Interview with Archie Arenson, Power 100

ARCHIE ARENSON, HOST: Joining me live in the studio right now, our Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland. Good morning, Michelle.


ARENSON: How does it feel to be in Townsville? You said this is the first time you've been here.

ROWLAND: First time here, first of many, I think. And it's been such a great couple of days and had a great day on Palm Island yesterday, learning about the communications challenges there firsthand. There are really welcoming people in Townsville and Palm Island. It's been a really great visit.

ARENSON: It's not normally this cold.

ROWLAND: I had a jumper on last night, I didn't know what was happening.

ARENSON: We don't even know the J word up here most of the time, so it is weird that it is so cold. But look, let's talk about the Federal Budget. Jim Chalmers handed it down about two weeks ago. And something that's shot out to us is the crisis management, the upgrades that are going to be affecting Australians, but also focussing on regional communities. Now, that's obviously a very important thing here in Townsville. We've had, unfortunately, plenty of natural disasters. Can you tell us a bit about that? Now, let me get my acronyms right here. The first one, the NMS. What does it stand for and why do we need it?

ROWLAND: This is a new National Messaging System for emergency alerts and your listeners will know that when unfortunately, there are natural disasters, the way in which this is communicated is usually through SMS - so, the old text messaging system - but that's got a number of limitations. There's congestion, sometimes it can take hours or even days if you're sending a large number of texts to your particular cohort of people. What we're utilising here is going to be this new technology called Cell Broadcast Technology. You'll literally be able to draw a radius around a given area and send an instantaneous message to every device in that area. What it will do is take over your phone. It's not going to look like a scam text, it's going to be a priority message.  Importantly, if you've got your phone set to a different language, it's going to communicate that emergency message in-language. So, it's a real gamechanger for letting people know when there's an emergency, where they need to go, and what they need to be aware of, because the difference in those couple of minutes can be life and death. We're investing here in making sure we keep Australians safe.

ARENSON: So, it doesn't matter what carrier you're on, it's all to do with the cell towers and devices. It's just going to ping up. Like, would it ping up on an iPad or is it has to be a mobile phone?

ROWLAND: It's going to be a mobile device. Some people have their data systems on a particular device, like if they're using an iPad, for example, and that's registered, it depends on what they're using. But in most cases, it's going to be your mobile phone. The important thing here is it doesn't matter what carrier you're with, it's going to be utilising this broadcast technology, which has been proven to work overseas, and we want the best technology, including for regional Australia and the good people of Townsville.

ARENSON: Now has this just come after some research was done by the Government that the systems and the services we had were lacking?

ROWLAND: That's right. I think people expect when we have these Royal Commissions, including into the 2020 bushfires, a lot of lessons are learned through that. One of the key things we know from, unfortunately, this frequency and greater severity of natural disasters is that we need to let people know where they need to be, where they need to avoid instantaneous. That's the beauty of this technology.

ARENSON: Now, I'm going to ask you about another acronym, it is the PSMB, right? The Public Safety Mobile Broadband. Now, why is this so important to us?

ROWLAND: That's the one, the Public Safety Mobile Broadband. This is about our first responders, our emergency services agencies having a coordinated system that's beyond voice. Your listeners may be amazed to learn that the current emergency management systems that are in place for our various agencies, like fire, ambulance, rescue, they really just operate on voice. They don't have this data rich technology and across jurisdictions, they actually can't talk to each other. Sometimes between agencies, they don't talk to each other either. So, this has been a long time coming. We're investing $10 million through the Budget to develop this system and it's really been one that those agencies have said we've needed for some time. Again, this makes sense. Natural disasters don't recognise boundaries on a map. They don't recognise where there's a fire or a flood, for example, that might cross the border between Queensland and New South Wales. Having this really coordinated approach is what these agencies need. We want them to have the best technology to be able to do their jobs effectively.

ARENSON: Keeping Aussies safe, that's the message that I'm getting from this Budget in how they're going to allocate these funds.

ROWLAND: Absolutely. I think that's the first priority of government: to keep Australians safe.

ARENSON: Now, Michelle, I've always wanted to ask someone this, right? You are the Minister for Communications, right? How come radio is by far the best medium by a mile, like, way better than all those lame visual ones that we have?

ROWLAND: I think it has lasted as long as it has because it's been innovative. I take my hat off to your industry association, CRA, they've really been at the forefront of utilising new technologies. I mean, the radio segment was probably one of the first to really adopt podcasts, for example, and to invest in different technologies, to partner and get agreements with smart devices. So, they really have been the innovative sector and people are able to listen to radio wherever they are and I think part of it, too –coming from Western Sydney – we're commuter suburbs. You're listening to commercial radio in your car every day. I think that ability to have - and talent such as your good self, really being able to connect with people – I think that's what keeps people connected and entertained, and that is the role of this portfolio. I'm a big fan of commercial radio and we're talking about keeping Australians safe. The work that commercial radio does during times of natural disasters can't go unnoticed either, because when the mobile towers go down, the broadcast often can keep going for longer. It's radio that's keeping people informed.

ARENSON: It never gets lost on me to remind us how important it is, the medium that we've got. Yeah, we have a lot of jokes on the show and we want to entertain, but the role that we can play in times of crisis, it's one of the really cool parts of the job, but also one of the most important parts. Now, before I let you go, I need to know, you want to hear Bon Jovi next? You love your rock music. You've just given us an encyclopaedia of it off air. You want to hear "You Give Love a Bad Name". What's your fun fact?

ROWLAND: Fun fact is this is from the album Slippery When Wet. My first job was in a supermarket in Blacktown, where I worked for eight years as a checkout operator. My first pay packet, I spent nearly all of it on Slippery When Wet, so I know every word of every song. And of course, the best song of all time is “You Give Love a Bad Name”.

ARENSON: All right, well, coming up next, we are going to hear a live karaoke edition from the Minister -. no, I'm just joking we are going to play the song. Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland. Thanks so much for stopping by Power 100 and chatting to me today.