The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) will not look into the placement of a mobile tower for the village of Kingstown in southern New England, Auditor-General Grant Hehir said on Friday.
The matter was referred by Shadow Minister for Regional Communications Stephen Jones last month, following reports of the Kingstown tower being placed on land owned by mining magnate Gina Rinehart, despite the local community arguing for another site.
"The actions of the Member for New England suggest the Coalition is more concerned with their own interests, rather than making a genuine attempt to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia," Jones said at the time.
Following Jones' request, Hehir said that ANAO had asked the Department of Communications and the Arts (DoCA) for extra information.
"Based on the information provided by the DoCA, there is no indication that property ownership was part of the assessment or decision-making process used to determine the successful applicant to construct the base station near Kingstown," the Auditor-General wrote.
"Furthermore, I note that the two proposals submitted for the base station construction near Kingstown had identified the same property as the location in their proposals, and were in relatively close proximity to each other."
Hehir added that ANAO would continue to monitor the communications portfolio in its annual work program.
A September 2016 audit by the ANAO into the blackspots program said the Department of Communications had erred in its selection criteria and ability to evaluate impact and cost effectiveness.
Specifically, ANAO said at the time, the department's selection criteria: Allowed for the expansion and improvement of existing coverage, rather than providing coverage to areas with no mobile access; did not have methodologies for assessing the technical and financial aspects of proposals, especially in regards to applicant costings; and said the department did not have a sufficient capacity to assess the impact and cost effectiveness of the program, because there was no evaluation framework formed beforehand.
"The department's assessment of applicant costings for proposed base stations lacked sufficient rigour," the ANAO report said.
Both of Australia's major parties have committed to two more rounds of the mobile blackspots program.
Telstra will deploy 131 base stations and Optus 49 under round four of the Australian government's mobile blackspot program.
Labor's promises have mirrored the Coalition's, with AU$160 million to go to the mobile blackspots program and AU$60 million to work on Connected Community Plans with state, territory, and local governments.
NSW will be providing AU$8.25 million in funding to target 21 mobile blackspots in regional areas across the state, signing on Optus and Telstra to build out the sites.
The government will fund two more mobile blackspots rounds with AU$160 million, and a Regional Connectivity Program with AU$60 million.
Current rules are unfit for the deployment of small cells expected with standalone 5G.