Interview with Dan Crouch, Flow FM South Australia

DAN CROUCH, HOST: I'm joined by Michelle Rowland, Member for Greenway in NSW since 2010, and Minister for Communications. Minister Rowland. A pleasure to have you here on Flow FM today. Thanks for joining me. How are you?


CROUCH: You've got an exciting announcement to make, and it will be very relevant, I'm sure, to our listeners here on Flow FM. I'd love to invite you to share that announcement with us right now.

ROWLAND: Thanks, Dan. As your listeners will know, we need reliable, quality, high speed internet for everyone. It's not a luxury, it's not a nice to have, it's absolutely essential to participate in our digital economy and it's particularly important for young people and school students.

We know that during the Pandemic, too many students were left behind from virtual learning because they didn't have the internet at home. That's why the Albanese Government went to the election with a commitment to support up to 30,000 families right across Australia to have free internet access through the NBN for a year. I'm so pleased today to announce that South Australia's Education Department is now making this assistance available to over 10,000 eligible families in the South Australian school system. That's great news for those families who will be getting free internet for a year.

CROUCH: That is great news. That's a really exciting announcement. What action do unconnected families need to take to get themselves connected under this plan? Further to that, for those families who aren't connected, I have to assume they'll be able to get themselves connected without needing current internet access to apply or fill out any online forms?

ROWLAND: That's right, Dan. We're trying to make this as easy as possible so those families can go through either their school, they can contact the Department of Education, or they can be referred through a partner agency, like a nominating charity, or even contact their local Federal Member or Senator.

We're trying to make this as broadly available as possible, but you need to have a child living at home who's enrolled in school, you need to be referred by a nominating organisation, you need to have no current active broadband service over the NBN, and you need to live somewhere where you can access a standard NBN service. That should include just about all of those school students. The whole point here is we want to make it as widely available as possible, including over the various technologies through which the NBN is delivered. That can be the fixed service, the fixed wireless service or the satellite service and I'm really pleased that this is going to be available to South Australian students.

CROUCH: Now, the internet access, will it be a bit of a free for all or will it be restricted to use for work and schoolwork and that sort of things, tools for work and education? Or will it just be straight up Internet access, using it for whatever you like?

ROWLAND: Dan, we're making this available at people's homes and part of this is because we want households to experience the difference of what it can mean to be connected. We know that for a lot of families, they're starting to discover that they're expected to deal with governments through online means, with banks, through ecommerce. The whole point here is to get that household connected. And yes, this is about connecting school students, but it certainly will benefit whole families in those households who haven't been connected before. As I said, we're trying to make this as easy as possible. Yes, there are eligibility criteria, but we're trying to ensure that everyone who needs this access can get it. They get it free for a whole year. I hope and I'm very confident that those families will see the benefits of that connectivity and how it can really make an impact on their lives.

CROUCH: The plan is for one year as of right now. Is there any sort of thought of what will happen after that year for these families? Will there be a possibility of extending the plan or is there anything in the works during this next year to keep them connected beyond the twelve month period?

ROWLAND: We're certainly turning our mind to that right now, Dan. We're using this as pretty much a playbook for how we go forward to assisting families who need to get connected. We're going to examine the results as more and more families are connected, and we've got some 3,000 households who are currently connected and around 20,000 households around Australia to whom vouchers have been issued. Now, we want people to appreciate the importance of getting connected and to get those vouchers actioned so they can start experience the benefits. They're absolutely right, we're using this time to examine why people aren't connected, what could be the barriers to getting connected and keeping our options open going forward. This is a really important learning experience. This is the first time this has been done at scale in Australia, so there will be a lot of learnings and a lot of feedback. Ultimately, we want people to experience the benefits that come with it and in particular for those school students.

CROUCH: I would love to know for our regional listeners who might struggle with poor service due to living so remotely, is there anything in place for them to get better access under this plan?

ROWLAND: They'll be part of this as well, it's irrespective of where you live in Australia. NBN will examine the premise and work out what technology is available to them. Ultimately, as I said, this is about connecting unconnected students wherever they may be in South Australia. I'm very pleased, I must say, that your South Australian Minister for Education, Blair Boyer has been very supportive of this initiative, and I think it's going to make a real difference to South Australian school students, irrespective of where they live in your great state.

CROUCH: Well, Minister Rowland, that is a really exciting announcement and I have no doubt it will make a big difference for a lot of students and families as they navigate their education, and we know how important and essential online learning has become and we learned the hard way throughout COVID lockdown. That is a really exciting announcement and I'm sure it will make a very big difference for a lot of families and I really appreciate you making that with us on Flow FM today.

Before you go, I'd love to know AFL and NRL Grand Finals are coming up just around the corner. Do you have a tip for who you think might win? Any thought that NSW might be home to a Premiership Cup or two by the end of the month?

ROWLAND: Well, coming from North West Sydney, I'm backing the GWS Giants, of course, but in the NRL, my beloved Parramatta Eels, one of the most frustrating teams in the competition. I love them, but I don't know whether there's any pathway for them for the rest of this year to get to where they were last year in the Premiership. But good luck to both of my teams.

CROUCH: Very good. Minister Rowland, thank you very much for your time today and for making that announcement with us. Looking forward to speaking with you again soon and all the best with this plan moving forward.

ROWLAND: And to you and your listeners, Dan. Let's get South Australians connected.