Interview with ABC News Channel, News Breakfast

LISA MILLAR, HOST: Staying with those new rules, let’s bring in the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Minister, good morning. Welcome to News Breakfast.


MILLAR: Why do you think these regulations will work, because these text message scams seem to be quite pervasive?

ROWLAND: Well, firstly, this is the first time there’s been this explicit obligation on telecommunication companies to have the capabilities in place to identify, trace and block scam texts, and exactly as you said in your reporting earlier, this can be enforced by the regulator and substantial fines can apply if that is not followed. But certainly, we have seen a rise in the number of scam texts that are occurring. These are predominantly run by criminals who are sophisticated – some of them in Australia, many of them overseas. But the technology needs to keep up with that in order to keep Australians safe. So, that is why for the first time it will be an explicit requirement to have those capabilities, but also a requirement to cooperate across the sector and with law enforcement agencies, and to help educate consumers about these risks in order to keep as many Australians safe as we possibly can.

MILLAR: We just had the CEO of Telstra on the program actually, Minister, and he was saying you can promise cleaner pipes, was the wording he used, but you can’t promise clean pipes because it’s just so complex and difficult to try to stop these scam messages. Do you think the big companies are doing enough? He seemed to suggest that this was directed at Telstra’s competitors, not Telstra.

ROWLAND: Well, firstly, the technology has become more sophisticated to enable these scam texts to be identified. We know for a fact as the evidence shows in just over a year since we’ve had obligations in place about scam calls, we’ve had some half a billion scam calls being blocked. Now, will this mean that every scam call, every scam text and every scam email will no longer reach innocent Australian consumers? The honest answer is no. But we can make it better and we can ensure that there is the consistency across the industry so that consumers have confidence that no matter who their provider is, they will have the obligation to have that identifying, tracing and blocking of scam texts.

And certainly, Telstra should be commended for the work that it’s done in that area, and I would note that many players across the sector have done similar, but we have now this obligation in place right across the industry so that we’ve got that consistency, and we hope that sort of collaboration will make things better and we can get ahead of these criminals as much as we can.

MILLAR: When you talk about criminals, where is it coming from?

ROWLAND: There’s a variety of sources and the law enforcement agencies will tell you that these are sophisticated operations that are often offshore in any number of countries. Some of them are run domestically. But part of this is ensuring that we have that information-sharing so that our law enforcement agencies in Australia, but also cooperating with international agencies, can get a real difference occurring in this area.

MILLAR: Michelle Rowland, I just want to ask you about the jobs summit that’s been announced, September 1st and 2nd. We know now 100 people are going to gather – government, business leaders, unions. Everyone’s sort of staking their ground already. It feels like there’s a crisis going on with the job market at the moment in Australia. Is a two‑day summit in September, where people come with high hopes and expectations that may not get met, actually going to achieve anything?

ROWLAND: I think we need to be clear about what this jobs summit is aiming to achieve, and this is formulating a conversation that’s going on right across all the portfolios at the moment and I know it’s going on right across the sector. We know that we have this skills shortage problem. We know that there have been challenging economic times with the pandemic and they will continue. And we know that with individuals, with the rises in interest rates and also relatively stagnant wages for so long, that this is really causing a number of disruptions to our economy. So, the idea here is to bring together these different schools of thought, but also to map a way forward for a whole‑of‑government approach to this issue. So, I certainly wouldn’t see this as two days of talking and listening. This is going to require a lot of input from different sectors of the economy to address some of these ongoing problems that have been there for nearly a decade. And let’s face it: in the new world post COVID, we will be doing so many things differently. There will be different drivers of productivity. There will be different ways in which we work, and we will have new challenges, including our ageing population and everything that goes with that.

So, the way we approach this as a government is that this will be an opportunity to really set the new agenda going forward and to map out a strategy for the Albanese Government into the future.

MILLAR: Business is raising concerns that it will be an opportunity for unions to sort of set-in place demands that they have, and they’re sort of saying, “Well, hang on let’s not go down that road.”

ROWLAND: The Prime Minister has made it very clear that his approach to governing for all Australians will be to bring Australians together. That’s the focus that he will be bringing to the jobs summit – that we need to have problem-solving hats on and not conflict ones, and I’m very confident that that will permeate this jobs summit and the discussions leading into it, and the policy outcomes arising from that.

MILLAR: All right, Michelle Rowland. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.