Thu, 04 Jul - 22:02
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Transcript: ABC Australia Wide with Sinéad Mangan

Topics: Regional arts; arts funding; regional communications; competition; regional broadcasting.

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

People in regional Australia spend as much time and money on the arts as those with easy access to events in the city and a survey has found almost 85 percent of people in regional Australia found the arts contributed positively to their well-being. You only need to look at the success of the wheat silo projects on both sides of the country to see the creativity and innovation of regional Australia. Today on Australia Wide we’re looking at the tools needed to make these things happen in the bush both artistically and with innovation. Minister Paul Fletcher is the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts and he’s joined me to have a chat. In what way, Minister, does the Coalition plan to bolster the arts in regional Australia?

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well, good to be with you Sinéad. The arts does play a very important part in the life of regional Australians as it does for people all around Australia. So we have a number of programs which are designed to support the delivery of arts events, arts services into regional and remote Australia. I think it’s fair to say that if you talk to the chief executives of any of the major arts institutions they are very focused on how to have as many Australians as possible, whether they live in regional and remote Australia or metropolitan Australia, come and see their performances, come and see their expeditions. Of course throughout regional Australia we have many thriving galleries, theatre companies and others who are based in regional Australia carrying out arts activity.

There’s a number of specific things and indeed just today we’ve announced $580,000 to support some 16 projects around regional and remote Australia under what’s called the Festivals Australia program. This is design to provide some Commonwealth funding to support events like Red Hot Arts Central Australia for their Dance Alice Dance! event or in the southern tablelands area of New South Wales the Goulburn Reader Writer Festival. So a whole range of projects around Australia are being supported with this Festivals Australia funding announced today and it’s all part of the many ways in which we try and support the provision of arts activities in regional and remote Australia.

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

As you alluded to there the arts come in several pockets. So there’s festival funding, there’s regional arts funding and there’s music funding. So sometimes it’s quite difficult to kind of weave your way through to see how much has been spent as a big, you know, how much all together has been spent on regional arts. Now I know the Regional Arts Fund, there was a commitment from the Coalition in 2016 to give 3.5 million a year to that fund. This is the fund that looks at grassroots arts in the bush, not travelling artists coming to the bush. Is that commitment going to continue?

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well yes that is a commitment that we’ve made. 3.5 million a year under the Regional Arts Fund. Indeed just last month we announced the latest round of funding under that program. $628,000 for 50 different arts and culture projects all around the country.

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

That Regional Arts Fund though did look for an extra $2 million a year to bring it up to funding that they’d seen previously in 2012. They’re trying to get back to those levels. Why could the Coalition not find that extra money for those grassroots regional arts programs?

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well the funding that is there is certainly supporting a vigorous amount of activity. Of course whatever activity people are involved in, it’s very common there’d be advocacy for more funding. I understand that, I welcome that. What we’ve sought to do is to provide the funding that we have the capacity to do within the need to get the budget back to balance and surplus which we’ll be achieving next year, or indeed in this coming financial year and of course deliver tax cuts and other things.

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

Let’s look at the other part of your portfolio which is in communications. Now when it comes to regional Australia for the large part connectivity is patchy. Anyone who travels around Australia knows that. The Mobile Black Spot Program has gone some way to address that issue but for people and businesses in the bush there’s still a lack of, they say, a lack of connectivity is holding them back. What can be done to improve that?

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well can I start by saying Sinéad that I first started working in the telecommunications policy area about 25 years ago when I joined the staff of then Communications Minister Richard Alston. At that time for farmers and people in regional Australia who were wanting internet access it was a dial up service and most people in regional Australia were on a timed local call so you were paying per minute. Then after doing that you were getting access to the internet at speeds in rural Australia which could be as low 1.2 or 2.4 kilobits per second. That’s just a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the speeds that we all take for granted today. So we have come a long way but of course there is more to do. In particular, the National Broadband Network has had an enormous focus on rolling out broadband connectivity across Australia. So as you the way it works is that a bit over 90 percent of the population are served by the fixed line network. Then around 4 percent of the population are served by fixed wireless and the last 3 percent are served by satellite. Both fixed wireless and satellite support services of 25 megabits per second. So that’s very, very important for a whole host of reasons including of course supporting industries like agriculture and resources. You know our agriculture sector is very high tech. Things like soil moisture monitors, remotely networked opening and closing of gates on water and cattle drinking troughs and so on…

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

It’s interesting because you’ve brought up agriculture and I’ve got specific questions from people who are working in that very industry. So this is one question for you. Would the Minister clearly explain the key steps the Government is taking to improve agricultural production through the provision of improved digital connectivity? Specifically what it would look like to producers out here in the real world.

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

So I think that is a range of initiatives that we have. First of all, the NBN as I say provides that ubiquitous fixed broadband connectivity. Typically if you’re a remote homestead for example, you’ll have the dish on your roof which will be connected to a computer in the home. You might have a Wi-Fi network in the home. So for things like doing your banking and other things and of course distance education, School of the Air, you’d be using that fixed broadband connectivity delivered over satellite. Now you mentioned the Mobile Black Spot Program. That’s been a very big priority for our Liberal-National Government since we came to power in 2013. There’s now over 1000 base stations that have been committed to under the first four rounds of that program. 713 of them are now activated and in the last election we committed a further $160 million for two further rounds of mobile black spots and indeed round five is underway right now. What that’s doing is driving that mobile coverage, including mobile broadband coverage, further and further out into areas that the mobile operators have not served to date based on their own financial incentives but with subsidies from Government they considerably expanded their coverage areas. So that Mobile Black Spot Program is very important and it is continuing. Of course if you’re on the tractor and you’re wanting to again do you’re banking or do all the other kinds of business you can be doing online then you need the mobile connective. Now that could, depending upon the set up that you have at your home, the mobile coverage is likely to be the best way to deliver it. There are some other options but mobile is probably the best option. So getting that mobile expanded mobile footprint is very important and that has been a big priority of our Liberal-National Government.

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

Will there be a time when people in the bush will have another functional option other than Telstra?

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well one of the key premises for NBN is maximising competition. So it’s a national wholesale network but then retail service provides serve customers using that network so that customers have a choice in terms of pricing and service options and so on. Then of course we also have 3 mobile network operators – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – and we’ve very carefully designed the Mobile Black Spot Program so that it underpins increased competition in regional Australia as well as increased coverage. Pleasingly a significant number of towers have been delivered by Optus and by Vodafone as well as by Telstra the largest player because in regional Australia as in metropolitan Australia a key driver of people getting the best services, the most affordable services and getting the latest technology delivered as soon as possible is competition.

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

Just finally Minister, last week we saw WIN News pull out of a number of regional centres in New South Wales and Queensland and yesterday it was announced that GWN7 News is pulling out of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. What concerns do you have around commercial news services remaining in the bush?

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

Well there’s no doubt that the role the regional broadcasters play and the role of other providers of news play, such as local newspapers in regional towns, is important. At the same time, it’s clear that the enormous growth of the internet has created commercial challenges for media organisations, metropolitan and regional in Australia and around the world. So we are seeing a change in the media sector including in the provision of services. Now it’s important that we emphasise that there are local content requirements that apply to the regional television broadcasters and we certainly in Government remain focused on ensuring that any changes that are made don’t involve the broadcasters not meeting their regional content requirements. At the end of the day the regional broadcasters make their own commercial decisions but they do that within a regulatory framework where they have specific obligations and we certainly expect them to continue to meet those obligations.

 

SINÉAD MANGAN:

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, thanks for talking to Australia Wide.

 

PAUL FLETCHER:

Thanks very much Sinéad.

 

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