to regional Australians the Coalition is serious about comprehensively addressing this important issue in the long-term.
“Mobile access to internet and voice services is a basic expectation of most Australians, including those living in regional areas.”
Mr Finlay said like any business owner, farmers needed to be informed, accessible and responsive to effectively manage their business to improve production and their bottom lines.
“For Australia to continue to be the world leader in agricultural innovation, basic mobile coverage is not a luxury but a necessity,” he said.
Senator Nash said as Regional Communications and Development Minister her aim was to ensure strong and sustainable communities so “our children and grandchildren either want to stay or return to those communities”.
“We know communications and technology are going to be so important to build our regions into the future; you see it in agriculture with our farmers who are now downloading YouTube instructions to fix machinery or sitting in their lounge-rooms or in their utes using their mobile phones to run their irrigation systems,” she said.
“We see innovation all the time in the regions – innovation is not just a city word or a city thing – innovation is happening out in our regions consistently as well.”
Senator Nash said he said the additional $60m to the mobile phone blackspots program and $220m in total contrasted to six years of Labor where “not one cent” was spent on the initiative,
“And that just shows the disregard that the Labor party has for the regions – there is a stark contrast and a stark choice for the people of Australia to make on the second of July,” she said.
Vodafone Australia has also pushed a social media campaign ahead of the July 2 election urging regional voters to push their local MPs and representatives to support the program and modernise regional telecommunications services.
Vodafone Chief Strategy Officer Dan Lloyd welcomed the $60m commitment saying said unreliable mobile coverage and lack of competition was hurting regional and rural Australia including farmers.
He said the $220m won’t fix all of the mobile black spots in regional and rural Australia but would start to address the “mobile class divide” which exists between those areas and the major cities.
“We would like to see whichever party wins the July 2 election, commit to a permanent and expanded Mobile Black Spot Program as soon as possible,” he said.
A Telstra spokesperson said the Blackspots Program offered great opportunities to bring mobile coverage to people and communities who currently have none.
“With the nation’s largest mobile footprint and as the first carrier to bring 4G mobile services to regional Australia, we are acutely aware of the challenges facing communities living with limited access to a mobile network,” the spokesperson said.
“We are rolling out mobile base stations to 429 black spots under Round 1 of the Program and we have already delivered new and improved mobile coverage to a number of communities in just a few months.
“We welcome any further opportunities to connect more Australians.”