NBN, mobile blackspots could face legal challenge

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NBN, mobile blackspots could face legal challenge

Labor advice questions validity of decisions.

Decisions on mobile blackspot funding and the regional NBN rollout could be susceptible to legal challenges by aggrieved third parties, according to Labor.

The opposition today said 118 “legislative instruments and ministerial announcements” made by parliamentarians ruled ineligible for office by the High Court could be challenged.

On Friday, the High Court ruled that deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and regional communications minister Fiona Nash, among several others, were ineligible to sit in parliament due to citizenship issues.

The ALP cited fresh legal advice that stated “any decision made by Joyce and Nash in his or her purported capacity as a minister, after three months has lapsed from the time of his and her appointment as a minister, is open to challenge”.

In the past year, Nash has made a number of communications portfolio announcements including which of the three mobile telcos had secured funding for the government’s mobile blackspots scheme, as well as around attempts to improve Sky Muster satellite services.

It is unclear what Labor would challenge directly; acting opposition leader Tanya Plibersek told Radio National that “every option” was on the table.

She also said the ALP was “not actively encouraging anyone” else to file legal challenges against government decisions.

However, she noted that “some of these decisions are likely to have left people aggrieved and if they want to pursue the government on some of them I don’t doubt they will”.

“There’s all sorts of grants and appointments made by these ministers … we’ve seen elements of the NBN rollout including the Sky Muster program made by Fiona Nash, elements of the mobile blackspots program… there would be a range of areas where people would be considering whether they received fair treatment from these ministers.”

Of the two regional communications issues, blackspots funding allocations are likely to be the most contentious.

Vodafone secured funding for just four towers in round two allocations, where rivals Telstra and Optus each nabbed funds for over 100 builds.

A Vodafone Australia spokesperson was contacted for comment on whether it would consider a legal challenge of the decision.

Vodafone is in the process of challenging a decision by the ACCC not to open up Telstra’s mobile network in regional Australia to customers on rival networks.

One of the arguments it has consistently raised is that Telstra’s mobile network has been continuously augmented with “handouts” from taxpayers and therefore should share those assets.

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