Rudd misleads the public on mobile blackspots



news Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today made what appeared to be an extremely inaccurate statement claiming the Federal Government was taking steps to address mobile blackspots around Australia, when in fact Labor has not taken any steps on the issue in the six years it has been in power.

Yesterday Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference in the Blue Mountains to announce a new policy that would see a Coalition Government invest $100 million in addressing mobile phone black spots across Australia. The Coalition is hoping major mobile providers such as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone will join it in investing a further $80 million in the project.

The Labor Federal Government has largely ignored the issue of mobile blackspots in its time in power over the past six years, preferring instead to focus on developing its much more ambitious National Broadband Network policy. The NBN policy does not directly address the issue of mobile blackspots, and Labor has preferred to leave the issue to the private sector to resolve, but it will provide an ancillary benefit to mobile providers, which will be able to use the NBN’s backbone infrastructure to get competitive ‘backhaul’ access to build new mobile towers, especially in rural locations.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, as one of the original authors of Labor’s broadband policy, is aware of this dynamic. However, speaking in a press conference today, Rudd appeared to state that the Government was directly addressing the mobile blackspot problem.

“Prime Minister, can you talk about your plans to fix the mobile phone black spots?” a journalist asked Rudd. “Yes, I’ve seen something from Mr Abbott on this and if you look at mobile black spots around the country, his assumption is, I think, that with his $100 million uncosted and unaccounted for allocation, that that’s going to remove those problems,” said Rudd.

“Now frankly, it’s much bigger than that. What we are doing right across the nation is, region by region, locality by locality, working our way through the black spots as they arise. That’s the systematic way to do it and I believe it’s the right way to do it. We will always have further to say and do on that score.”

However, Rudd’s statement appears to be untrue. The Federal Government does not currently have a project to work through mobile blackspots as they arise, and is not working through the issue region by region, as the Prime Minister suggested. It is unclear whether Rudd was actually referring to the NBN policy, although that policy does not directly address the issue of mobile blackspots.

Rudd’s statement prompted a sarcastic YouTube video posted by Turnbull, who accused Rudd of telling blatant “lies” on the issue. “Yesterday Tony Abbott and I announced a $100 million fund to alleviate mobile phone blackspots in regional Australia. Today, Kevin Rudd announced his own, rather large blackspot, or should I say black hole, when it comes to telling the truth about telecommunications,” Turnbull said.

“No Kevin, you’re doing it again. You’re telling lies about telecommunications. last week you said the NBN was free. This week you’re saying your government has been spending money on rectifying mobile phone blackspots. Well you know, you haven’t. Not a cent over six years. Nothing. You’re not doing anything now, and you haven’t done anything over the entire, six years of Labor Government.”

The interchange between Rudd and Turnbull marks only the latest time the pair have jousted over telecommunications in the past several weeks. Last week, for example, Turnbull publicly accused Rudd of telling “shocking lies” about the National Broadband Network and the Coalition’s rival NBN policy. In a press conference in Brisbane at the time, Rudd said: “… our new approach to the future is an NBN for the future, the other lot are saying they will disconnect the NBN … the National Broadband Network, we will connect it to peoples’ homes and businesses for free”.

“In his first television advertisement, Kevin Rudd said he looked forward to a new, more considered style of politics,” Turnbull said in a doorstop interview at the time. “But now on day two of the campaign, he has told two shocking lies about the NBN. He said that connecting to Labor’s NBN is free. That is a lie: It is not free. If you want to be connected to Labor’s NBN or any NBN – whether it is completed under a Labor Government or a Coalition Government – you’re going to have to buy a plan from a telecommunications company, Telstra or Optus or iiNet or someone like that. So it’s not free. Politifact, the fact-checking website, has found that statement – which Labor has made again and again – to be false. It is a shocking lie and the Prime Minister should correct it.”

And then later in Turnbull’s doorstop: “Kevin Rudd knows what he is saying is false, so he’s lying. He’s not just getting something wrong, it’s not a howler, it’s not a blunder, it’s not a gaffe – it’s a lie. Kevin Rudd knows that broadband networks around the world typically have a range of technologies of the kind we are proposing. And if he doesn’t know that, he ought to. So what he is telling you about our policy is a lie. I don’t throw that word around lightly. But he knows what he is saying is false. He is saying it deliberately in the hope that people will believe him.”

The news comes as both sides of politics continue to make attempts to mislead the public when it comes to each other’s NBN policies, ahead of the upcoming Federal Election. Last week, for example, Communications Minister Anthony Albanese appeared to have issued a media release deliberately misleading Newcastle residents about how the Coalition’s rival NBN policy would affect the area, with the Labor MP falsely stating that the NSW city would “miss out” on upgraded broadband entirely under the Coalition’s plan.

A number of ALP election advertisements have also inaccurately claimed, for example, that Liberal policy would see Australians forced to pay up to $5,000, or else they would be left “on the old, slow copper network”, while connection to Labor’s fibre-based NBN would be free. In fact, the majority of the copper network will be replaced with fibre under the Coalition’s NBN plan, the cost of upgrading to fibre to the home is expected to be substantially less than $5,000 in most cases, and connecting to either the Coalition’s or Labor’s NBN infrastructure will see Australians charged commercial broadband rates — neither network will be “free”.

However, the Coalition has also made a number of misleading statements about Labor’s NBN project over the past several years. In one of the more blatant examples of misleading commentary, Turnbull appeared to this week make a deliberate attempt to mislead the public about the cost of connecting to the National Broadband Network’s upcoming 1Gbps fibre service, claiming on Lateline on Monday night that such connections would cost “at least $20,000” a month, despite the fact that the Shadow Communications Minister is aware the cost is likely to be much less.

Several weeks ago Opposition Leader Tony Abbott inaccurately claimed that the rollout of Labor’s National Broadband Network in Tasmania will take “80 years” to complete, in what Labor’s Regional Communications Minister Sharon Bird immediately labelled a deliberate attempt to deceive residents and businesses in the state.

Similar to the misleading infographics distributed by Labor MPs over the past several months, an infographic currently published on the Facebook page of the Liberal Party of Australia misrepresents Labor’s policy. It conflates Labor’s initial, $4.7 billion policy outlined in 2007 with its reformed 2009 policy, falsely alleging a blowout from $4.7 billion to $90 billion in the project, and a decade-long project timetable extension.

It’s clear that what Rudd said was untrue — Turnbull is right. There is no Federal Government program to fix mobile blackspots that I know of. Fixed broadband, yes, but mobile reception? No. Labor has left that to Telstra, Optus and Vodafone over the past several years, who have actually done a credible job of resolving the situation. So did Rudd know what he was saying was not true? I think it’s more that Rudd was conflating the NBN, which will have an ancillary effect on mobile coverage through the provision of backhaul, with mobile blackspots themselves.

In my opinion, Rudd was bending the truth (beyond breaking point), rather than telling outright lies, as Turnbull alleged. He was trying to vaguely fit a true statement (massive government investment in network infrastructure) into the verbal paradigm that the Coalition had set up already (mobile blackspots). In the process, whether he intended it or not, the Prime Minister’s statement became an untruth. Whether this is a problem for you personally depends on to what extent you believe politicians should always tell the literal truth, at least as far as that can be determined. Let’s just say this: It’s a problem for me.

Image credit: Eva Rinaldi, Creative Commons


  1. So Rudd is only “bending the truth” when he claims to be systemically addressing black spots “as they arise” when in actual fact he isn’t doing a thing about the black spots, but Turnbull is outright lying when he claims any household wanting “guaranteed” Gb speeds would have to pay $20000?

    Fair enough, Turnbulls misleading weazle words come pretty damn close to lying IMO but Rudd by any standard is an awful lot closer to lying with his claims of non-existent systematic work being carried out by the government.

    • It’s hard to prove in this case that Rudd wasn’t merely mistaken, rather than lying, while in Turnbull’s case it was possible to prove he had definitely knowledge of the truth.

      • “while in Turnbull’s case it was possible to prove he had definitely knowledge of the truth.”

        You acknowledged in your opinion piece that Turnbull had slipped in the word “guaranteed” to cover himself – a “nice little trick” you called it, and his “any household” comment was in direct response to the question about that guaranteed 1Gb speed claim – as in any household would have to pay 20,000k for a guaranteed 1GB speed connection, which is the truth.

        Turnbull was blatantly scaremongering and using deceptive language to do so, which IMO is close enough to lying, but if you are going to look for excuses for Rudds direct falsehood by saying that he may not have known that the fairly major work that he claimed the government was doing was non-existent, or the even bigger stretch – that the NBN will make it easier for someone else to do the work he is claiming, then not to do the same for Turnbull seems a little picky.

        • Just listened to this. I am going to call that a blatant lie, not even truth twisting.

          MT: 20,000 dollars a month.
          Host: For the average household?
          MT: For any household.

    • i’d say theres at least a grain of truth in there, in that, as renai noted, the nbn will allow for much more mobile coverage to be created by the current providers (not just limited to 200m dollars worth)

      more of a leveraging than a lie. whereas turnbulls 20k for 1gbit is just a blatant lie (although im willing to see someone price it anywhere near there if they want to try and remotely justify it).

      i dont recall any alp member saying the nbn itself was free (which turnbull is alleging they have), just that the nbn connection, the “socket” (if compared to the current phone network) itself was free. telstra has always charged a fee just to connect your socket, even if one was previously connected there before, nbnco wont be charging to connect that socket, and definitely not repeatedly.

      • “more of a leveraging than a lie. whereas turnbulls 20k for 1gbit is just a blatant lie (although im willing to see someone price it anywhere near there if they want to try and remotely justify it).”

        The cvc cost for a gigabit of bandwidth *is* $20k. But most households wouldn’t require anywhere near that sort of contention. Not every last mile network in the world charges CVC though or any sort of arbitrary capacity charge, so it is a point of difference between the NBN and other networks. Its how they make the bulk of their revenue as well.

        The comment that NBN offering 1gbit speeds makes it “like google fibre” is quite often made or alluded to by politicians. Its only like google fibre if you take cost out of the equation.

  2. “Rudd was bending the truth (beyond breaking point), rather than telling outright lies, as Turnbull alleged. He was trying to vaguely fit a true statement (massive government investment in network infrastructure) into the verbal paradigm that the Coalition had set up already (mobile blackspots).”

    And there is the start, the middle and the end of the story in one nice clear and concise sentence

    • But he’s the PM, he should be across all of the portfolio’s.

      Sound’s like point scoring over fact to me. But at the moment the issue seems minor, because the big 2 and a half are investing heavily in the mobile market. I’m with Telstra and it’s hard to find a spot where I can’t get good service. Optus is still giving it a good go. And the half, will that’s Vodafone.. I still don’t bother with them but since everyone jumped ship I hear it’s smooth sailing; if you want want 4G.

  3. Conroy said previously in response to the Regional telecommunications review report recommendation that the government assist funding new mobile towers in black spots that the labor government would not be funding any mobile towers until 2015

    Rudd to say otherwise was lying.. As it is government policy not to fund any…

    From the government’s response to the regional telecommunications review committee report page 10

    Recommendation 3.2 The committee recommends a co-investment program, jointly
    funded by the Commonwealth and interested states or territory governments, to expand
    the mobile coverage footprint in regional Australia, focusing on priority regions selected
    with community input. Open-access arrangements for other carriers to tower
    infrastructure and/or domestic roaming arrangements should be a feature of the


    The Government will review the impact of the NBN fixed wireless network on improving
    mobile coverage in regional areas before making any commitments to fund a new program
    to extend mobile coverage.

  4. “But now on day two of the campaign, he has told two shocking lies about the NBN. He said that connecting to Labor’s NBN is free.” Turnbull said.

    Connecting to the labor model NBN IS free. User does not pay.
    Getting provided a service over that connection is not. There is a difference.

    Rudd is not telling a lie.

    Connecting to a fibre service provided by the opposition’s model will cost up to $5000 and possibly a lot more including yearly rental on that connection. Yearly fees to be connected to the “last mile of copper” will also incur and ongoing fee. USER PAYS!!

    THere is a stark difference here.

    • hey mate,

      just as an FYI, we’re not discussing this issue further on this thread, as there have been plenty of threads previously on this issue. Any further comments along these lines will be deleted.



  5. I think this line of questioning and commentary suits the FttN apologists perfectly…

    Anything that can deflect from FttN being inferior, almost the same cost as FttP (government spend), the need to use Telstra’s obsolete copper and the additional costs per household for FoD, etc… is obviously beneficial to their cause.

    Especially if they can (as they are) get everyone bogged down arguing over silly semantics rather than the big ticket issues.

    Semantics such as the NBN isn’t free connection issue. Which after years of the same apologists and politicans previously arguing that we shouldn’t expect free FttP (according to some, for pirating and downloading our porn quicker) … is blatant flip-flopping hypocrisy and bordering on sickening…IMO.

    • Indeed Alex, just like Abbot’s objective in the debate was to make it so boring that people switched off (and Rudd played right into their hands on that one – hard not to do when your delivery style is so controlled and even it is beige made audible). It has been very interesting watching the last week unfold, seeing politicians making ridiculously amateur mistakes and the media completely incapable of detailed, thorough analysis and reporting. It seems the only way to find comprehensive stories written by people who actually understand the issues and are able to raise valid questions is to read blogs, and unfortunately most of these lack the perceived credibility or readership that gets them access to politicians to actually get answers.

      I did get a laugh out of Gruen last night when they talked about the ‘formidable intelligence of both leaders’ – Abbot is barely articulate enough to deliver lines from a teleprompter. He’s a bigger joke than George Bush Jr, and Australians want this muppet to run the country.

  6. Take a look at what that $100M is going to fund. While a 3G tower will cost in the order of $100k, there are infrastructure costs involved too (i.e.: backhaul, real estate). The NBN will address the most expensive part of filling in blackspots, which is the backhaul. The least expensive part of installing a mobile tower is the actual tower itself (about $50k for the hardware, $50k for the labour, $100k/km for the backhaul cable to a backbone hub, in ball-park figures).

    Will the NBN bring the backbone network closer to the blackspots by enough kilometres to reduce the cost of backhaul by more than $100M? If it does, the NBN is the bigger subsidy and Rudd is not lying or even remotely stretching the truth. If the presence of the NBN near all blackspots doesn’t reduce the cost of installing towers and backhaul by more than $100M, Rudd was stretching the truth or just plain lying.

    This will of course require some legwork: what blackspots need to be addressed, how far are they from a backhaul, and where will the NBN allow a connection to be made? What is the total kilometre savings on the backhaul? Is that number of kilometres greater than 1000?

    • Excellent points, Grail. I’d say the ‘kms saved’ would be far in excess of that, but obviously a dollar figure needs to be applied to work out the actual ‘subsidy’ that provides.

  7. Am I missing something here? Aren’t the mobile networks owned by, and the responsibility of, private companies???

    Personally, it annoys the crap out of me that a potential LNP government would put $100 million of Australian taxpayer’s money, into the pockets of private companies.

    But I guess that’s what their agenda has always been, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

    • Yeah, I thought that but then there’s an indirect return on investment for the government. It’s like the assistance given to Holden, Ford and Toyota to make them continue car manufacturing here.

  8. When Telstra is making billion dollar profits ($3.8b in 2012 ), and Optus $787m (, why is the Australian shadow government promising a lousy $100m to fix their infrastructure issues anyway?

    And we all know it could only be Telstra that would be able to fix it any way, $3.8b could cover a hell of a lot of blackspots…

  9. The main issue with $$$ for mobile black spots is in the past the majority has gone to Telstra all you nee to do is look at WA with the resent state government grants. The money should be split 3 ways or make any infrastructure on the tower open to the other carriers at an acceptable agreed rates before any contracts are signed.
    Just making a monster bigger.

    • Actually, as they made a$3.8b profit last year, I don’t think they should get any public money to fix, what is effectively, a Telstra service delivery problem.

      I’d rather see Optus or Vodafone be the recipients of any grants, but that should specifically be used for blackspots only

      • >> a Telstra service delivery problem.

        They’re under no obligation to service these areas. There’s no USO for mobile coverage. Telstra wouldn’t consider it a service delivery problem if they simply don’t want to service that area. There probably isn’t a high enough return on investment potential to build the infrastructure.

        Gov’t money to address blackspots gets the job done where it’s not economic. Telstra is a business not a charity. They won’t spend $100k on a mobile tower because 3 farmers and a dog get bad mobile reception.

        • Thanks for reinforcing my point that Telstra should be made to cover it’s service delivery issues…

          If public money is to be used, Telstra should be the last company it should go to.

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