Interview with Crystal Vas and Anthony Salame, Star 106.3 FM Breakfast

CRYSTAL VAS, HOST: Anthony unfortunately, living in North Queensland, we are no stranger to national disasters, but the Government is rolling out a new Cell Broadcast National Messaging System, which is going to improve the way messages are sent out during natural disasters. To talk more about that in studio right now the Honourable Michelle Rowland MP, Minister for Communications. Good morning.



VAS: So, great to have you here in Townsville.

SALAME: Thanks for joining us.

VAS: Now, can you tell us what this National Messaging System means for Townsville?

ROWLAND: This is going to be a real game changer for messaging during disasters and we know that every minute counts when there is one. You need to notify people when there's an emergency and those couple of minutes can be the difference between life and death.

SALAME: Definitely.

ROWLAND: So, what we are doing here is rolling out a new technology called Cell Broadcast Technology. Many of your listeners will know that currently, the way that messages are sent out is using the plain old text SMS systems and they're unfortunately subject to a lot of limitations. There's congestion, sometimes it can take days, even for some of those mass numbers of SMS’ to arrive. So, what we're utilising here is instantaneous Cell Broadcast Messaging. You can literally draw a radius around a given area and send out in one go. Using this technology, a broadcast signal gets to everyone on their mobile devices. It's a prioritised message that literally takes over the phone, so it doesn't just look like another piece of spam text that unfortunately, a lot of people get. One of the other important features here is that if your phone is set to a different language, it will broadcast that in-language to you as well.

SALAME: That's impressive.

VAS: Wow.

ROWLAND: It’s a technology that's being deployed in other countries. We've decided to take this on in Australia and I think it will make a really big difference to how we notify people of those disasters. I know, unfortunately, here in Townsville a couple of years ago, for example, there was a natural disaster with the monsoon and unfortunately, we're seeing it more frequently and with greater severity. It's really timely that we do this. I’m really pleased to be here in Townsville to announce this from the Budget last week.

SALAME: That's brilliant. Well, it's awesome to have you and I know firsthand about trying to get messages out there. I still use an iPhone 7. So, this phone is – it’s getting on, but this is brilliant. How long does it take to put this infrastructure in place and get this happening? Is it a big project?

ROWLAND: It is a big project, but the telcos are on board with this. We also know that, because this works in other countries, we've been able to take lessons from them and get that scale. We've got a timeline for the end of next year, but I want to assure your listeners we're going to be doing this as expeditiously as possible. There'll be milestones, we're going to be testing it and we'll keep people updated about that because this is the kind of technology we would have liked to have had in place for these disasters. We want to have it in as soon as possible and we'll be working really hard to ensure that this is done as quickly as possible.

SALAME: Brilliant. That’s amazing.

VAS: Michelle, look, I want to give a really big shout-out to you I just love seeing women like yourself doing amazing things in politics and representing us ladies. For me, I really wanted to get into politics in High School. And then, I mean, my final years of High School, Julia Gillard was in power. And I just saw the way she was treated and picked on and the way she looked, and her relationships were brought up, and I just thought, “oh, I don't know if that's for me”. So, just seeing someone strong and killing it as you are yeah, it's really impressive.

ROWLAND: Oh, that's really kind. But I think one of the things that always keeps me grounded is that I know, like your listeners today, the people I represent in Western Sydney, everyone's doing their bit. They're working hard, they're dropping their kids at childcare, they're doing a hard day at work. I admire them and I admire you for the work you're doing in media. I'm a big fan of commercial radio and to see talent like your good selves here. And if you want to get into politics, I'm sure you'll do it, you seem to be very driven. I encourage everyone, all those young women who are listening today, to do the same.

VAS: I love that. What was your pathway, Michelle? How did you get into it?

ROWLAND: Well, I had a before life. I worked as actually a communications and competition lawyer for a private firm.

VAS: Wow.

ROWLAND: So, I had a before life, which I really enjoyed. When the opportunity came to go into Parliament, I was really pleased to do that. I'd been involved in local government; I'd been Deputy Mayor of my local area. When this opportunity came up, it was a difficult decision, actually, because my life was going in another trajectory. But I'm very lucky to have a very supportive husband and family and they encouraged me to do it. So, after twelve years, I became the Minister for Communications. So, this really is my dream job. Doing what I really like, to be in a portfolio area where it's about keeping people connected, informed and entertained.

SALAME: Yeah, that's brilliant.

VAS: Absolutely.

SALAME: And I know your job, I mean, it's high stress, there's a lot on the line, especially when it comes into federal politics. Can I ask, do you ever fake it until you make it? Like with every other job, sometimes you hear something like what the hell are they talking about. Do you ever get put in those kinds of positions?

ROWLAND: Often. But I think the key thing is, and again, I learned this in the private sector: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

VAS: Yes.

ROWLAND: A lot of my life is around being organised. Everything from getting the kids' lunch boxes packed in the morning, meal prepping. So, I've been away for a week. I'm going home tonight and just making sure that everything is in place. But it's the same with the substantive parts of the portfolio. This portfolio covers everything from Australia Post to the National Broadband Network, telecommunications, radio, online safety. So, keeping abreast of that, I just try to set aside the time to make sure that I'm doing my very best to stay informed and to make good policy decisions.

SALAME: That's brilliant.

VAS: Well, you're doing a great job. The Honourable Michelle Rowland. Thank you so much for joining us. We're looking forward to having a juice with you out in the office with our morning tea in a second.

ROWLAND: A pleasure, thanks so much.

SALAME: Thanks for your time.