Mobile black spots election commitments consistent with rules and guidelines: ANAO

Dept of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications

The Government welcomes today’s Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) findings that the design and award of funding for election commitments through the Improving Mobile Coverage Round (IMCR) was consistent with Commonwealth grant rules and guidelines.

The IMCR provides funding to address mobile coverage issues at target locations which were identified by the now-Government when in Opposition as 2022 election commitments – costed as part of Labor’s pre-election costings, and confirmed in the October 2022 Budget.

The ANAO concluded the Department’s design and award of funding under the program was largely effective, as was its assessment of eligible projects against the program guidelines to ensure successful grants delivered value-for-money solutions. It found that the Department “demonstrated good practice in providing advice to the Minister on the assessment process” (p. 9)

The ANAO confirmed the Minister – in exercising discretion to make the grants – agreed to all value- for-money recommendations of the Department and its independent assessment panel.

The ANAO makes a number of recommendations to improve the Department’s internal processes, which the Department has either accepted or accepted in-part.

The ANAO noted its rationale for this audit was that prior programs administered by the Department had “identified risks where assessment criteria [were] not applied in line with program guidelines” (p 19).

The offending programs referred to by the ANAO were all under the Coalition Government, including the Community Development Grants Program, the Community Car Park Projects within the Urban Congestion Fund, and the Building Better Regions Fund.

Past reviews of the Coalition’s programs were criticised by the ANAO – including that they lacked merit, ran counter to independent department advice, and were not effective.

The IMCR stands in stark contrast to the Coalition’s own mobile coverage election commitment round when they were in Government, in which 124 out of 125 funded projects – 99.2% – were in Coalition electorates.

The Opposition described funding in areas they had neglected when in Government – including communities ravaged by bushfires in the Blue Mountains and NSW South Coast – as a “sordid misuse of public funds” and “dodgy locations”.

The Shadow Minister said:

“My case to the Auditor-General was that Labor’s Round 6 of the Mobile Black Spot Program failed to meet key principles for grants administration”.

Much to David Coleman’s embarrassment, the ANAO concluded the opposite:

“The Minister, as the decision-maker, complied with relevant frameworks when awarding grant funding and when recording their decisions. Funding outcomes were proportionate to the target locations’ electoral and geographic distribution” (p 9).

Unlike the Opposition, the Albanese Labor Government is getting on with the job of delivering for regional Australia. Delivering our commitments through the IMCR comes in addition to:

  • Investing $54.9 million to deliver new mobile base stations in rural, regional, remote, and First Nations communities – through Round 7 of the Mobile Black Spot Program;
  • Delivering $115.23 million for place-based connectivity projects – through Round 3 of the Regional Connectivity Program;
  • Investing $480 million to upgrade the NBN fixed-wireless network, delivering a significant uplift in both speeds and capacity for regional home and businesses.
  • Upgrading all technologies across the National Broadband Network, including expanding full-fibre access to an additional 660,000 premises in the regions, and removing data caps on some Sky Muster satellite products;
  • Funding $17.4 million in projects to deliver more resilient telecommunications networks – through the Telecommunications Disaster Resilience Innovation Program.
  • Rolling out $20 million in broadcast upgrades to keep ABC radio sites in areas with a higher risk of failure due to natural disasters on-air for longer – through the Broadcasting Resilience Program; and
  • Supporting farmers and primary producers with $15 million in grants to take advantage of connected or WiFi-enabled machinery – through Round 1 of the On Farm Connectivity Program.

The Albanese Labor Government will continue to deliver the vital investments needed to narrow the digital divide right across the country.

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