Interview with David Eisenhauer, Sounds of Mountains

DAVID EISENHAUER, HOST: As I mentioned, we've been talking to lots of people, here we do some interviews on average, about six a day. We talked so many different subjects around the region and we're fortunate this morning to be speaking with Federal Communications Minister, Hon Michelle Rowland. And the Minister joins us on the line. Minister, a very good morning.


EISENHAUER: On a beautiful day across the region, the sun shining, and we dropped down to eight degrees last night, Minister. It's certainly autumn, isn't it?

ROWLAND: It's arriving. I think it's going to start getting cold. You can tell in Canberra when it starts to stay darker for longer in the morning, but it's a gorgeous day today.

EISENHAUER: Isn't that true? And maybe a shower or two around the Tumut region later, which is certainly needed in the district.

One other thing that's needed is better communications. It's something - I know, we're meaning to speak with Kristy McBain on the station, of course, Federal Member for Eden-Monaro, we always talk about communications and the improvements being made. And an exciting thing that we're gonna to talk about this morning, Minister, is fibre. This is a terrific investment, $2.4 billion the government's putting into the NBN upgrades. What an exciting thing to talk about.

ROWLAND: It certainly is. And for so many of your listeners having the best access to quality, high speed broadband, it's not a nice to have, it's absolutely essential. It's essential for studying, for engaging with government, for e-commerce, for your small businesses. I'm really pleased that we've recently announced that one million premises around Australia are going to benefit from these fibre upgrades. And that includes a very large proportion in rural and regional Australia. And just around the Eden-Monaro region alone, we've got around 14,000 premises. They're going to be eligible to get an upgrade from that second-rate copper network to a full-fibre network, and that I know will be very welcomed by local communities.

EISENHAUER: Well, it's such a crucial, critical part of business. It's a crucial part of the kids doing their homework, it's a crucial part of the teachers teaching at school. Data uses tripled on the NBN in just six years. I mean, we aren't turning backwards here, we're definitely ploughing forward, aren't we, Minister?

ROWLAND: We are in the digital age and one of the key priorities in this portfolio is to ensure that, irrespective of where you live or work, you've got the same opportunities as people who live in the big cities and in metro areas. That is really the driver of this policy. And I know that so many people now, you're expected to do interactions with, even, government by digital means. And not having that equality of access is really a dampener on local businesses, on people's time, on their efforts. It's important that irrespective of where you live or work, you've got the best quality broadband. And that's what we're going to be delivering.

EISENHAUER: And a big part of that, particularly in regional areas, Minister, you'd remember your travels during the bushfires, around our local region and it's the connectivity during emergencies that is so, so important, isn't it?

ROWLAND: It certainly is, and that's why, as part of the $2.2 billion regional communications package that we announced in the Budget last year, we had specific funding set aside to improve mobile services, what we call mobile network hardening. How can we make sure that when the power goes down and you have so many services going offline, how can we ensure that we mitigate those kinds of experiences? In a lot of cases, it is really a matter of safety as well in a lot of these areas.  We really want to focus on making these improvements. But again, the whole key here is understanding that communications, broadband, mobile services: they're not just a nice to have, they are absolutely essential pieces of infrastructure.

EISENHAUER: What's the timeline, do you think, with this one, Minister? We're heading for - it's not that far, it's not a very big timeline, this, isn't it? It's going to be happening fairly rapidly.

ROWLAND: Well, that's right. And whilst we've had this announcement, we're going to be gradually rolling this out across Australia. I encourage your listeners to register on the NBN Co website, speak to their retailer, because they will be able to order fibre upgrades from 2024, which will be around sooner than we think. All this engineering work is being done now, so you'll actually be able to put in those orders. I think that this will be one that is really enthusiastically received by local areas. Also just for your listeners who might be on the fixed wireless or the satellite networks, we've also invested nearly half a billion dollars in improving the fixed wireless network that's having good flow on effects to the Sky Muster satellite service as well. And we've recently announced some trials about access to satellite and improving that as well, because we know how important this is for all your listeners.

EISENHAUER: And another thing that's exciting, and of course we're talking of a history of over 214 years, is just I think it was last week, the Albanese Government launched a discussion paper and some consultation on modernising the postal service. We're talking about the long-term sustainability of Australia Post. Times have changed. I mean, we go back that long, Minister, I mean, the mail was being delivered by horse and that was it. There was no other communications, there was no phones, there's nothing like that. It was a letter in the mail when it arrived. Now we're down to, I think it's about an average of two letters a week on the average household. And there's some really big changes in the consultation process underway.

ROWLAND: That's right, Dave. And you're correct when you note that, primarily, communications back in the day was about the postal service. Indeed, the Ministry that I hold was really known as the Postmaster General because that was the form of communication. But many of your listeners, Dave, might not be aware that the regulatory settings for Australia Post, they largely haven't changed for 25 years. And we've just been having this discussion about the digital age, it's really important for Australia Post to adapt. It needs to be financially sustainable, but it also needs to service the needs of rural and regional Australia. It needs to service the needs of different cohorts of people who expect different from their postal service to what they would have 25 years ago. The parcels business is booming. I know many of your small business listeners and also customers of businesses, they receive probably more parcels than they do letters these days. But they also expect those parcels to be delivered on time. They expect to be able to track them.

We are having a very open and transparent public consultation here. It'll run for two months. All your listeners are welcome to make submissions and a lot of submissions have already been received. But the key thing here is ensuring that rural and regional Australia is serviced well. And also understanding that in many cases, those post offices in rural and regional Australia, they're not just a post office, they're a general store, they're the newsagent. In many cases, they are the only banking service.

EISENHAUER: That's right.

ROWLAND: We want to improve all of these services in rural and regional Australia. I really look forward to the feedback from your listeners on this really important topic.

EISENHAUER: And of course, submissions close in around eight weeks, the 27th April. So people have got a bit of time up their sleeve to have a look at Have your say. It's a nice, easy link to follow there. I looked this morning and it's there and it's a nice and easy way to contribute to this discussion.

Minister, out of time, you've got a very busy schedule. We must catch up more often and chat. There's so many things to talk in the world of communications. And anything you'd like to add this morning?

ROWLAND: No, just really pleased to be able to join you and your listeners today, Dave. And just to reassure people, the needs of rural and regional Australia are a top priority of this Government, which is why we're upgrading the NBN, we're improving mobile services and also we want an Australia Post that's sustainable and serve their needs. Thank you for the opportunity today.

EISENHAUER: And Minister, thank you very much for your time joining us on this Wednesday morning. All the best for the day ahead.

ROWLAND: You too. Pleasure.

EISENHAUER: There you go. Of course, speaking with Minister, Federal Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland there, of course, Australia Post, don't forget that address Postal services, modernisation and amazing statistics there. A workforce of around 60,000 people, 4,300 post offices. Amazing stuff. And you walk into a post office today you go back 214 years, as the Minister said, the office of the PMG, Postmaster General's Department there changed a lot in those times. So have your say in the way that the postal service moves forward by having a look at that website and that we'll be talking more about that NBN upgrades happening around our region through the Eden-Monaro.