Mobile blackspot program changes could help Wimmera: leaders

A mobile phone tower in Minyip.
A mobile phone tower in Minyip.

WIMMERA leaders believe a state government decision to pull away from a federal mobile blackspot program is likely to benefit the region.

The government announced on Wednesday it would abandon the program in favour of its own system, which it said would allocate mobile towers on merit rather than political interests.

The government will use the $11 million it planned to invest in round three of the blackspots program to build new towers across regional Victoria.

Digital Economy Minister Philip Dalidakis said the government was leaving the program because the federal government failed to properly consult when choosing sites, and showed a lack of transparency about how sites were selected.

Wimmera Development Association executive director Ralph Kenyon said the group was not concerned about the move.

“In fact it probably gives us a better chance of getting towers up,” he said.

“We understand there will be a priority process – that's based on something we've done in the Wimmera in the past six months.

“We've got a number of sites we're trying to get towers for, and we’ve been trying to link them with some of the big agriculture industry needs in the region, as well as emergency services, population and tourism needs.

"We'll continue to push for support for mobile towers in the Wimmera Southern Mallee.”

Member for Mallee Andrew Broad said the changes would not affect the Wimmera’s ability to advocate for mobile phone towers.

“The bigger concern is that there is no fourth round funded in the forward estimates for the federal budget,” he said.

“We received 27 towers in the Mallee in rounds one and two, and that would be nearly more than any seat in the country I think. That is partly due to advocacy, but partly also driven by need.”

Mr Broad said he had some sympathy for the state government’s position.

“They believe the program wasn't administered as clearly as it could have been,” he said.

“I can understand what they are saying in wanting greater transparency. But there's a new minister in charge of it now.

“Keep in mind too that there was never a blackspot program funded at federal or state level until we did it.

“Investments in mobile phone towers and road and rail infrastructure are the two things that fundamentally will drive our regional economy, because people now run businesses on mobile phones, and have to get what they produce to the market.

“I'm happy to see further investment in either of those two areas.” 

Pomonal is due to receive a tower in a state government deal with Optus.

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