MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
SUSAN TEMPLEMAN MP
MEMBER FOR MACQUARIE
THURSDAY, 23 JANUARY 2020
SUBJECTS: ABC cuts and emergency broadcasting, telecommunications infrastructure resilience, Bridget McKenzie.
SUSAN TEMPLEMAN, MEMBER FOR MACQUARIE: I’m Susan Templeman, the Federal Member for Macquarie, and I’m joined by the Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, here on the Bells Line of Road in Bilpin, to look at the damage the fires have caused but also to talk about the issues around telecommunications that our community has faced. We have been meeting with residents and businesses that have been fire affected and they have talked through the real struggles that telecommunications outages have caused for their businesses, but also potentially for their lives.
The other key issue that has come up is the ABC, which is an absolute lifeline to this community. When our power goes, when there’s no mobiles and the landlines are gone, we absolutely rely on the ABC. I know I certainly relied on it for four hours on a catastrophic day to let me know what was going on. So thank you for coming up Michelle, and I’ll hand over to Michelle.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you Susan. It has been really important to listen to local residents and small businesses and the issues they have been facing not only with the recent impacts of these terrible fires but also ongoing telecommunications issues that need to be resolved in the immediate and longer terms.
One of the key things that has come out today is that the ABC Managing Director, David Anderson, made it clear this morning that the $83.7 million in cuts inflicted by Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer are having an impact on the ABC’s ability to deliver on its Charter obligations.
The ABC has a strong and ongoing commitment to emergency broadcasting, nothing will alter that, but emergency broadcasting costs extra money and while the ABC’s costs go up, as the number of emergency events continues to rise, its budget is going down as a result of these short-sighted Liberal Government cuts.
The ABC has to pull resources from other areas to provide its emergency coverage. It is appalling that even as ABC staff pitch in to help, with many on the ground in affected communities over the holiday period, that ABC management is being forced to plan the sacking of some 200 ABC staff in order to meet Scott Morrison’s cuts.
Just as they were warned about the impact of climate change, and the risks presented this fire season, so too this Government was warned about the impact of their cuts to the ABC. Not only did this Prime Minister go through a period of denial that there had in fact been any cuts in the first place, he is also in denial about their impact. We are only at the end of January, the bushfires aren’t over yet, and already this financial year, the ABC has covered some 850 emergency broadcasts – that’s double the total amount from last year and three times the year before that.
This Government needs to come to terms with the fact that their cuts to the public broadcaster are impacting on the ABC’s ability to fulfil its Charter obligations. The ABC has made it very clear – the Managing Director could not have been clearer – when he noted that emergency broadcasting is a whole of agency response for the ABC. We have known for some time that the round the clock coverage they provide, across various platforms, all make a significant difference to people. As Susan said, in many cases, can save property and save lives.
The other really important issue that we’ve been hearing about today is telecommunications infrastructure resilience. These small businesses and consumers have been telling us about issues they have been having with their mobile networks, their NBN, and the impacts on small businesses can be disastrous. I was pleased to have been briefed earlier in the week by the three major carriers, and what they have been raising both in internal forums and with successive Ministers, is nothing new. There are issues that go to prioritisation of fuel supplies to keep generators going for mobile towers, and clearance of growth around tower sites.
What today has done has really put a human face to the term infrastructure resilience. For these people, infrastructure resilience is a fact of life. We need to be forward thinking about how we can make things better for residents in the immediate and longer term, such as those in Bilpin.
QUESTION: Michelle, yesterday the Minister for Communications held a roundtable with telco heads and outlined a range of options to improve infrastructure resilience. What do you make of that?
ROWLAND: The issues raised were those that the carriers identified in my discussions with them about the bushfires earlier this week, many of which have existed for some time and are not new. It is incumbent on this Government to explain why such questions about infrastructure resilience are only being examined now, if the issues impacting preparedness and response capability have been present for some time. I acknowledge the fact that the carriers themselves say, and it seems self-evident, that better pre-planning and problem solving can reap important improvement in terms of their ability to better manage natural disasters such as bushfires when they unfold. The reality is we’ve got a Prime Minister who was caught flat-footed during this crisis and that has shone a spotlight on the lack of risk planning by the Government across the board. Again, I commend the carriers for their work and as Susan will tell you many of these residents have pointed out that the issues they have been facing have been going on for some time and there really needs to be a greater appreciation of the impact that outages have on small businesses and communities like Bilpin.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister referred Bridget McKenzie to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Do you think that’s appropriate?
ROWLAND: What seems bizarre here is that the Prime Minister announces that his Attorney-General is going to conduct an inquiry into the Minister, and then we find out that he made a decision some days ago but didn’t announce it, that the head of his own Department was going to do an inquiry. Now, on one hand, this looks like a distraction to cover up for something else. But on the other hand, is this a question of the Prime Minister being so tied to Bridget McKenzie that he simply can’t let her go?
However you look at it, this Prime Minister has doubled down on a very bad hand. What really irks me, and I’m sure it irks Susan as well, is that we have so many deserving community groups whose volunteers work for hours on grant applications and they deserve answers. Above all else, what this does is explain why trust in politics is declining. This just makes it worse. This Prime Minister needs to come clean. He needs to be honest about what has been going on. I don’t think the public is going to have a bar of any more excuses and they want to see action.