54 voters received cell phone coverage funding, Casey was absent. Image: ON FILE
By Parker McKenzie
Casey Rep. Aaron Violi has condemned the latest round of federal funding for telecoms as “manifestly political” pork barreling, while the federal government has instead argued that it is only leveling the playing field after previous rounds of funding favored Liberal and National voters became.
In the $40 million round of cellphone coverage improvements announced in early March, 40 Labor voters, 11 coalition seats and three Independent seats received funding to improve cellphone coverage through new projects. Casey’s constituency, which includes the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, was not included in the funding round.
Mr Violi said the Labor Party’s rhetoric ahead of the general election compared to its actions now was “utter hypocrisy”.
“There’s no way you’re going to fund 40 out of 54 Labor seats without it being pork,” he said.
“Whether it’s bushfires, flooding or storms we’ve been through, there are more emergencies than ever and reliable communications are vital.”
He said that not being able to make consistent and reliable phone calls in modern Australia was an unacceptable situation for many local residents.
“We had examples during the June storms where people couldn’t call for help,” he said.
“Communication must be above politics because it can be a matter of life and death. It is an essential service that should be treated as such.”
However, the Government argues that the over-representation of Labor seats in the funding stream is because 124 of the 125 Towers were held by the coalition when the former coalition government held a “priority round” of funding for the Mobile Black Spot program in 2016, giving voters.
Communications Secretary Michelle Rowland said she was proud to be part of a government that is improving connectivity in rural and regional Australia by significantly increasing funding for regional communications.
“The October budget provided $2.2 billion in funding for regional communications over five years, including $480 million for the expansion and upgrade of NBN’s Fixed Wireless Network,” she said.
“This compares to about $1.3 billion in the previous Liberal National government’s budget.”
Ms Rowland said the mobile coverage improvement round is separate from other funding such as the Mobile Black Spot scheme.
“The entirely separate round of cell phone coverage improvements fulfills commitments made by the government in the 2022 federal election to address cell phone coverage issues in certain areas across the country,” she said.
“These areas have been identified in opposition by local members and senators who are working with their communities to advocate for improved coverage, including along key regional highways and high-risk bushfire areas such as the south coast of New South Wales.”
Funding for two new cellphone base stations in Silvan and Menzies Creek, promised by the coalition if they are returned to government in the 2022 federal election, was announced by Ms Rowland on Thursday July 21 and dozens of new cellphone towers were installed Announced by the Victorian Government’s $255 million Connecting Victoria program in October 2022, it aims to help address significant cell phone coverage problems throughout the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, one of the most bushfire-prone regions in the world to tackle.
Mr Violi said more investment is still needed to ensure the communications network is resilient to disasters.
“I will continue to ensure that we, as the opposition, hold the government accountable for their apparent policy choice, but I will also work constructively and proactively with the government to find some solutions to these important issues facing our constituents, ” he said.
“With the heat forecast for next year, it is now more urgent as the statistics tell us that in the past 12 to 18 months there have been more natural disasters across the country than ever before.”
Ms Rowland said the Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia shows the Government’s commitment to expanding mobile coverage and improving broadband.
“Our budget plan includes $400 million to expand cellular coverage and improve communications resilience, including by investing in future rounds of the Mobile Black Spot program,” she said.
“The plan also includes $200 million in funding for location-based communications solutions through additional rounds of the Regional Connectivity Program.”
She said application-based programs like future rounds of the Mobile Black Spot program will open in the coming weeks.
“I strongly encourage residents and communities in regional areas to work with telecom companies to secure local funding,” said Ms. Rowland.