ABC Melbourne Mornings with Jon Faine > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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16-May-2018


Interview
ABC Melbourne Mornings with Jon Faine
9:40am
16 May 2018


E & OE


Subject: Bureau of Meteorology radar, 5G spectrum, ABC funding, airport security


FAINE:


The weather bureau, the Bureau of Meteorology, asking for him to put a stop to the auctioning of spectrum for mobile phones, because it might put the weather bureau’s radar system at risk.

Senator Fifield, good morning to you. 

He's the Minister for Communications; I work at the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Senator Fifield, good morning to you.

FIFIELD:

Good morning Jon, I could hear you.

FAINE:

You've got to laugh sometimes...

FIFIELD:

You do.

FAINE:

Tell us about the auctioning off of 5G spectrum. What's going on? Why is it happening? And what's it worth?

FIFIELD:

Sure. What we're facing is the next revolution in mobile technology. It's on its way 5G. It'll offer lower latency. Faster speeds. It'll be good for autonomous vehicles. It'll mean faster mobile broadband. And this is something which is rapidly approaching us. What we're aiming to have is the availability for the telcos to start rolling out 5G in 2020. This is going to be happening around the world. And we absolutely don't want to be left behind...

FAINE:

No, so it's pretty much: it's going to happen, it has to happen, and it's unstoppable. Is it going to impact on the Bureau's weather radar?

FIFIELD:

I think it's important to recognise that when you have spectrum, which is a valuable public resource, you often have multiple users of spectrum. When it comes to 5G - and I don't want to get too technical but - the sweet spot, in terms of spectrum, is the 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) band. That is the international standard. And ACMA, which is the independent spectrum regulator, will be looking later this year to auction that spectrum for 5G use. Now on that band at the moment, we have some operators who are called WISPs, which is Wireless Internet Service Providers. They essentially provide, in regional areas, local wireless internet services to about 200,000 people. What ACMA have said to the WISP operators is that they'll have to move off that 3.5GHz spectrum, which we want to use for 5G. And ACMA is looking at options for these WISP operators. And one of the options that's being looked at is the 5.6GHz. And on the 5.6GHz, you have a number of users, including the Bureau of Meteorology for radar services.

FAINE:

So is it going to interfere with their services? And if so, do you have to move them as well?

FIFIELD:

What I can guarantee is that ACMA will ensure that the Bureau of Meteorology can continue to do what they do, and that their services won't be interfered with. It's not certain that these WISPs, these regional internet operators, will move to the same band as the Bureau of Meteorology. That's not certain. It may well be that these WISP operators enter into arrangements with those who are successful in the auction for the 5G spectrum, to continue to use parts of that band. ACMA is also looking at another bit of spectrum, called the 28GHz band, to see if these WISP operators can use that. So it's not certain, that these WISP internet operators will be on the same band as the Bureau of Meteorology. But if they are, then ACMA is well experienced in managing issues of interference...

FAINE:  

So it’s musical chairs? Is it digital musical chairs? In order to free up one space for Wi-Fi, which is basically what it is, 5G's for Wi-Fi not phone telephony, you're going to have to move, and what will it cost to move, the Bureau?  

FIFIELD:

5G is for mobile telephony. It's going to be what we all use for our mobile devices into the future. We're not suggesting...

FAINE:                  

Well is it telephony? Or is it data – it’s surfing the internet on your phone?

FIFIELD:

Jon, it's voice. It's data. Once upon a time...

FAINE:

You don't need 5G for voice, you need...

FIFIELD:

Once upon a time, our mobile devices were purely for voice. They now do voice and data...

FAINE:

Well 3G worked for voice, but 4 and 5G is for data. 

FIFIELD:

But Jon, we're forever moving to next generations. So the 2G network is no longer with us. So we're ever moving to different forms of technology. And what that means is that the spectrum needs of those technologies have to be accommodated. But Jon, what I can absolutely guarantee is that the Bureau of Meteorology aren't going to be moved from where they are. That if there are other spectrum users, who use the same spectrum as the Bureau, then there will be appropriate mitigation arrangements put in place to ensure there's not interference.  

FAINE:

Okay, costs less to move the Bureau than the amount you'll flog off the 5G for, is that what it boils down to?

FIFIELD:

But Jon, we're not moving the Bureau. That's the point. 

FAINE:

Okay, I was intrigued. I heard you having a chat with my colleague on the Drive program, Raf Epstein, the other day about the Budget and the ABC cuts.  By the way, congratulations!  You finally found a Victorian to appoint to the Board of the ABC.  That must have been a breakthrough. 

FIFIELD:

We did have a Victorian, in Peter Lewis, but he moved to Sydney.  So, we had to find someone who was still a resident…

FAINE:

He spends all his time in Sydney.  He’s not really…

FIFIELD:

That’s right. 

FAINE:

Joe Gersh has been appointed to the Board and that maintains a strong tradition. I still don’t know what parts of the ABC you think are the ones that are inefficient?

FIFIELD:

Jon, the ABC is a very large organisation…

FAINE:

Yes, I’ve heard all of this before.  Which parts are inefficient? 

FIFIELD:

It’s an important organisation, but there is no Commonwealth Government agency that I’ve yet discovered…

FAINE:

I’ve heard this already many times.  Which bits are inefficient? 

FIFIELD:

Jon, if I could finish a sentence it would be much more…

FAINE:

Not if you’re going to say what you were saying a week ago and not moving it along at all. 

FIFIELD:

Jon, if I can’t get more than three words out, then it’s going to be an unenlightening conversation for you and your listeners… 

FAINE:

I promise you the three words you can get out – or even four or five – have to be new ones.  Not the same ones from a week ago.  

FIFIELD:

You’re very generous this morning, Jon. 

FAINE:

The audience don’t want to hear you still saying the answers to the questions of a week ago.  They do want to hear an answer to my question rather than last week’s question. 

FIFIELD:

Jon, the last ABC efficiency review was four years ago.  In media organisations four years is an eternity.  It is good housekeeping…

FAINE:

Totally agree. 

FIFIELD:

To look to see where the ABC can be a better steward…

FAINE:

Should we give up regional newsrooms? 

FIFIELD:

Jon, the purpose of the efficiency review is to identify the areas where the ABC can be a better steward of taxpayer dollars. 

FAINE:

Look, I get as frustrated about some of what we do as anybody.  In fact, even more so because I know what goes on but I need to know what the Minister thinks are the things, given that everyone here says, you can’t keep stretching the rubber band without it breaking.  What do you think we should stop doing? 

FIFIELD:

Jon, I have my views. You probably have your views. The reason we engage people to undertake efficiency reviews is so that your particular bents and my particular bents don’t drive the outcome. We want to assist the ABC to identify where it can do better with each taxpayer dollar.  As I say, that’s good housekeeping. It last happened four years ago. This is to assist the ABC. And, Jon, don’t forget that the ABC still gets – and will continue to get – more than $1 billion each year. 

FAINE:

That’s a lot of money, there’s no doubt about that.

FIFIELD:

It is. 

FAINE:

I do remember talking to Richard Alston, one of your predecessors as a Coalition Communications Minister. You may remember – and for the audience who don’t, I’ll give them a very brief summary: 

The Howard Government commissioned what’s called the Mansfield Review.  Bob Mansfield was the former boss of McDonald’s and Optus, and a very experienced businessman, who was sent out by the then Howard Government to review the ABC and do a community consultation.  My understanding is that he came and told the Minister, your predecessor, and he said: ‘you tamper with this at your peril and not in my name. Leave the ABC alone’.  And this is a man who ran McDonald’s, said: “I’ve never seen brand loyalty like I’ve seen with the ABC and, if you do decide to go and do a job on the ABC, you don’t do it in my name and you do it at your peril.”  Have you heard that story? 

FIFIELD:

I haven't Jon. But the good news is that no one is intending to do a job on the ABC. We recognise that the ABC, like every other Commonwealth Government agency, has yet to achieve perfection. So I think we should all welcome the opportunity to look at the ABC. To make sure that the taxpayers, who are the ultimate shareholders, are getting the best possible value they can. 

FAINE:

Do you think we're biased?

FIFIELD:

The ABC I don't think has a monolithic culture. There are a range of different cultures in the ABC. And Jon as I always say – and I think you've probably heard me say before – I'll just take one example, I think the Parliament House ABC Bureau is straight down the line. They do good work. ABC regional radio is very close to the community. And I've never heard anyone say that they tilt one way or the other. But the entire organisation should obviously continue to strive to be its best self.

FAINE:

I noticed you didn't talk about capital city radio.

FIFIELD:

Jon, we leave that to each listener to form their own views. But I come on your show because I always get a good go. I enjoy being on Raf, he always gives me a good go so...

FAINE:

Oh he's much nicer than me...

FIFIELD:

He does have a particular charm, Jon. I will admit that.

FAINE:

The Liberal Party has a view that the ABC. In particular, programs like this one, it's described as "our enemies talking to our friends". Lots and lots of people, who are on the conservative side of politics listen to the ABC and are constantly annoyed at what they hear. 

FIFIELD:

That's one of the great things about a democracy is that listeners can be enraged by what they hear, or they can love what they hear. I describe the community's relationship with the ABC is a bit like being in a long-term relationship. Sometimes you don't want to be in the same room as them, sometimes you can't get enough of them, but ultimately you keep coming back.

FAINE:

Alright and just finally, yesterday Peter Dutton and the Prime Minister announced that at this stage, just at airports, you’ll be required to produce ID, or be arrested, or leave the premises. I thought that the Liberal Party was the party of freedom, liberty and pretty much resisted things like the compulsory carrying of identity cards?

FIFIELD:

In the environment that we live in today Jon, which is very different to what it was 10, 15, 20 years ago, where airports are an avenue for people who want to harm others. I don’t think there’s an Australian who would have an issue with complying with the request of authorities to identify who you are. I think that’s a good thing.

FAINE:

The same debate is taking place at the moment in the UK. We have a long tradition in the Westminster system that authority is best administered lightly. We don’t have a culture that you – as in some European jurisdictions – where you must at all times, carry identification. That’s never been part of our civilisation, but clearly that is where your party is heading.

FIFIELD:

Jon, I think what we are doing is having law enforcement regulating in a way that is commensurate with the risk that we face today. The prime role of a government is to keep the citizens safe. And we will do that. Airports…

FAINE:

You’re not worried about creeping authoritarianism? Now you have to have an ID at the airport. Oh well, now we want people approaching the airport to have ID. We want to be able to stop a car on its way to the airport. In fact, we are going to stop people anywhere in the street and ask them for ID.

FIFIELD:

Look Jon, I’m relaxed because we have very good oversight of our law enforcement bodies. We have very strong parliamentary scrutiny of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. That’s one of the strengths of our system. But you do always have to look at the balance, between the freedom of movement that people might have, and the need to protect the community. And that’s what we’re doing.

FAINE:

It’s been an extended chat. I’m grateful to you for so much of your time, thank you.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Jon.

[ends]




Authorised by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Party of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra.