Victoria to go it alone on mobile black spots

VICTORIA has turned its back on the Commonwealth’s mobile black spot program to set up its own system, accusing the Federal Coalition of selecting sites for new mobile towers based on political considerations.

The Andrews Labor Government says the $11 million it planned to invest in the third black spot funding round will be reallocated to build mobile towers in consultation with local councils, Emergency Management Victoria, and the state’s nine Regional Partnerships.

Tenders for the $60 million round of the federal mobile blackspot program opened in November, with 106 “priority locations’’ already earmarked for funding. Most of these are in Coalition-held electorates. In rounds one and two of the program, new locations were decided by a site selection process.

Victoria’s Minister for Innovation, Philip Dalidakis, said there was a complete lack of transparency about how the priority sites were being chosen, and he accused   Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of continuing to choose sites “that are in his political interests, not the interests of ­regional Victoria”.

Similar accusations about the mobile black spot program were made by the West Australian state Labor government in November. 

Grant guidelines show the third funding round is open only to mobile network operators and mobile network infrastructure providers.

More than 140 Victorian towers were co-funded through the first two rounds of the blackspot program, and Mr Dalidakis said the state would partner with Optus to build an additional 25 phone towers.

The new state-run mobile black spot project is being delivered as part of the $45 million Connecting Regional Communities Program announced in the 2017-18 Victorian Budget.