Phone tower on Gina Rinehart's property subject of Labor's Stephen Jones' investigation request

Labor's Stephen Jones has requested an investigation into the Kingstown Telstra tower on Gina Rinehart's property.
Labor's Stephen Jones has requested an investigation into the Kingstown Telstra tower on Gina Rinehart's property.

An investigation request into a phone tower on Gina Rinehart's New England property has been filed with the Auditor-General.

A letter from Labor's spokesman for regional communications, Stephen Jones, asks that the decision to place the tower on the property be scrutinised.

"I believe the decision-making around the location of this particular base station should be investigated to ascertain if proper departmental procedures were adhered to and if decision-making was influenced by factors outside of the program objectives," Mr Jones wrote.

Kingstown residents have complained that the tower has been plagued by reception problems since it was switched on two weeks ago.

It is on Sundown Valley, a property bought last August by Gina Rinehart's pastoral arm, Hancock Agriculture.

New England MP Barnaby Joyce campaigned for the tower and announced it as part of the federal government's Mobile Black Spot program in June 2015.

But the MP said yesterday he'd had no say in its exact location in Kingstown.

He said he'd "never had any conversation with Ms Rinehart with any purchase of hers in the New England".

He said the government and Telstra had negotiated with the property's previous owners, as earlier asserted by Hancock Agriculture chief executive David Larkin.

"Any negotiations about the phone tower do not include me; I provide the money for a phone tower in Kingstown, it's up to Telstra where it puts it. If it was up to me, I would have put it on top of the hill so that it gives coverage to the whole town," Mr Joyce said.

The referral of the issue to the auditor-general was a "political tactic", he said.

"The Labor Party of course will play games ... I could refer anything; I could refer Mr Jones if I wanted to."

The Auditor-General will now consider the request, a spokesman said.

"As outlined in the ANAO [Australian National Audit Office] corporate plan, the Auditor-General aims to respond to the vast majority, 90 per cent, of requests for audit within 28 days," he said.

It's not the first time the federal government's Mobile Black Spot program has been referred to the ANAO.

A 2016 investigation found the $110 million program did not target the funding to areas where coverage had not previously existed.

At least 89 of 499 base stations gave minimal new coverage at a cost of $28 million, meaning the public funded a program that did not extend coverage into new areas.

The ANAO also found there was no structured method to assess the technical and financial aspects of proposals; and it was difficult for the department's to measure the program's effectiveness, given there was no way to evaluate it.