Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (18:13): I’m very pleased to hear the member for Macquarie make such an impassioned plea about mobile stations, and I’m sure we will hear before the next election about Labor’s commitment to building more mobile stations in black spots. They never have before. Not one cent has ever come from a federal Labor government to fill up the black spots with mobile phone towers. The fact that she should even raise it in that manner bears some consideration. It’s a great pleasure to speak on this motion from the member for Forrest. She and I came into parliament together and she and I both understand the importance of mobile phones in the modern world, and increasingly to our regionally based businesses, and that they be well connected to the world.
It’s interesting that, once again, the member for Macquarie has spoken about the National Broadband Network. That network is often confused with the connectivity of the mobile phone network. They are not the same thing. They are not the same technologies. The NBN rollout, as far as I’m concerned, is going very well. In fact, Grey is 99 per cent enabled. As the previous Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, said, we will concentrate on those areas that have the worst connectivity first, and that’s exactly what has been done.
Through the first three rounds of the mobile phone black spot program, there has been a total investment of more than $21 million into South Australia-$7 million from the Commonwealth-and 23 base stations have been funded thus far. On any kind of converter ratio, that’s pretty good expenditure-$1 from the Commonwealth for $3 in total. But in fact this policy has not delivered for South Australia as it should have done because there was a complete lack of interest from the state government. In fact, 867 mobile facilities around Australia have been either built, commissioned or committed to under the three rounds thus far of the Mobile Black Spot Program, but, I’m sad to say, just 37 of those are in South Australia, and it is simply not the fault of the program.
The Weatherill government had plenty of money for trams, for opening bridges in the city down at Port Adelaide, and for O-Bahn extensions that didn’t even receive the approval of Infrastructure Australia, but just about nothing-starvation rations-for the country. Other states vigorously pursued the investment that was available through the Mobile Black Spot Program, but the Weatherill team ignored the opportunity.
As I’ve said to the member for Macquarie, at the federal level, Labor was as bad or worse, because there was nothing, absolutely nothing, in six years. The Howard government had a commitment to building mobile base stations. There was nothing from Labor for six years. And then, with the return of the coalition to government in Canberra, we have seen 867 committed to. That’s a pretty fair kind of record.
In South Australia, there have been only 37; I’ve touched on that already. I am pleased to have 23 of those. So I guess the lion’s share of those are in Grey-though that’s hardly surprising, as we cover over 90 per cent of the state-and we have received 14 of Telstra’s 4G small services. So that’s been a good outcome, inasmuch as we had been underdone in South Australia.
We have a new government in South Australia now, the Marshall government, and they have committed $10 million. This will make a substantial difference, and I have been out working with our communities.
The federal government is still committed. We’re having round 4 of the black spots program, and we’re having the review of the regional, rural and remote parts of Australia under the Australian Government Regional Telecommunications Review. I have asked for my local governments and constituents in Grey to identify a string of black spots. I have passed those canvassed results on to the telecommunications review and discussed my findings with the telcos. I’ve encouraged residents and businesses and organisations to engage with the telcos, and we will bring them up to speed.
I’m expecting the $10 million that is available from the state government to make an appreciable difference, but it is also time for us to push in this parliament for new commitments from the government-and from the opposition, for that matter-as we head towards the next election. There’s so much more we can do. The rural Liberals that come to this parliament are lobbying hard for a new commitment from the government in front of the next election, and hopefully we can utilise some of the new technologies that are available as well.