I rise to raise serious concerns about the Albanese government’s commitment to regional communications. Labor, when it was in opposition, went to the election promising a $155 million cut to regional communications—$155 million less than the $1.3 billion committed by the coalition. Of course, that is on top of the massive expenditure by our government in regional communications to fix mobile black spots; to upgrade connectivity in rural, regional and remote communities; and to deliver better communications in peri-urban areas under the PUMP program.
This is in stark contrast to Labor’s failure to deliver one dollar when it was last in government for one mobile black spot. This is the most shameful record. On 19 August I issued a statement asking whether Labor was planning more cruel cuts to regional communications. That’s because we had not heard a word from Labor’s communications minister, Michelle Rowland, about round 2 of the coalition’s Regional Connectivity Program, under which we had announced $140 million for 93 projects—including $37 million for Western Australia, $8 million for Tasmania, $9 million for South Australia, $8 million for New South Wales, $43 million for Queensland, $15 million for the Northern Territory and Christmas Island and $14 million for Victoria.
This is a very substantial investment in rural, regional and remote communities that deserve better communications. A number of days later the minister released a statement saying: ‘The minister has previously confirmed an intention to honour grants awarded under the Regional Connectivity Program, including round 2. Formal announcements will be made in due course.’ That was roughly 23 August. It’s now nearly the end of September. Where are those projects? Where is that funding? Where is the confirmation that Minister Rowland will deliver, as she said she would do? She pointed the journalist to the Guardian and said, ‘I made the Guardian aware of what I was going to do.’ But in fact she didn’t; she only referred to the Regional Connectivity Program, not to round 2.
Proudly, we have already delivered a whole range of other projects under round 1. Well before the election, as decisions of government we announced another 93 projects would be funded under round 2. It is extraordinary that we are still waiting. So I call on this minister—my concern is she is a soft target for Labor’s razor gang. Labor’s razor gang, in the lead-up to the budget, is looking to this program to make savage cuts, along with many other anticipated cuts to regional communities via regional programs we proudly delivered. Where is the minister’s confirmation that these 93 projects will be funded and $140 million will be delivered under the Regional Connectivity Program? We’ve seen no action on the extension of the Peri-Urban Mobile Program to peri-urban areas in regional cities. We’ve seen a paltry commitment, frankly, to regional communications. This is an absolute disgrace. It would be an act of political bastardly if this program was cut.
The regions matter. Every community matters. This funding was going into communities which desperately needed upgrades to their connectivity, so those communities could work, so students living in those communities could study, so businesses could function. Shame on this government! Why would the Albanese government leave these communities still waiting for certainty after more than four months? It is absolutely appalling. I again call on the minister to confirm the $140 million for the Regional Connectivity Program immediately and to start to demonstrate that the regions across this country matter.