Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

MARK COULTON:

Today I am here to announce the committee to undertake the review into regional telecommunications. This will be the fifth review done every three years and I think this one is being done at a very, very relevant time. What we've seen over the last 18 months with COVID is that there's an unprecedented interest in people living and working in regional Australia and quite often being connected to jobs not only in the capital cities but overseas as well and that interest in people wanting to live and move in the regions is dependent on good, reliable levels of communication, whether that is data or voice. 

And so the way the review works, it looks at government policy, it looks at whether that’s working and looks at the gaps. An example of what would come out of the review, on the 2018 review there was an identified need for more data going into regional areas and this was the motivation for the Regional Connectivity Program of which we've just had the first round that has been very, very well supported by the community and the communications industry. 

As part of that, it was also identified that the lack of independent consumer information that wasn't of a commercial nature was also an issue and so the Regional Tech Hub has been set up offering independent advice to people in regional Australia about their connectivity issues. And the other issue that followed on from that is the alternative voice trials looking at what technology may follow in some of those more remote areas that are relying on wireless loops and on unreliable copper connections. 

So I'm very pleased to announce that Luke Hartsuyker, a former minister in the Abbott and Turnbull Governments, which chair the Review. In Opposition Luke, as regional communications shadow minister, formulated the Mobile Phone Black Spot Program that has ultimately led to the funding of 1,200 extra mobile phone towers across the region, 925 of those are up and running at the moment. And so Luke is very well qualified and experienced to undertake the chairman's role in this committee.

He is backed up by a very, very competent committee who have a broad range of skills that will be incredibly useful. So he will have Kristy Sparrow, who is a Queensland grazier and the co-founder of the Better Internet For Regional, Rural and Remote Australia, commonly known as BIRRR, and Kristy has been a fierce advocate for telecommunications into rural and remote Australia. Sue Middleton is a Western Australian farmer and a consultant, community advocate and is a board member of the Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal and she has a lot of other roles as well. Professor Hugh Bradlow is the president of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and one of Australia's leading telecommunications technologists which will be incredibly important as well. And Mr Michael Cosgrave is one of Australia's leading policy experts on telecommunication competition for over 20 years and he's been at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

So as you can see, it is a well‑rounded out committee that has a variety of skills at the top level that will be actually instrumental in helping Luke with this report. 

So it's live now, the review process, and due to be completed by 31 December this year. So I might hand over to Luke to say a few words and then we can have questions at the end if that's okay. 

LUKE HARTSUYKER:

Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Minister, for your words of introduction and this appointment as the chairman of the committee. I'm both honoured and delighted to be able to participate as chair in what is a very important role. And as the Minister has said, the onset of COVID has caused a re‑evaluation by many as to how we conduct business and how we utilise telecommunications, and working remotely is becoming more and more prevalent. 

Regional Australia is not just a great place to live, it's a great place to work, it's a great place to invest and it's a great place to run a business but if we're to maximise the competitive advantage of regional Australia, we must have high‑quality telecommunications infrastructure.

The Government's been making significant investments in regional, rural and remote Australia to deliver equitable access to telecommunication services no matter where we live and no matter where you operate your business and it's the role of this committee to evaluate the adequacy of services in regional, rural and remote Australia in 2021.

Some of the programs funded by the Government such as the Mobile Black Spots Program are at a mature stage and others, such as the Regional Connectivity Program and the Regional Tech Hub are only just beginning their work and the committee will be examining whether the programs are operating effectively.

It's not just about delivering a report card. The committee will be looking at the potential for new providers and new technologies to provide affordable and effective services and making recommendations to government as appropriate. 5G and LEOSats have the potential to greatly enhance the delivery of telecommunication services, and the Internet of Things will create new demands on our telecommunications infrastructure.

Fast, reliable, affordable connectivity is not just about business, however, it's about community as well as the economy. Telehealth services, emergency and disaster response, social engagement, they're all dependent on the Internet and the mobile phone. The committee will assess whether existing services are meeting the needs of community and look for ways to do things even better. Good data and evidence are an important part of the process but public consultation is even more important if we're going to get the most out of this review. 

The committee will meet via videoconference today to plan the way forward. We'll be calling for submissions from all Australians living in regional, rural and remote Australia so that their voices can be clearly heard. The committee will be visiting many communities as part of the review process and information on how to involve one's self in that review will be put out very shortly.

There is a great deal of work to be done and I'm confident that the team will deliver a comprehensive report which will document the current state of play and inform policy making going forward. So thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Media Contact:

Mr Coulton – Steph Nicholls 0417 314 920