Dr HAINES (Indi) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for Communications. My constituents battle with poor phone reception every day. Last weekend, over 2,000 people attended the Swanpool Motor Festival and struggled to get mobile phone and internet access. Event emergency coordinator Ross Coles asked me, if there had been an emergency, what we would have done. This isn’t good enough. Can you guarantee that with the Mobile Black Spot Program that opened yesterday critical black spots in rural and regional Australia like this will be fixed?
Ms ROWLAND (Greenway—Minister for Communications) (15:00): I thank the member for Indi for her question. She, of course, is a very strong advocate, in terms of ensuring that her constituents have equitable levels of communications as compared to their metropolitan cousins.
The member raises two really critical issues. The first is in terms of public health and safety when it comes to communications, and that, of course, is paramount. As more and more people rely on mobile communications, it has never been more important. The second is in terms of the tourism and other small- and micro-business opportunities that the best mobile services and also broadband services can provide, and I am aware that she is acutely interested in these issues.
I’m very pleased to inform her that, as she rightly points out, yesterday applications opened for two new funding programs, of $150 million of federal co-investments, and they include four mobile black spots. The Albanese government believes that irrespective of where you live in this great country everyone deserves the best access to communications services.
In particular, I would point out, in relation to the member’s question, the Mobile Black Spot and Regional Connectivity grants unleash new opportunities for mobile infrastructure in remote and very remote parts of Australia, particularly, as I’m sure many others would be interested, in First Nations communities, because they offer additional financial solutions targeting these very underserved areas. This is in response to feedback that previous schemes did not provide enough incentive for this. So the guidelines that we consulted on from December last year until February this year really sought to improve a number of those elements that had been lacking in previous rounds.
Applications are open until 31 May. I encourage mobile network operators, communities and other interested parties, including all members of this place with rural and regional representation, to work together during what we call the application development period, to devise multicarrier solutions, including ones that utilise sharing technologies. As the member will be well aware, one of the real frustrations in regional Australia is the patchwork of coverage depending on who your carrier is at any given point. But, unfortunately, under the previous rounds, under the former government, only eight per cent of the Mobile Black Spot Program towers actually provided support to more than one carrier. We have changed the incentives in the guidelines so that this is substantially improved.
The guidelines in this round emphasise that support for multi-carrier outcomes, to ensure that communities receive the maximum benefit from that public funding. These programs provide part of the most significant regional telecommunications investment packages since the inception of the NBN, and the Albanese government’s Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia is providing more than $1.1 billion to regional communities. I look forward to the member’s full participation in this program. (Time expired)