Australia: Telecommunication Funding In Nicholls Still A Sore Spot

Independent Candidate Rob Priestly

By Fiona Lloyd

Federal Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell and Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman caught up with Avenel residents concerned about mobile coverage on Thursday, April 27.

New mobile telecommunication infrastructure investment in the federal electorate of Nicholls continues to hit a wall.

The issue was a hot topic in the lead up to the 2022 Federal Election with independent candidate Rob Priestly releasing 150 pigeons at Wunghnu to highlight the underinvestment in telecommunications black spots across Nicholls.

At the time Mr. Priestly said Nicholls had received the fewest new towers in regional Victoria while the neighbouring seat of Indi, held by independent Helen Haines, had been the “most successful seat in Victoria” at attracting funding for new mobile towers.

Federal Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell, who retained the safe Coalition-held seat at the May 2022 election, was in Avenel on Thursday, April 27, with Federal Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman, also expressing concerns about the allocation of funds from the most recent round of Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Programme.

Mr. Coleman said draft guidelines for the programme showed that every dollar of round six of the programme in Victoria and NSW was set to be spent in Labor electorates.

“The locations were recently hand-picked by the Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland … we’ve seen only three projects selected in Victoria plus 27 in NSW all going to ALP-held electorates,” Coleman said.

Mr. Birrell said he would continue to fight for telecommunications funding for Nicholls.

“Regional communities deserve fast, reliable and affordable telecommunications and where black spots exist they should be fixed,” he said.

Towns in Nicholls that have had base towers funded through previous rounds include Toolleen, Gunbower, Katunga and Graytown.

Politicians have expressed concerns about how and where the programme’s funds are allocated since it started.

In 2015, when she was the Shadow Assistant Communications Minister, Ms Rowland wrote to the Auditor-General expressing concerns about transparency and how funding was allocated in round one of the program.

“More than 80 per cent of the locations for new mobile phone towers announced are in Liberal or National electorates with less than seven per cent in Labor electorates,” she wrote at the time.

Mr Coleman wrote to the Auditor-General earlier this year requesting an audit of the round six process.

The Auditor-General said there was some “merit” in including an audit of the programme as a potential topic in his office’s 2023-24 work plan.

New funding rounds open

A federal department spokesperson said as part of its $2.2 billion investment in regional telecommunications, the Australian Government had committed $656 million through the Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia for a range of programmes.

The spokesperson said applications were open for round three of the Regional Connectivit Programme and round seven of the Mobile Black Spot Programme following a public consultation process.

The programmes are open for applications for proposed solutions across regional, rural and remote Australia until July 12.

“Communities are encouraged to engage with their local councils and the mobile network operators and infrastructure providers to explore opportunities to improve mobile coverage and connectivity issues in their areas through these initiatives,“ the spokesperson said.

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