Interview with Richard King, 2HD

RICHARD KING, HOST: Joining me now our Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. Good morning, Minister. Thank you very much for your time.

KING: Look, well, one of the reasons you wanted to have a chat this morning was the expansion of the NBN, a million homes and businesses to benefit from an upgrade to the NBN. What's the difference between your NBN and the previous government's NBN, Minister?

ROWLAND: Richard, as your listeners will well know, having the best quality broadband that's reliable, that has great speeds and good quality is absolutely essential for the way that we transact, the way we work, we study, how we interact with government and undertake e-commerce. It's not just a nice-to-have. So, unfortunately, under the previous government, we had a situation where there was a reliance on an outdated copper network, or what's called ‘fibre to the node’. What we went to the election with was a commitment to invest $2.4 billion to upgrade 1.5 million premises right around Australia to full fibre. I'm very pleased that only in the last week or so, NBN has announced that one million of those premises will now be eligible. They're doing the necessary engineering work now to make that happen. That's great news for people right across New South Wales.

KING: I know there are signs up all over the place round where I live, which is the east end of Newcastle, saying the NBN is being upgraded. What do I have to do to ensure that I am connected to this much faster and better NBN?

ROWLAND: You and your listeners can contact your retail service provider or check the NBN Co website, to register for updates and see when you'll be eligible to order this. I should point out that eligible premises receive this full fibre upgrade at no cost. They do need to take out an eligible higher speed plan through their retail service provider and this will be a matter of choice for people. But I think the important thing here is giving people that choice to have a much better quality, much faster and much more reliable service.

KING: I think at the moment we rank 74th in the world when it comes to fixed broadband speeds, which is pretty miserable. You're expecting us to leap up the ladder with this new sort of fibre-to-the-premises NBN?

ROWLAND: Richard, unfortunately, over the last decade, Australia has fallen in those broadband rankings. But I think the important thing here is now under this government, we are really looking forward and really understand the importance of this as a key productivity driver. This is part of our commitment to delivering for these 1.5 million premises and I think that your listeners will be very receptive to the fact that this is responding to their needs. But I do encourage people, if they are keen on getting that fibre upgrade, that it's there for them and to register.

KING: Sixteen past eight daylight saving time. Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, I mentioned earlier, Minister, you sent a letter to Elon Musk expressing concern about his desire to have more freedom of speech on his social media platform. Have you received any response from Elon Musk?

ROWLAND: Not as yet, but I think the most important thing here, Richard, is that we want to make sure that all platforms enforce their own terms of service and keep their platforms safe for Australian users. It is concerning to the Australian Government that the Australian presence of Twitter staff has been substantially reduced. My understanding is the Australian public policy team has been disbanded.

The purpose of this letter was to remind Twitter that irrespective of their commercial decisions as a private company, they must be capable of fulfilling their obligations under their own terms of service and under Australian law. That includes meeting the Basic Online Safety Expectations (BOSE) that we have under the Online Safety Act and taking steps to meet those expectations. So, I think this is really important for combating harmful misinformation, but also making sure that vulnerable Australians in particular aren't exposed to harmful content.

KING: I think that it was revealed last week they've sacked the majority of their Australian staff. You obviously wouldn't be happy about that.

ROWLAND: Well, precisely for that reason, and we know that it was actually in late 2022 that the eSafety Commissioner, one of the agencies within my portfolio, sought answers from Twitter about how it was going to meet their obligations. My concern, Richard, is that we haven't had a substantive response to these issues. So, Twitter has been put on notice that the Australian Government is prepared to regulate if their declining Australian presence has a detrimental impact on the safety of users, because keeping Australians safe is a top priority of the Albanese Labor Government.

KING: Well, a top priority of the Albanese Government is looking at tax concessions available to superannuation. It's not being revealed. I think some people have got about $100 million in their super account and I think 11,000 have got over $5 million. I think our Treasurer is looking at maybe those with more than $3 million losing that tax concession. Do you think, as he says, the number one priority is actually defining what superannuation is?

ROWLAND: I think this is critical, Richard, because even under the previous government, defining an objective of superannuation eluded them. We need to understand that the reasons for superannuation and why it was brought in under a Labor Government was to ensure that people, regardless of their income, regardless of their means, actually had the ability to have a dignified retirement.

We know that during the pandemic, we had some $30 billion or so in funds under management taken out of the system. When we have some $3 trillion under management, at the moment we've got so many competing interests in terms of wanting to utilise that for the betterment of our society. We really need to have a strong objective of superannuation and that comes down to what the Treasurer has been discussing. And that's having an objective of superannuation that gives certainty to the sector and also to Australians.

KING: Right, look, the other hot topic is obviously the Voice. A lot has been said, a lot of people have said “we want more information”. Why, in your opinion, is it absolutely essential we have constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians?

ROWLAND: Well, I think that this is not only a matter of fairness, it's a matter of recognising that over the past centuries, we've actually tried to ensure that our Indigenous Australians are given every opportunity. I think that attitude certainly has changed since the apology by Kevin Rudd. But in terms of Closing the Gap, we really have measures here that need to have a substantive difference. What that means is ensuring that we have recognition in our nation's birth certificate. It is not only a matter of fairness, it's a matter of ensuring that we get this right. I think that all of your listeners will recognise that there are massive challenges in terms of First Nations gaps when it comes to everything from life expectancy, to education, to having opportunities for advancement. We need to recognise Australia's First Peoples in our constitution and give them a voice in how their needs are being met by governments of any persuasion.

That's why I'm supporting the Voice. I sat down with local representatives in my local area, as I know many MPs have, and listened to their desire to have improvements to their quality of life and to have real substantial progress going forward. So, I think that it's essential that we do recognise Australia's First People in our Constitution. The way we do that is through recognition and consultation.

KING: Look, I dare say you've also had feedback in your Sydney electorate about gambling. It's a hot issue in the lead up to the New South Wales Election, which is only a matter of weeks away. The Premier, Dominic Perrottet, is hell-bent on introducing a cashless gambling card. There was much said about the fact that prior to last year's federal election, you received a donation from SportsBet. You've said, that's it, you're not going to accept any donations from betting companies in the future. Well, you do play a key role in gambling policy, don't you, as our Communications Minister?

ROWLAND: Certainly, this is part of the interactive gaming regulations that we have. But I want to make it very clear to your listeners that we have a substantive inquiry underway at the moment, looking into all aspects of advertising and other regulatory controls on that sector. I think it's important to recognise, as many of your listeners will be aware, that the proliferation of advertising is something that does concern many Australians. So, we'll be proceeding on an evidence-base here, looking at the recommendations of this very wide-ranging inquiry and looking at what we need to do.

The key here always is harm minimization, making sure that vulnerable people aren't exposed and unduly influenced by these sort of advertising. And people will also be very well aware that the propensity for children to see these advertisements is a great concern to them. We are taking the evidence here. Obviously, there will need to be a process of consultation with various stakeholders, including broadcasters, but we are very determined to have proper harm minimisation measures in place that unfortunately have been lacking for the last ten years. And its opportune that we review that and do what we need to do for that harm minimization objective to be met.

KING: You're a Parramatta supporter. You'll be playing Melbourne in the first game of this season on Thursday night. I'm a Knights supporter, which is owned by West, which is probably one of the biggest poker machine holders in New South Wales. As a Knights supporter, I turn a blind eye to the fact that the company that owns the Knights has a business model based on poker machine revenue, as does probably all NRL clubs, including yours. Does that worry you at all?

ROWLAND: I think, again, this comes down to harm minimization and the fact that these clubs operate on a commercial basis as well. I think that needs to be firstly recognised for that. But also, the harm minimization measures that are put in place at state level are very relevant to that as well. We know that going into this next state election, there are policies that both sides have put up regarding that and people will make their minds up based on those policies.

KING: Thank you very much for your time this morning, Minister. Good luck to Parramatta on Thursday night.

ROWLAND: Well, I'm still scarred by our loss last year, but I'll move on.

KING: All right, thank you for your time and have a great day.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.

KING: Michelle Rowland, our Communications Minister.