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Interview with Brian Carlton LAFM Tasmania Talks

2 July 2018

E & OE

CARLTON:
Senator Mitch Fifield is just outside Burnie, and he's the Federal Minister for Communications and The Arts. The former will be the subject of our conversation today. Senator, good morning. Welcome to Tas Talks. How are you going?

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you, Brian.

CARLTON:
Tell me, there's a big reveal this morning, is there not, for some West Coast funding in terms of mobile phone blackspots, and could I just say, Senator, I have way too many conversations that in and around this part of Tassie. Tell me what you're up to, what are you doing?

FIFIELD:
Brian, you know the frustration and your listeners know when you're driving along or when you're on the phone to family or trying to do some business, your mobile drops out or you try to download some data and it's just too slow. There is an issue on the West Coast where people have that experience. And the reason is that there's a capacity problem that the West Coast is dependent on a wireless radio system rather than a fibre link. And so that limits transmission capacity. And what we're announcing today is that we'll be putting $700,000 towards fixing that. So that we can make use of the TasNetworks fibre link. Brett Whiteley said: look, there's a problem here. He's been talking to the West Coast Council. He came to me, he came to the Prime Minister and said: look, I think we can fix this with $700,000 from the Federal Government. And we said: good, done, sold. So it's great news for the West Coast.

CARLTON:
So, let me just understand what's happening here. The West Coast, the original- at least, your government's original plan for the West Coast, was to have it covered largely by the Sky Muster satellites. Two of them. That's obviously been problematic for parts of the West, because of cloud cover and all sorts of weather issues and geographical constraints. So, the decision was made to, what, piggyback on the TasNetworks fibre optic cable that runs down the West Coast?

FIFIELD:
That's right, that's the case for the NBN. So as a result, Rosebury, Queenstown, Zeehan will get fixed line access to the NBN. And Strahan will get fixed wireless. But given that experience, Brett Whiteley –West Coast Council thought: well, why don't we use the TasNetworks fibre link to try and improve the capacity for the mobile networks. So, Brett Whiteley delivering for NBN, delivering better service for the West Coast. But also, we're going to improve the mobile network because people just rely on the mobile network so much for business, for family, at times of emergency.

CARLTON:
Yeah, and look, very much for the latter as well. You find yourself in all sorts of situations where you need access to the world when you're out walking in this state, and sometimes you don't have it. Tell me, what's the $700,000 to be used for precisely?

FIFIELD:
Well, it's going to be put together with contribution from the telcos. The West Coast Council will coordinate this. It's really to cover the costs of accessing that fibre network that's there, and some of the equipment upgrades that are necessary.

CARLTON:
You say the telcos are involved in, what, co-funding this. I assume, what, Telstra and Optus, the two- yes?

FIFIELD:
Yeah, West Coast Council will be talking to the telcos. So, we're putting the money on the table that will make this possible.

CARLTON:
Okay. Now, just on those two, for what it's worth, you can't be too happy with the way the World Cup coverage has panned out for – just to change the subject completely – has panned out for Optus sport viewers. Do we need to have a look at the way the sort of anti-siphoning laws work apart from other things when it comes to these major sporting events? Because it was wholly unsatisfactory for a whole bunch of people.

FIFIELD:
Look, huge frustration. People want to be able to access their sport in the way that they've purchased. People bought a product from Optus. They had the expectation, reasonably, that it would work. It didn't. Optus have done the right thing by saying: look, SBS can broadcast those matches that we have the rights for. So I think it's good that there's been a solution for this World Cup. What we have here, though, was actually nothing to do with the anti-siphoning list. These arrangements were ones that were commercially entered into by Optus and SBS. The issue really was that Optus had some technical issues. They didn't foresee them. They should have. But it really is a lesson for all of the over-the-top providers, as they're known, that if you promise the customers a product, then you've got to deliver it.

CARLTON:
There's a couple of other issues around in terms of the way the telcos deal with our data. To what extent are you concerned about their ability to manage all of our sensitive data, and when you consider what goes through their systems – all our communications, our telephone calls, text messages and lots and lots of data for all sorts of things – are you satisfied, as the Communications Minister, that they have secured this customer information well enough? Because we're just getting hacked all over the place, Senator, and it's getting really annoying.

FIFIELD:
Look, it's a case of eternal vigilance. As individuals, as consumers, we need to be vigilant about the information that we provide and the conditions that we agree to when we tick those boxes online. But there's a huge onus on service providers to protect the data of their consumers. And we've done a few things to try and increase the community confidence and the transparency when things don't go as they should. We've passed legislation and put in place something called the Notifiable Data Breach regime, which requires that if there's a serious data breach, then the organisations – be they telcos or whoever – have to notify the Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Commissioner can levy fines and initiate investigations. And we've seen that with the Facebook experiences of late…

BRIAN CARLTON:
Indeed.
FIFIELD:
… where the Privacy Commissioner is instituting a formal inquiry. So we do have tools. But look, we always have this area under review. And if there's more that can and should be done, then we'll certainly do so.

CARLTON:
As Communications Minister, I would imagine you would find this fairly concerning. There was a newspaper item around yesterday where a school in Victoria – Fitzroy High, specifically – is about to begin teaching their students how to – and this is their term – safe sext. In other words, how to send nude pictures of yourself safely on the internet. And by the way, this is sort of targeted at high school kids. Now, I'm not expert on the Federal Telecommunications Act, Senator. I'm reasonably well read on it, certainly no expert. It's illegal, is it not, to send an image over the internet, or over a telephone company carriage service, is the technical term in the legislation. It's illegal to do that, is it not? And we've got Adam Bandt out- the Senator, Greens Senator, saying that this is good work on behalf of the school teaching kids how to, what, break the law.

FIFIELD:
Yeah, you're absolutely right…

CARLTON:
I'm appalled. Senator, there's all sorts of appalling going on here and I'm not even sure where to begin. Help me here.

FIFIELD:
It is a crime for images of minors to be sent over a carriage service. That's the technical language in the Act. But it's absolutely a crime. And what we want to do is make sure that kids are safe. We want to teach kids what they shouldn't be doing. We want to teach kids that if you send an image of yourself, to someone else, you lose control of that image. It's with someone else, or it's online. You've lost control. And this can come back to haunt you in later life. Which is why we've set up the office of the eSafety Commissioner to educate, particularly school kids, about how dangerous it is online and what you should do to protect yourself. So, that's the sort of message that we want to get across.

CARLTON:
Is there any such thing as safe sexting?

FIFIELD:
Well, you lose control. When you send something, you lose control of it. It is in someone else's hands. So, my message would be, don't do it.

CARLTON:
Okay, but you're Senate colleague – and I know he's not your party – but Adam Bandt, the Green, is – I'm sorry, he's over the other house, isn't he? My apologies. But we've got Greens here advocating this and encouraging it and, I don't know, people are outraged by this generally. I don't know what the response from government should be. Don't do it. Is this one of those zero tolerance messages we need to put out there for young people? Heaven's knows we've been doing it for all sorts of things. Why suddenly is there a safe level of sexting? I'd argue there isn't, and anybody who receives such an image is liable for prosecution, as indeed the person who if you on-send that, you're charged with distributing child pornography. For God sake, at what point does somebody with some sense come in and stop this?

FIFIELD:
Well, it's a crime to send images of minors…

CARLTON:
Adam Bandt, a Federal Parliamentarian, a Federal Parliamentarian, is encouraging a school that is going to teach kids how to break the law.

FIFIELD:
Look, Adam Bandt and all of my Parliamentary colleagues should be sending an absolutely consistent message that the online space is an area where you have to take care. That if you send images of yourself, you lose control of that information. People can then post that online. You don't want that to happen. And I would encourage parents and school kids to look at the website of the eSafety Commissioner. There's good advice there on how to keep yourself safe. And we are always looking at ways of enhancing online safety. It's why we've got a legislated regime where if you're being cyber bullied, the eSafety Commissioner can direct social media organisations to take that material down. They can fine them if they don't. They can issue end-user notices to people putting it up there to tell them to cease and desist. We're also legislating to make sure we've got stronger penalties for image-based abuse, or what's known as revenge porn. So we're working very hard to make the online environment a safer place. But parents have got to talk to their kids. Schools have got to talk to their students and let them know you've got to keep yourself save and how to do it.

CARLTON:
But there is at least one school here well, not encouraging per se, but saying look, you're going to do this anyway, here's a bunch of ways to do it and what the school's actually doing in a sense is, what, teaching the children how to break the bloody law. I just find it crazy. Anyway, look…

FIFIELD:
Yeah. I haven't seen that report, but...

CARLTON:
Senator, I promise you, if you do much media today, you will get questions on this because it's driving everyone crazy.

FIFIELD:
What I will do is get the eSafety Commissioner to make contact with that school...

CARLTON:
Yeah, please do.

FIFIELD:
...and to look at the material that they're distributing.

CARLTON:
Because there's, it's very difficult to cut this any other way than the school's encouraging children to break the aforementioned Telecommunications Act, as we just discussed. Look, I know your time is getting short. Sixty seconds. This rather unedifying battle going on between Senator David Leyonhjelm and Sarah Hanson-Young. Look, I don't want you to weigh into the argy-bargy. It's been most unedifying over the past 24 hours or so. But can I just say though, why did your government vote against the right for women to use pepper spray in public, to carry it concealed? Why? Why did you? That was the reason for the debate and the argy-bargy. Why did you vote against it?

FIFIELD:
Women have a right to protect themselves in ways that are legal. Absolutely. That particular motion, Brian, I'd have to take a look at it. We vote on something like 50 motions a day in the Senate. But women should be safe. Women should be able to walk the streets without being harassed...

CARLTON:
It was a private members bill, Senator, it was a private members bill and it was voted down by both the major parties – yours and Labor. It would have allowed, it would have put pressure on the states to change the laws and also the import regulations to allow women to carry some kind of pepper spray for their own protection.

FIFIELD:
Yes, Brian, as I say, I'd have to look at the particular legislation. It's outside my area of portfolio responsibilities.

CARLTON:
I understand that. It just happened in your chamber, so I thought there might have been some input into the debate, but apparently not. Okay. Look, Senator, just one of those again, one of those ones where it seems that much of the media, and certainly the pollies, are quite prepared to argy-bargy over what's being said about he said, she said, he said, she said, but the issue has been completely lost in the wash and that's disturbing me.

FIFIELD:
Well, it's important that, as Parliamentary colleagues, when we have debate that we treat each other with respect. It's something that I think we do most of the time in the Senate, but we should always seek to be our best selves.

CARLTON:
Okay. You're a cabinet minister, is there going to be an early election?

FIFIELD:
The election will be next year when it's due, Brian.

CARLTON:
Okay. Appreciate your time today. Thanks.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you.

CARLTON:
Senator Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications and the Arts.

[ends]