Interview with Jeff Michael, Noongar Radio

JEFF MICHAEL, HOST: We’ve got the Federal Minister for Communications, the Honourable Michelle Rowland joins us today in the studio, as well as a local member, Member for Perth and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, the honourable Patrick Gorman. Hello to you both.


PATRICK GORMAN, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR PERTH: Good to be here, Jeff. Thanks for having us.

MICHAEL: Now I understand we were hoping to get the Prime Minister to come over. And is that why you're filling in as the Assistant Minister?

GORMAN: Well, unfortunately, the Prime Minister, like many in the community at the moment, has come down with the bug, with COVID. But it's really great to have Michelle Rowland, the Minister for Communications here. She's just come straight, I think, from another event with her other hat as the boss of Australia Post. And now here at one of the great community radio stations of Western Australia, Noongar Radio.

MICHAEL: Hello, Michelle. Welcome to Perth.

ROWLAND: Thank you so much. It's great to be here. It's been a long time between visits for pandemic reasons and other reasons, but it's a real privilege to be here. This is my first radio station visit in Perth as Minister, so I'm really privileged to be here.

MICHAEL: Yeah, okay. Nice to have you in the studio. You two both. Now, we're here to talk about an important bill was passed through Parliament recently. Can you tell us what was that bill about?

ROWLAND: Sure. We had an amendment to broadcasting legislation around community broadcasters and it was one of those bills that does a couple of tidy ups, including making it easier for the licensing process for community radio, and a few other tidy-ups. So, it's one of those tidy-up bills that doesn't sound very interesting, but it's one that the sector has been asking for a little while. But most importantly for me, it was actually the first bill as Minister that I got put through the Parliament and my colleague Patrick Gorman was also one of the speakers on the bill, which was great.

GORMAN: Yes. And I got to give a shout-out to many of the wonderful community radio stations here in Western Australia, Noongar Radio being one that I've spoken about in the Parliament a number of times. But also, I think the Minister was somewhat impressed that I talked about the origins of one of the other great radio stations at Beaufort Street, just up the road in RTR FM.

MICHAEL: Yes RTR, hello Danae.

GORMAN: G'day to Danae and the crew up there and I was explaining the origins of RTR being from it was a pirate radio station theme back in the 1970s. They called it "Arr T Arr" FM and I think that's just lovely. That's why I think my speech stuck in the Minister's mind.

MICHAEL: I suppose we've kind of developed our own identity over here at WA with RTR, it was called then 6UVs and good old, 6NR 927, which gave birth to Aboriginal radio.

GORMAN: Well, that's it. And all of these community stations, myself and the Minister have just been touring through the Noongar Radio facilities to see all of what you do to train up that next generation of broadcasters and storytellers, which is such an important part of what our community radio stations provide.

MICHAEL: Yeah. I suppose to you there Michelle, what do you think community radio is important to Australians?

ROWLAND: I think it provides a really important channel for media diversity. Diversity in terms of different voices, different age demographics, different interests, also for First Nations people in particular. I think that it fills a really important role in our society and we know how many millions of Australians tune in every week. That's because it does provide that diversity and that level of interest. I guess the key message from Patrick and myself is this Government considers community broadcasting and community radio in particular to be integral to our media landscape. That's one of the reasons why, as I said, the bill that we just had put through the Parliament was really a piece of good regulatory housekeeping. But in terms of what's been really important for the sector, in our first budget as a new Government, we're now providing $20 million to the community broadcasting sector. Community radio is really benefiting in a sound financial way, increasing their funding, because we know the important role that you fulfil for local communities, for democracies, and also in terms of public safety, community radio really pulled its weight during natural disasters in the last couple of years. For me, that says everything about this sector. It's built on people, it's built on communities. And as I always say, strong community radio builds strong communities.

MICHAEL: Yeah. I could say a couple of years ago, I was driving across to the eastern states, turn the radio and I could only get 2WEV from Burke, a community station there. They're on AM but able to hear them over quite a huge distance and understand at the moment they're coping floods. So it's important for community radio, especially there, and also bushfires, as you mentioned.

ROWLAND: Absolutely. For my first visit as Minister, I went to Braidwood FM and they had volunteers who were broadcasting around the clock for days, letting people know where the fires were, where to evacuate. So really, this is communities at their finest and this Government believes very strongly that they should be supported.

MICHAEL: Yeah. Now, regional community radio, what help will they get out of this bill, especially for here in WA, we're often a bit of a desert landscape there as far as radio is concerned in regional areas. How will that help them?

ROWLAND: Again, it gives some greater certainty to the licensing regime, but we also combine this with our increased funding that takes it to over $20 million per year. I think in terms of having a good regulatory framework, we're also doing a holistic review of the media landscape right now. Many of your listeners will be aware that we are doing a review of really important regulations like free-to-air sport being shown on television, being accessible and not behind a paywall. We're also looking at a number of other issues in this landscape. But I think the most important point to make here is we see that community broadcasting, and community radio fulfils a really important role in that ecosystem. So irrespective of where you are, irrespective of your genre, we want to ensure that we can maximise everyone's support because we believe in this platform very much, don't we, Patrick?

GORMAN: We do. And we also know just how much it means to the people who help make our community radio stations what they are. People give so much of their own time, they give so much of themselves to make these stations a success. And we want to back them in what they're doing.

ROWLAND: A particular shout out, I think, from myself and Patrick to all the volunteers in community radio. This is one of those areas, it would not exist if not for people who are interested in it, encouraging students, encouraging members of the community to get involved. To all of them, a really big thank you for what you do for media diversity in this country.

MICHAEL: Yes. Now, in passing that bill, was it hard or was it easy? Did you get support from the Opposition or what? What happened there?

ROWLAND: Interestingly, I think it had a very large number of speakers. People wanted - across the aisle - to talk about their local community radio stations, just as Patrick did, and people right across the political spectrum wanted to do that. It ended up going through the Senate in, I think, a very late hour on the last sitting day of Parliament. But it got passed and very glad that it did. It had very strong community support. I think that goes really well for our democracy, where you can't always get a lot of agreement on these things in the Parliament.

MICHAEL: Now one question that often comes up in community radio: sponsorship or advertising limits or guidelines. I understand we're limited to about five minutes per hour. And also, some stations often have problems with doing outside broadcasts at a business. They're kind of wondering, is it an ad or is it sponsorship? How do we go about this?

ROWLAND: Well, this has been one of the big conundrums for community broadcasting because of course, within the licensing system you've got different categories and community broadcasting has a certain number of guidelines. But what we are doing as part of that, because we understand that there are still financial constraints on these stations, we actually announced a review of the Community Broadcasting Program, including assessing any emerging priorities. One of the objectives of that review is to advise on the impact of First Nations community broadcasting funding across Government. The department is undertaking that work and are very keen to hear views, and we'll be reaching out to get the views from the sector as to how the sector can become more sustainable in the long run as well.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I suppose we're always looking for some extra funding to get this old desk of ours fixed up very soon. But it's still going. Yeah. So, finally, what would you like to say to everyone listening here in Perth on community radio?

ROWLAND: Well, I actually just came, as Patrick said, from opening a new delivery centre, so a new facility for parcels just near the airport. Australia Post is processing hundreds of thousands of parcels every day. But my key message to your listeners is get your parcels out now because we know that unfortunately, the east-west link has been impacted by floods and the rail line. As a consequence, some of that road freight is under real stress. Australia Post has put on extra flights to the east coast, but I would urge you, get your Christmas presents, get your parcels in the mail as soon as you can because whilst we've got an excellent new facility that's state-of-the-art, the amount of demand with people doing more and more ecommerce than ever before – so, get on in there.

GORMAN: I think that's a great piece of advice and if you are a bit like me and leave your Christmas shopping to a bit the last minute and Michelle, who's got it all ready to go and just need to get it in the post, make sure that you shop local. We have so many great businesses here in the Perth area. Many Noongar-led or Noongar-owned businesses too, that you can really go and I think of the fish store up at Local and Anaesthetics even further up Beaufort Street, which has some beautiful artwork or get some new stories for your children. But do, where you can, shop local and particularly back West Australian artists.

MICHAEL: Not sure if Michelle knows about this, but there's a threat to our chip supply. We're getting frozen chips from over East for Christmas.

ROWLAND: I've heard about this and I didn't know whether it was fake news or not, but if you're telling me it must be true.

MICHAEL: Yes, we're waiting on Mr [indistinct] to grow his spuds to keep us going.

GORMAN: Well, I'm sure he'd be very keen for you to go to one of his stores, which I won't mention by name because I wouldn't want to break the sponsorship rules, to go and buy some of the last available packets of frozen chips. But I'm sure the wonderful people who keep Australia moving in terms of our logistics, supplies and things will come up with a solution that Christmas, and indeed Christmas chips won't be ruined this year.

MICHAEL: Okay, well, thank you very much for joining us today here at Noongar Radio. And let us know about what's happening with community radio.

ROWLAND: Will do. Thanks so much.

GORMAN: Thanks, Jeff.