Interview - Breakfast with Paddy and Rob Palmer, Triple M Central Coast

PADDY & ROB PALMER, HOSTS: A couple of weeks ago, Wayney called just talking about the black areas when it comes to phone reception on the Central Coast and Wayne from Lower Mangrove called us and said the mobile service was non-existent and the only communications he has is by using his mobile in other ways.

Here's what he had to say.

‘We have no mobile reception at all. We have our lifeline through our landline. When the landline goes down, there's no reception at all. No landline, no communications - so, you're in the dark.’

We were speaking to our Federal Member for Robertson, Gordon Reid, and it was couple of weeks ago. Gordon said submissions were being taken up until late November, wasn’t it?

That's right. And the Communications Minister was going to receive submissions from the 28th of November and move forward from there. So, we thought, why don’t we get her on the radio to have a chat and let us know what the status is.

And we have got our Communications Minister, and she joins us this morning, Michelle Rowland. Good morning, Michelle.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning, fellas. How are you going?

HOSTS: Yeah, not too bad. How are you going?

ROWLAND: Really good.

HOSTS: Getting ready for Christmas and all that sort of stuff?

ROWLAND: I'm doing the countdown like the rest of Australia for school holidays and Christmas I think.

HOSTS: Do you have a real tree or a fake one at your place?

ROWLAND: We have a fake one. But it looks real. So, I think that's all that matters.

HOSTS: That's exactly perfect. That's why I don't go for those real ones.

You can get a spray that you spray on the tree. Was that you? You spray it and it smells like Christmas trees.

Michelle, while we've got you here, we know you've heard Wayne about the reception at Lower Mangrove.

There’re so many areas around the Central Coast.  You just drive and you get no mobile reception whatsoever. And you've just concluded a consultation on draft guidelines for the improving mobile coverage round of the Mobile Black Spot Program. What's the latest on this one?

ROWLAND: Well, absolutely. You're right about Wayne. And just to go back to his issue that I think a lot of your other listeners are experiencing. We rely on our mobiles so much, it's not a nice to have. It's absolutely essential for health, for education, for small businesses, but also for safety issues as well.

You're right that we've just finished undertaking guidelines on our improving mobile coverage round. We did identify some areas for the Central Coast prior to the election that were really in need of upgrades. They include Mangrove Mountain, Matcham-Holgate and Wyoming. Those guidelines have just been concluded. We've got a number of suggestions there about how we should approach the market - that's the different mobile carriers- to really get the co-investment we need to deliver on these projects. So, part of it is government funding, but part of it is also incentivising the carriers to go out and get this done.

That's now progressing really well and I want to thank you everyone who contributed to that. I'll make sure that I keep your listeners updated, including through your local members, Gordon Reid and Emma McBride over the coming months. 

HOSTS: Michelle is there a timeframe with this?

ROWLAND: Well, some of it depends on the approvals that local councils give, for example, but I think the important thing here is that we keep it moving. We had the money committed in the Budget only a couple of weeks ago, we've now got the carriers on notice that these are the areas that we're going to seek to invest in. But also, we want to make sure that we consult so we get the biggest possible range of options. I want to assure all of your listeners, the main concern here is to get it done as expeditiously as possible. But to get the best results as possible as well. We don't want to be spending taxpayer’s money where coverage isn't improved. We want to help people like Wayne, and all of your listeners who are obviously very frustrated.

HOSTS: Currently, Michelle, when Wayne said the power goes out, let's say the exchange goes down, there's a battery backup system that might last a certain period of four hours and after that they've got nothing. So, he says something that can be done in the short term, he even suggested maybe a generator supply. That will give them uninterrupted power if there's a power outage to the exchange.

ROWLAND: Well, that's right within and allocated in our Budget a couple of weeks ago, some additional money towards what we call 'mobile hardening', but also improving resilience. Some of this came out from the recommendations from natural disasters, including the bushfires. That does include having options for generators for there to be long term power solutions. Some of them can be quite innovative, like solar solutions, but certainly what Wayne is mentioning is what we need to have at some of those spots, because you're right when the power goes out, and the infrastructure goes down, it's unfortunately useless. So, we've committed money towards that. I think that given these recommendations that come out of some very serious natural disasters, we hope to get some really innovative and good results there.

HOSTS: [Inaudible] with UHF radios. Are they going to see a generator on this side of next Winter?

ROWLAND: Well, one would hope that we are able to deliver what is needed for resilience for this particular site. I don't have the specific details of that infrastructure. But certainly, that's precisely what we're looking at. I really appreciate that feedback. We're going to have more to say in the coming months. I can assure your listeners that your MPs Gordon Reid, Emma McBride and also Senator Deb O'Neill - I think they are the most prolific letter writers to me seeking representations on connectivity issues; everything from broadband, to mobile, to emergency services. So, I'll make sure that they are prioritised as well.

HOSTS: If you're listening today, and you're in a bad area, and have a really bad mobile connection or whatever, just get in touch with Gordon Reid.

ROWLAND: Absolutely, and that's how we find these things out, and that's through getting this feedback. As I said, this is a consultative process. We are partnering with mobile carriers to do some really important things to improve coverage but also to improve safety. We want to get best bang for the buck.

HOSTS: Michelle Rowland, our Communications Minister, thanks for joining us and hopefully we'll speak next year, and we'll have some really good news. Keep us in the loop!

ROWLAND: Look forward to it. Merry Christmas to all your listeners too!

HOSTS: Thanks Michelle.