Interview with Danny Kennedy, ABC Western Queensland Longreach

DANNY KENNEDY: The Leader of the National Party and Member for Maranoa, David Littleproud, said the Labor Government has just re‑announced and re‑badged previous LNP programs, while the Federal Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, says there’s significant money in the Budget for those living the remote areas. Well, to talk more about this, I’m joined by Michelle Rowland who is the Federal Minister for communications. Good morning, Minister.


KENNEDY: Welcome to the West, I suppose you could say. As you heard us saying there, we were talking about previous, I suppose, what Federal members in this neck of the woods were talking about. The Katter’s Australia Party Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, says there’s significant money in the Government’s Budget for those living remotely. What are those programs specifically?

ROWLAND: Well, some of them in the Communications portfolio, Danny, are obviously very relevant to your listeners, and this covers the whole gamut of broadband access, expanding mobile coverage and ensuring better connectivity and resilience during natural disasters, a program to improve on‑farm connectivity as well, so it covers a very broad range of areas. I would point out that in this Budget we are meeting all of our commitments in the Communications space and with a particular focus on the regions. We’ve got $2.2 billion being invested over the next five years in regional communications, which represents a major increase in regional communications funding, and I think it’s important to note what that will mean: it will mean a measurable improvement as we rollout these projects and improve connectivity for the good people living in Western Queensland.

KENNEDY: Now, the leader of the Nationals and Member for Maranoa, David Littleproud, said the Labor Government had just re‑badged previous LNP programs. Is this the case?

ROWLAND: Respectfully, I say, Danny, Mr Littleproud is wrong. We’ve got the single largest initiative of $2.4 billion expanding fibre National Broadband Network access, and that will cover 1.5 million premises around Australia, and importantly for your listeners, we will have at least 660,000 of those premises being located in regional Australia. That will deliver huge benefits. We’ve also committed $30 million to fund on‑farm connectivity. What this is about is extending the benefits of communications networks, including technology like 5G, for machine‑to‑machine technology of primary producers. And we were the only party, I must say, who during the last election took such a policy. We have now funded that in the Budget, and we’ll deliver on that.

And we’ve also made nearly half a billion dollars available to the National Broadband Network to upgrade its fixed‑wireless network, which also means improvements in the satellite networks for your listeners. So, I would encourage Mr Littleproud to work collaboratively with me for the benefit of all of his constituents, including those businesses in regional Australia, because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about ensuring that people in regional Australia are connected, they are informed, and they’re empowered by the power of ICT.

KENNEDY: It’s 11 to seven, I’m speaking with Federal Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, about announcements in the Budget yesterday. I know these have just been announced, Minister, and it’s early days, but the timelines for them to be implemented, have they been looked at yet?

ROWLAND: Absolutely, and I can assure your listeners that my Department is already working on scoping these programs and also the guidelines in which certain spots will be selected for these particular deliveries. I would point out that in terms of the fibre access increase under the National Broadband Network, we expect that by the end of 2025 that some 90 per cent of premises in the fixed‑line footprint will have access to gigabit speeds. Again, that was the policy we took to the election.

But I think it’s important to note one of our really positive initiatives here is we’ve got an independent national audit of mobile coverage happening and what we’re doing there, Danny, is utilising existing assets with Australia Post. As you would know, Australia Post vehicles go right around the country. We’re using smart technology and transponders to measure mobile services, because as your listeners would be well aware, the carriers will issue coverage maps but the coverage that your listeners receive doesn’t always correspond to those maps. So, what this is doing is getting a really solid independent evidence base of where those black spots are and how we can best design policies, co‑investment models and other technologies to deliver demonstrable improvements in the quality of mobile services. We understand how important mobile services are in regional Australia, how much we rely on them and the importance of making them resilient as well.

KENNEDY: And will the Labor Government be adopting the recommendations of the regional telecommunications review?

ROWLAND: Well, I think it’s important to note, and again I note Mr Littleproud said yesterday that we should adopt all of those recommendations, but I would point out that this report was actually provided to the former Government in December last year. They had many months to implement regulatory reform or develop a process for starting it. And I’m not sure what Mr Littleproud is referring to because there’s really only three mentions of regulatory issues in the paper, but I think the two key things coming out of that review are that we need improved connectivity and mobile services, and as I explained, we have a comprehensive package of $400 million for mobile black spots and communications resilience.

And the other part is reform of universal service. You know, the USO agreement required a technology review last year. It should have been the foundation of reform. That was kicked into the long grass, but I can assure your listeners we are certainly continually looking at ways in which universal service is delivered in the most efficient way within the current regulatory environment. But I think the important thing always is delivery. We are delivering $2.2 billion in regional communicationss and I think that certainly was the foundation of the regional review and we are delivering on that.

KENNEDY: Minister Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time this morning.

ROWLAND: A pleasure. Thank you.