The Coalition has asked Communications Minister Michelle Rowland to explain the disproportionate allocation of mobile infrastructure grants to Labor seats.
The government’s Mobile Black Spot scheme, a key pillar of its discourse with regional Australia during the election, has come under scrutiny over the awarding of $40 million in grants.
The round of funding for improved mobile coverage, formalized earlier this month, was directed to 40 Labor electorates, three seats held by independents and 11 by coalition MPs.
Labor holds 33% of the country’s regional electorate, but the government has earmarked 74% of the money for its own seats.
Shadow communications minister David Coleman told Sky News Australia’s Sharri Markson that the government needed to explain how the allocation was determined and whether the infrastructure department approved the final allocation.
“From the minister’s press releases, it appears she specified the 54 localities by an overwhelming majority in the Labor electorates,” Mr Coleman said.
Mr Coleman asked the Communications Minister in Question Time whether there was any whether the 54 locations were based on ministerial advice or whether she had used ministerial discretion.
“I’m pretty sure the reason she didn’t respond is that she actually ran every one of those places,” he said Tuesday.
“Of course she can clarify that if I’m wrong, she can hold a press conference and really explain what happened here.”
The shadow minister said Ms Rowland should be given the “opportunity” to justify how almost three-quarters of the money went to Labor seats.
But he said the Coalition may request an investigation into the saga.
“I think the first step should be for the minister to come forward and explain all of this, let’s see if she does,” he said.
“And let’s see if it’s transparent, obviously there are options available to us to seek additional investigations through different avenues of government.”
Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said “the mobile coverage cycle fulfills commitments the government made in the 2022 federal election to address mobile coverage issues in identified areas across the country.”
“These areas have been identified in opposition by local members and senators working with their communities to advocate for coverage improvements, including along major regional highways and high-risk bushfire areas. like the south coast of NSW.”
Sky News Australia has asked the minister to clarify the process that was undertaken to determine which voters were deemed eligible for funding under the Mobile Black Spot scheme and whether there was any involvement from the department.
Labour’s regional mobile blackspot scheme brings back memories of the 2020 sports rort saga where the then coalition government came under fire for its $100 sports grant scheme.
Australia’s National Audit Office found that projects awaiting funding were listed on a color-coded document showing investment going to the Coalition and fringe seats.
Labor raged against the government and constantly called for the resignation of then Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie.
During the 2022 election campaign, the Labor Party also used the sports rort saga in its economic argument, pledging to restore the integrity of grant schemes and to audit existing schemes.
But Mr Coleman said the government’s $40million scheme was “similar to sports reports”.
“The work was much more sacred than compared to this kind of [programs],” he said.
“Jim Chalmers said words like ‘We won’t be looking at whether voters are marginal or not, it’s going to be about community concerns and nothing else.’
“Now that’s clearly not the case here, it’s just not the case that you can objectively come up with a list containing 74% of the Labor seats.”
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. Communications Minister Michelle Rowland pressure publicly explain overwhelming preference Labor seats regional grant scheme