ABC Radio Adelaide with David Bevan and Spence Denny > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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07-June-2018

Interview with David Bevan and Spence Denny
ABC Radio Adelaide
8.45 am
7 June 2018


E & OE

BEVAN: 

Federal Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield has just walked into our studio, with I think good news. You come to Adelaide, spruiking the NBN, saying that thousands of jobs, I think it’s nearly 4000 jobs in South Australia alone will be produced as a result of the NBN in the next three years. Seriously, how do we know?

 

FIFIELD:      

Well, nbn have commissioned the well-respected economic advisory firm AlphaBeta, who are actually headlined by Andrew Charlton who’s a former economics advisor to Kevin Rudd. So, this is not some work that’s been commissioned personally by me to get a particular outcome. This is authoritative work, and what it finds is that there’s very good news for South Australia with the NBN. That up to 2021, there’ll be 5500 new businesses and there’ll be 35,000 new jobs created. So it’s good news.

 

DENNY: 

So digital jobs tend to mean the loss of other jobs, don’t they? You know, what is the negative side for the creation of more digital jobs?

 

FIFIELD:      

Well, this isn't something that comes about at the expense of other businesses. This is an enhancement for existing businesses and it creates the opportunity for new businesses to be created. It’s what nbn are referring to as the ‘NBN effect’. And just to give an example, in 2017 alone NBN added a billion dollars to the GDP of the nation. And this work estimates that from 2021 on, that will be a contribution of $10 billion per year.

 

DENNY: 

What sort of percentage of that contribution was as a result of the workers installing it?

 

FIFIELD:      

Well, those numbers don’t actually include the stimulus from the construction spend. So this is the opportunities that are created by having better connectivity.

 

BEVAN: 

Can you explain the Fair Use Policy the nbn company is investigating?

 

FIFIELD:      

At the moment the NBN is being rolled out nationwide through a range of different technology types. About 93 per cent of the population will have access to the NBN through the fixed line network, and the balance will have access through satellite and through fixed wireless.

 

BEVAN: 

But the fair use policy, is that where we restrict gamers or – I’m sorry, you’ve all watched enough porn today so you’ve got to stop and you’ve got to start, we’ve got to hand over the NBN to other people.

 

FIFIELD:      

I was just about to get to the fair use issue. With both satellite and fixed wireless, there’s finite capacity. When you’re talking about fixed line services which 93 per cent of the nation will have, you don’t really have those issues. But satellite, there’s finite capacity and so there is a fair use policy that’s in place. What nbn have said is that they’re examining the possibility of fair use policies when it comes to fixed wireless. And those fixed wireless services are mainly in regional areas or areas where a fixed line is cost prohibitive.

 

BEVAN: 

How do you shut it down? I mean, how do you stop people using it?

 

FIFIELD:      

Well, it’s not about stopping people using it, and I’ll just take the example of the satellite service, where there is a limit on the amount of data that people can download per month. So, it’s to ensure that you don’t have extremely heavy users taking capacity so that there’s not something available for everyone. So that’s what’s in place for satellite...

 

BEVAN: 

…So just from a fairness point of view here, Minister, then you’re saying that if you live in regional areas where you have no choice but to get the satellite service, you’re limited to the amount of data you get. But if you happen to live in a metropolitan area, you can have as much as you like?

 

FIFIELD:      

Well, with the satellite service, there is a finite capacity. These satellites that we have, the Sky Muster satellites, which were commissioned by our predecessors, there was always the intention that there would be a fair use policy. That is just a fact of life when it comes to satellite access. And there’s about 200,000 premises in Australia who will get access to satellite because that’s really the only option in terms of cost. Fixed wireless, again, this is not something that we have changed from our predecessors. They were going to have a fixed wireless component for some areas in regional Australia. nbn have not said that they're going to have a fair use policy for fixed wireless. But they’ve said that it’s something that they might explore.  Because on a limited number of towers, there are some congestion issues.

 

DENNY: 

Is the Federal Government and the Federal Parliament gearing up for an almighty fight with Facebook on two fronts; one is its handing over of information to a Chinese company with links to the Communist Party, and on the other front, that is demanding that Facebook hand over encrypted data linked to terrorists? On those two fronts, can we expect some sparks to fly?

 

FIFIELD:      

The approach that we’re taking to the telcos and also the social media platforms when it comes to encrypted data is that we don’t think that terrorists and paedophiles should have a safe haven. It’s appropriate that the online space is not an ungoverned space. Just as police and law enforcement agencies can go to a telco with a warrant for a phone tap if they believe – if they’ve got cause to think that someone is undertaking a criminal activity. What we’re looking at is essentially having the same sort of thing in place when it comes to other forms of data. So…

 

BEVAN: 

…And Facebook is going to have to bend the knee. It’s going to have to agree, it’s going to have to cooperate.

 

FIFIELD: 

We will be releasing soon – through Angus Taylor, the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security – draft legislation for consultation. What we’re not going to do – and this has been something that people have been concerned about – what we’re not going to do, is seek some sort of a backdoor or golden key into people’s encrypted communication. What we will seek, on a warranted basis, is the cooperation of these businesses to assist law enforcement agencies in their efforts to capture people who want to do harm.

 

BEVAN: 

You’ve personally complained about a number of actions by the ABC over the last few months, from senior political reporters, to foul-mouthed comedians. What’s wrong with the ABC?

 

FIFIELD:

The ABC is a great national institution. And Australian people are extremely fond of the ABC. But there is no media organisation in Australia that is perfect. Every media organisation should continually strive…

 

BEVAN: 

…Does it have a cultural problem?

 

FIFIELD:

Well, look, I think when people talk about the ABC and its culture, the ABC isn’t one monolithic culture. The ABC is a large organisation, it employs thousands of journalists…

 

BEVAN: 

…Sorry, you’ve been to Ultimo, haven’t you?

 

FIFIELD:

I have been to Ultimo. It has a range of different cultures. ABC regional radio is a different culture to ABC Current Affairs broadcast from Ultimo. There are a range of different cultures. But my point is simply that anyone in the community – be they a member of parliament, or be they a member of the community – should have the right, if there’s something that they think a media organisation could do better, to raise that….

 

BEVAN: 

…But there are plenty of people in the Coalition who think that there is a cultural problem within the ABC, specifically in Ultimo. I mean, if you believe them it’s run by people who think Trotsky was a sell-out frankly. Why hasn’t the Coalition addressed that in terms of boosting funding to the so-called BAPH states – that’s Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart, Perth – and starving Ultimo? If your Coalition members think there’s an issue there, well do that; boost the funding elsewhere and starve Ultimo until they get the message.

 

FIFIELD: 

This sounds like a pitch to ABC management from ABC Adelaide…

 

BEVAN: 

…I’m putting to you that there are people within the Coalition who have a problem with the ABC, and you’ve picked up their sentiments with many of your complaints. So, why is it – I’m not advocating for this – but why haven’t you, wouldn’t that have been the smart politics?

 

FIFIELD:

Well, the ABC has legislated independence when it comes to…

 

BEVAN: 

But you could have tied funding...

 

FIFIELD:

…operational matters, editorial matters, and their budget. We give ABC more than a billion dollars a year. But we don’t have the capacity to direct the ABC how to spend that.

 

BEVAN:

Is the issue in Sydney, maybe Melbourne, Canberra, and less of an issue outside?

 

FIFIELD:

Well, I don’t want to single out – and haven’t – any particular part of the ABC. What I do is, on the odd occasion where I think…

 

BEVAN: 

…It’s a regular occasion.

 

FIFIELD:

Well, I mean, half-a-dozen times over two-and-a-half years as minister is something that happens on ocassion.

 

DENNY:

…How many complaints have you lodged with commercial stations?

 

FIFIELD:

I have picked up the phone on many an occasion and spoken to commercial media about various issues.

 

BEVAN: 

How many complaints have you laid against the ABC in the last six months?

 

FIFIELD:

Look, there might be three, four, five, I’ll have to count them…

 

BEVAN: 

…Maybe half-a-dozen, one a month.

 

FIFIELD:

Well, look, over the past two-and-a-half years, there’s probably six or eight times that I’ve raised issues with the ABC.

 

DENNY:

If there was a cultural problem, is there a way of fixing it by decentralising what the ABC does and making it – I’m not trying to pitch for Adelaide here, we’ve been through some pain here, and you’d be aware of that. But is a way of amending any culture to spread the resources out?

 

FIFIELD:

I think that there is good reason to reinforce the ABC’s responsibility to rural and regional Australia. Which is why I have legislation before the Parliament to put in the ABC’s Act, specific reference to its obligations to rural and regional Australia. Now, most Australians assume that that is already in the ABC’s Act. It’s not. So that’s something we want to reinforce. We’ve also got before the Parliament, legislation to require that the ABC Board always has at least two members from rural and regional Australia. Now, we would already meet that criteria because of the appointments that I’ve made. But the ABC has a critical role to play beyond Melbourne, beyond Sydney, and beyond the capital cities.

 

BEVAN: 

Mitch Fifield, the Federal Communications Minister, thank you for coming in.

 

FIFIELD:

Great to be with you.

 

BEVAN:

Back in very comfortable territory, did your parents have Ali Baba and the Forty Chickens?

 

FIFIELD:

This is true. I spent my primary school years at Rose Park Primary. And Dad was a banker but he entered into a business on the side with one of his customers. And he had two chicken shops, one in Norwood, one in Collinswood. Ali Baba and the Forty Chickens. So, I used to stack the shelves there, so I have childhood memories flooding back today.

 

BEVAN:

We should get you down there, and take a photo.

 

FIFIELD:

That’d be great.

 

BEVAN:

Well, we could do that. Minister, thank you for coming in.


[ends]

 


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