Interview with Rikki Lambert, FlowFM

RIKKI LAMBERT, HOST: We're joined today here on FlowFM by the Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Michelle, thanks for joining us again today on Flow.


LAMBERT: Michelle, first of all, on mobile black spots, just can you go through a recent funding announcement that's been made and just what the background to that was, and indeed how we're looking to fix them in regional Australia?

ROWLAND: Sure, well, we've got Round 3 of the Regional Connectivity Program that's going to be opening very shortly, and that's $150 million in funding available across two streams. We've got $100m for regional connectivity solutions – for example, place-based solutions for new or upgraded broadband or mobile services. We've also got $50 million for mobile black spot solutions that will deliver new handheld coverage to regional, rural and remote Australia, and we know how important that is.

LAMBERT: Absolutely, but there was also another bit of funding that was allocated, I think, recently, but I'm trying to find a way to describe it. They were sort of black spots you claim the Coalition missed when they were in office?

ROWLAND: Well, let's be clear, these were election commitments that we took to the election in Opposition, and we funded separately from this program. I'm sure the Liberals took similar commitments, but I think the important thing here is that the Australian people expect those commitments to be honoured. But we also have this really important round open for mobile black spot funding to really deliver those services that Australians expect. And that's why we've consulted on the guidelines for that, and we expect the application for funding will be open next month. I certainly encourage all your listeners to get involved in that, to think about areas where there are black spots that need to be resolved. We can actually help communities form partnerships with carriers to develop applications so they're ready to go and we can really make that money get out the door and get those solutions that people need.

RIKKI LAMBERT: And so, is it one where a member of the public can just give their own views or they need to work with their council or something to get those black spots addressed?

ROWLAND: Well, it's a combination. We've got a project noticeboard and your listeners can search, for example, Project Notice Board, Regional Connectivity Program, and they'll see that this is about connecting carriers with local councils and with individuals who've identified areas of need. And this is about the mobile carriers delivering assistance – with taxpayers’ money – that makes a measurable difference to people's lives.

I think I need to be really clear to your listeners: this is not about the Federal Government going out and building these towers. This is about us giving funding to incentivise those carriers to go out and do that build, but also to get councils involved where it might be on public land, for example. But also, to get that feedback about those specific areas that do need that additional coverage. There's no point going and spending taxpayers’ money in areas where it's not going to deliver that change. We really want to get the best bang for people's bucks.

LAMBERT: And in terms of the contribution from the Federal Government, roughly what is it? I know that Tony Pasin, one of the local MPs in our broadcast areas, talked about it never happened under the Coalition, the possibility that the Federal Government would pay 100 per cent of the cost of building these things. How much does the contribution usually end up making towards those towers going up?

ROWLAND: Well, that depends on the specific sites. Certainly we know that in areas where there is, for example, not a strong business case, often in those areas it requires additional subsidies. But again, this is precisely what the guidelines and what the applications are intended to get out of this process. We want to understand where those areas are and what we can meaningfully do as a Government to incentivise the carriers to go out and to deliver coverage where it might be lacking at present, or in some cases, not be there at all.

LAMBERT: Now, Communication Minister Michelle Rowland, one of your other portfolios is matters arising on the internet and you've pulled together a number of these dating app providers to make sure that people are being fairly-handled, safely-handled when it comes to their online dating participation.

ROWLAND: Well, many of your listeners might not be aware that we've got some 3 million Australians who are using dating apps and that's growing. And in fact, the most common way to meet a partner in Australia now is using these online and other dating apps. And certainly , technology is welcomed where it makes a positive contribution to people's lives. But we've also had research done that shows some three in four people who have used these apps have actually had negative experiences, and in some cases, technology-facilitated abuse as a result of them. So, we want to make sure people have the widest choice and the ability to use these services, however, it is the obligation of these tech companies to keep people safe and to do whatever they need to do to keep their platforms conducive to an environment that actually has those positive results. And we had unfortunately, too many examples of people who've experienced that sort of violence.

Last month I brought together in a Roundtable victim survivor networks, law enforcement representatives, Federal and State representatives to really look at what the environment is, and I'm very pleased that a lot of the dating app providers were there and have since followed up. This is all about making sure that as a government we take whatever measures we can to keep Australians safe. But above all else, my key message is that this is for the apps to do what they need to do to keep people safe, and to understand that we won't hesitate to intervene if we believe they aren't doing what they should be doing.

RIKKI LAMBERT: So that's really a carrot and stick approach I gather that at the moment. They've been kind of forewarned that they've got a little bit of time to clean it up and if it's not cleaned up, there may be regulation that follows?

ROWLAND: You're absolutely right and I know that even in the lead up to this Roundtable, there were some providers who announced new safety features. Some of these safety features, unfortunately, you need to pay for. I think the key message here is that basic safety features shouldn't be hidden behind a paywall – it just doesn't sound right. We are encouraging the apps to give us evidence of what they're doing. And we have mechanisms under our existing eSafety framework but also under our regulatory framework where we believe if the industry has developed a code of practice and they're not adhering to it, we can actually enforce that and substantial penalties can be applied. So, you're absolutely right, we're providing a very graduated approach to this, but in the end this is about the apps stepping up and keeping Australians safe.

LAMBERT: Well, Michelle Rowland Communications Minister, thanks for updating us and our listeners on that. Much appreciated.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.