ABC Radio South East with Selina Green & Tony Pasin MP > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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MENTONE VIC 3194

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09-June-2018

Interview with Selina Green with Tony Pasin MP
ABC Radio South East Breakfast
Mount Gambier
7:15 am
8 June 2018



E & OE


GREEN: 

The Minister for Communications is in South Australia today to launch a study to look at how the NBN will grow business and jobs in our region. Minister Mitch Fifield is joined in the studio also this morning by the Federal Member for Barker Tony Pasin. Good morning gentlemen and welcome to the show.

PASIN:

Morning, Selina.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you, Selina.

GREEN:

So, Minister, what does this study tell us about the value of the NBN to this region?

FIFIELD:

Well, it tells us that the NBN is a terrific economic enabler. We’ve had research released recently which demonstrated that the NBN nationwide in 2017 added a billion dollars to the national economy. And that by 2021 the NBN will be adding $10 billion to the national economy. Now, those are big numbers at a national level.  But we’ve got some research that I’ll be releasing today with Tony Pasin that breaks some of that down for the Mount Gambier region. And what it tells us is that by 2021, the NBN will help to create up to 700 new businesses and also by 2021, the NBN will help to support the establishment of more than 2300 new jobs. So, we’re talking about real businesses. We’re talking about real jobs. The NBN is not an end in itself. The NBN has meaning in the connections that it can create for families and friends, but also importantly what it can do for small business. How it can help them improve their business and also how it can help the establishment of new businesses.

GREEN:

So that’s just a few years away. Seven hundred new businesses or it’s 2500 new jobs, that is a lot on the back of the NBN. How is that possible? How do you come up with these figures?

FIFIELD:

NBN have engaged the Regional Australia Institute who are a respected regional economic consultancy who used a variety of sources. And this is the product of the work that they’ve undertaken. NBN have also engaged AlphaBeta, which is an economic consultancy, to do some of the more national numbering in terms of jobs and employment. And just in terms of that AlphaBeta work, the guy who heads that is Andrew Charlton who’s a former economics advisor for Kevin Rudd. So, these are not pieces of work commissioned by me to get a particular outcome. They’re independent pieces of work.

GREEN:

Is it able to tell us what kind of businesses, what kind of jobs this will be growing in?

FIFIELD:

It’ll be the full range of digital jobs, digital businesses, graphic design, software development. But also it will support existing businesses to do their work even better. So we’re catching up with a design business later today and we’ll be hearing from them about what the NBN has meant for their business. Yesterday, I was in Mawson Lakes in Adelaide, and there was an accountancy business who previously were reliant on a dongle which was incredibly expensive. They couldn’t get any fixed line broadband access. The NBN has changed their world.

GREEN:

Of course, this all depends on people connecting to the NBN in the first place. How pleased are you with the take-up and people actually choosing to connect to the network?

FIFIELD:

The good news in the electorate of Barker is that the NBN is 99 per cent complete. Thus far, it’s about 44 per cent of people who are hooked up to the NBN. But there’s always a lag because people have an 18-month window in which to migrate to the NBN. So, we’re pretty much on track as to where we should be, but that connection rate will grow over time.

GREEN:

The Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, is our guest this morning. Also, the member for Barker, Tony Pasin. Mr Pasin, the NBN rollout we understand is pretty much completed here in the south east. What are people telling you about how they're finding the service locally, people who are coming into the office talking about the NBN?

PASIN:

Well, Selina, we’ve spoken about this before. There are transitional issues. There are some people who have come in and saying: well, can you provide some assistance with this difficulty we’re experiencing. But the overwhelming feedback I get from people in the community is that they're so pleased to have mobile connectivity, well internet connectivity. But we’ve got to remember, Selina, that when I was elected in 2013, there were zero connections in Barker to the NBN. We now have, as the Minister has indicated, 44 per cent of people eligible, but more importantly 99 per cent coverage. I’ve met with businesses for whom this is transformational. We’re not talking about situations, Minister, where people were on dongles, we’re talking about situations where people had zero, zip, nothing in terms of their internet access. The Minister’s right, later today we’re going to catch up with Ashlee of Ashlee Lauren Designs who you know, Selina, is competing on the world stage in terms of her millinery and headpieces. Now, that’s a business that is operating from 9 McDonald Street in Mount Gambier, deep in suburbia in a regional town in South Australia. That wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the NBN and internet connectivity. So those are the kind of jobs we’re talking about, those are the kind of opportunities we’re talking about. And Mitch, one of the greatest points of this is it’s enabling disproportionally women to engage in the workforce and in enterprise, and that’s something that I’m very proud about.

GREEN:

Minister, we have heard the term data drought, the fact that people and particularly in rural areas are wanting more data and better access to data that their city counterparts are able to have. We’re hearing about congestion on the network; what’s being done about easing those issues?

FIFIELD:

The NBN is delivered through a range of technologies. Ninety-three per cent of premises will have access to the NBN through the fixed line network and there aren’t congestion issues there. There’s about five per cent of the population who will access the NBN through fixed wireless and about three per cent through satellite. Now, accessing through fixed wireless and satellite, that was also part of the design of our predecessors. And the reason we have those two technologies, those two wireless technologies, is because in some areas it’s cost prohibitive to deliver the NBN through a fixed line service. So, by the very nature of satellite and fixed wireless, they do have a finite capacity. When it comes to satellite, we have in place what’s called a fair use policy to make sure that very heavy users don’t compromise the capacity of the broader community to use the NBN. And again that’s something that was envisaged by our predecessors. Fixed wireless, there are, with some cells, congestion issues. The take-up rate of fixed wireless has been high. And also data has increased at a rapid rate, data demand. nbn have said that they're going to be progressively improving the capacity of those cells where there is some congestion. And that they might look at the need to manage demand, but they haven’t taken any decisions on that front.

GREEN:

Of course, people in some of the more rural areas will be thinking: well, NBN is great but I just like to be able to get a good phone signal. Recent Federal Budget, there was no extra funding for another round of the mobile black spot towers. What assurances can people in rural areas who have terrible phone reception that the Government will try and improve that for them in the future?

FIFIELD:

I think people can take heart from what we’ve done. One of the best predictors of future behaviour is past behaviour. We’re the first government to actually put in place a Mobile Black Spot Program. Our predecessors didn’t. While the telcos have got 99 per cent coverage of the Australian population, only 35 per cent of the Australian land mass has mobile coverage. We called for community nominations for black spots when we got into government. The community nominated about 10,000. We’ve had three rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program and we’ve been able to address about 6000 of those 10,000 blackspots. Those towers are still being rolled out from some of those earlier rounds. But we will make sure that we do have something in place to make sure that we can continue to address mobile black spots. But Tony has been very successful in getting towers here but I know that he’s always arguing for us to do more when it comes to mobile black spots.

PASIN:

And, Selina, that’s the confidence your listeners can have, that myself and other rural colleagues in our Coalition are constantly arguing for further rounds in the Mobile Black Spot Program. We live in these communities. We know that the single most important thing in the telecommunications space, with data space or with the communications space generally, is mobile phone connectivity whether it's about safety on the farm or productivity. And I'm confident that in the near future we'll see further rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program. And Senator Fifield is right, the former Labor Government contributed zero dollars to the mobile phone black spot issue we have in this country. We’ve committed $220 million thus far. And can I also say I'm looking forward to working collaboratively and collectively with the new Liberal State Government in South Australia who have committed $10 million themselves. They understand this need. That stands in stark contrast to the former Labor Government who contributed a paltry $1.5 million over its 16 years in government.

GREEN:

In the studio with me this morning is the Member for Barker, Tony Pasin, and the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield. Minister, moving onto a different topic before we do let you go, of course you are the Minister responsible for the ABC; that falls under your portfolio. Of course in the recent Federal Budget, we saw the ABC had its indexation frozen. That’s on top of previous cuts in previous years of some millions of dollars. Now we know that the next round of triennial funding is coming up and those negotiations are underway. Can we expect further cuts for the ABC?

FIFIELD:

Well, we have provided funding to the ABC on a triennial basis and the funding in the current triennium, which still has a year to go, we have not altered. What we've indicated is in the next triennium there will be a pause on indexation. The ABC in the lead up to each triennium puts forward a case for money that it believes it needs to undertake its important work. And that’s considered in the context of the upcoming budget. But the good news is that the ABC continues to have more than a billion dollars a year. The indexation pause represents about $83 million over three years. So the ABC is still extremely well resourced.  I know Australians value greatly, particularly in regional Australia, what the ABC does. And our absolute guarantee and commitment is that the ABC will always be well-resourced to do its important work.

GREEN:

What about yourself as the Minister? What do you see is the value of what the ABC does to regional Australians, in particular?

FIFIELD:

ABC in regional Australia is very close to the community. I mean, I know that you would walk down the street and the people who listen to you see you, they can talk to you. That's a closeness which you don’t have in metropolitan areas. And one of the things that I want to do to further reinforce the ABC’s commitment to regional Australia is to put into the ABC’s Act a specific reference to its obligations to rural and regional Australia. Now that's something that people assume is already in the ABC’s Act. It’s not. And I have legislation before the Senate to do that.

GREEN:

Did that directive how much the percentage of funding would need to be spent in regional areas?

FIFIELD:

It doesn't, but what it also has contained in it is a requirement for the ABC to be more transparent in terms of the resources and also the people that it employs in regional Australia. So that will be clearer to the community. We also have in that legislation a requirement for the ABC to have at least two people from rural and regional Australia on the Board of the ABC. Now, we would already meet that criteria because of the appointments that I've made. But the ABC, the work that it does in rural and regional Australia is vital and I want to further reinforce and support that.

GREEN:

Minister Mitch Fifield, Tony Pasin, the Member for Barker, we thank you for coming into the studio this morning. Good to chat to you both.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you.

PASIN:

Thanks Selina.

[ends]




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