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Keynote speech to the Australasia Satellite Forum 2018

Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie

Minister for Regional Communications

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Thank you Kevin for that and Grahame, I know was also one of the ones who invited me. I know he is very excited at the moment, waiting for some good news hopefully from home.

I would also like to acknowledge the new interim CEO of the Australian Space Agency Megan Clark as well as the vice president of Optus Satellite, Paul Sheridan, who is the lead supporter of this event.

It's my great pleasure to be amongst you this morning.

I am the Deputy Leader of the National Party and a proud country Victorian with strong links to the land.

To be the Minister for Regional Communications, which I believe is going to be the way we are going to transform my communities, my industries and the people who I was elected to parliament to represent, cannot be underestimated and your role in that, as you are seeing every single day, is pivotal and fundamental.

Being able to access reliable and effective communications is now essential to everyday life.

It is both a social and economic imperative for all Australians to have access to the 21st century communications that will enable them to fully participate in the digital world.

You may run a cattle station in Cape York, home school your kids in the Pilbara, farm salmon off Bruny Island or be an artist in Arnhem Land. Regardless of where you live and work, each and every Australian, as a fundamental right of their citizenship should be able to connect and be connected.

In Australia, and I don't need to tell you this, there are some unique challenges with connecting Australians.

We know that we have a vast land mass, and a very low population density. 3.2 people per square kilometre compared to 18 in NZ, 35 in the US and 271 in the UK—and we know we are one of most urbanised nations in the world.

And therefore, connecting Australians has always been a challenge and has always seen Government play a part in that.

The National Broadband Network is our nation's largest infrastructure project.

When we came to Government, as a Coalition, we prioritised the rollout of the NBN in rural and regional Australia, and I am pleased to say now that 87% of the regions are now connected to the NBN.

The government is investing around $2.1 billion to provide fixed wireless services in regions across Australia as well as fixed line NBN services to 2.5 million premises outside major urban areas.

We also, as a Government, saw the opportunities for other technologies to play a role in connecting Australians. That's why we have invested $1.9 billion to deliver NBN Co's satellite network to connect the most difficult to reach places in Australia.

Supplementing Australian's love of being connected—we seem to have adopted the mobile phone like no other nation on earth—we have seen the roll out of the Mobile Black Spot Program, which on the back of the Government's $220 million we have seen over $680 million invested into regional telecommunication base stations, which will cover more than 95,000 square kilometres of new and upgraded handheld coverage, more than 204,000 square kilometres of new external antenna coverage and over 8,000 kilometres of new coverage to transport routes.

So it's not just about running a business, it's not just about being able to stay connected to family and friends, but bushfires, cyclones, floods, typically occur in regional Australia. So its very, very important for us to be safe and have access to our emergency service providers.

114 Telstra round 1 base stations have been operating for over a year and connected more than 14,000 Triple Zero emergency calls.

I always find it amusing when the Labor Party and our competitors talk a big game about regional connectivity. It's useful to note that the Labor Party has never made regional Australian a priority. They have never put up a Mobile Black Spot Program. They were rolling out the NBN as a competitor to existing broadband services in capital cities. It's all very good and well to talk a big game, but when the rubber hits the road, they are nowhere to be seen in connecting regional Australians.

And it's a huge and a significant achievement of our Government—and one that I am very proud of.

Broadband connectivity helps overcome the tyranny of distance when it comes to essential services like health, education and banking.

It also helps break down the isolation and helps us connect with family and friends, and businesses in the regions have now got the capacity to grow and expand, and truly compete on both domestic and global markets.

In all of this, your industry, satellite technology has a vital and evolving role to play.

As you all would be aware, Australia has been an early adopter of satellite technology.

In 1967, we launched our very own first satellite from Woomera in South Australia.

In 1979, the Australian Government created AUSSAT, one of the first national satellite communications systems in the world, which is credited with greatly improving our outback communications.

We are very, very good at producing some really, really smart people in this space for a long, long period of time. I would like to see more of them stay at home, but that means we are going to have to actually get some opportunities for them to stay at home.

Satellite competition has continued to grow over the years with other providers using low orbit, geostationary and leased satellites to deliver voice, broadband and Pay TV services in Australia.

The first broadband optimised Sky Muster satellite was launched in October 2015 and it was followed a year later by Sky Muster II, which provides extra capacity.

This is a significant and notable achievement, as remote Australians were, for the first time able to access services that others have taken for granted.

To date, over 88,000 satellite dishes have been installed and are providing these homes and businesses with access to fast broadband.

There are more than 428,000 premises in the satellite footprint that are 'ready to connect'.

After the challenges of the early years of the Sky Muster service in the regions, the Coalition was quick to address the performance and customer service issues being raised. As a result those services have been significantly improved.

Some 98 per cent of Sky Muster installations are now complete within contractual timeframes, with the average wait to connect at nine calendar days.

In October last year, NBN Co increased data allowances by using spectrum more efficiently which increased the overall capacity of the satellites.

NBN Co doubled the maximum wholesale data limits for its satellite services and increased average peak data downloads by 50 per cent.

This additional bandwidth has enabled retailers to significantly increase data caps on Sky Muster plans. A quick market scan shows retailers passed on additional data at minimal cost to consumers.

Today, all of the evidence tells us that Sky Muster is making a revolutionary difference to thousands of people living, working and visiting regional and remote Australia.

I have spoken to people on the ground about the impact satellite technology is having on distance education. Teachers and students say the main change in classrooms is having access to more data—which totally changes the way teachers are connecting with their students.

They now have four times more data making a very different experience for their students for those 'on air' lessons. The ability to research materials, and things we take for granted when we are in schools in capital cities or towns, being able to see your teacher and classmates and having a true educative experience is the power that that additional data delivers to these young Australians.

In a significantly small South Australian town, Lyndhurst—population roughly 10—local roadhouse owner Tammy Roach says she did 'the happy dance' when the NBN arrived.

Tammy said having Sky Muster has dramatically changed their lives. Before the NBN her internet service was pretty much non-existent and they had frequent drop outs. It was really slow. Since being connected she said it has opened up a whole world.

I mean, it is transforming people's industries, their businesses and indeed their lives. I just don't think we can underestimate its impact.

Living in remote communities can be isolating. I also am the Rural Health Minister and over January I headed out and visited Broken Hill and was speaking to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is using this connectivity to deliver health services to really remote Australians in new and interesting ways. Being able to hook up to a station owner at 3am in the morning, using telehealth to speak to a psychologist to stop him taking his own life until physical services can arrive the next day. That is the power of this technology, for the first time in our federation, has been able to deliver.

Yes we are getting economic benefits, yes we can keep people safe and educate children, but we are saving people's lives as a result of this increased connectivity, and that cannot be underestimated, the power of that.

NBN recently released a report showing the impact the NBN has had on productivity and as a tool for innovation in Australia. Data from the 2016 census shows business growth has accelerated at more than twice the annual pace, and five times the pace of regions without the NBN network connected.

So the potential that having this connectivity has given those regional communities, industries and businesses again, is sort of this unanticipated consequence of providing this infrastructure.

Women are harnessing the opportunities of the NBN and we have seen them uptake and self-employ at rates unheard of.

Australia is expected to move from being one of the bottom 10 OECD countries in terms of internet equality to being one of the top 10 by 2021 when the rollout is complete.

So, I guess, you and I know that the rate of technological change is exponential in this space, so measuring it now, we don't almost know what's going to be around in 2021.

I think we need to appreciate that pace of change and the investment that Government and your industry and other industries have made, particularly the last six years, needs to really be assessed to ascertain—what has the impact been, and where is the next opportunity, the low hanging fruit if you like, and the next role of Government to invest in.

Another couple of examples of being connected using the Mobile Black Spot Program—workers at the Barmount Feedlot near Clarke Creek in Queensland can now access market reports and other information remotely rather than needing to travel back to the office.

Before I was promoted I did a Senate enquiry into the lack of competition in the beef processing sector, which really impacted farmers' take home price of the cattle they were putting into sale yards.

Now if you are able to access sale yard data right there and then, you are much more able to pay a realistic price for that beast on the ground and having to use old technology.

Today, they can do what others around the country take for granted—and that's staying connected with family and friends.

Under the second round of funding, Optus is installing 49 satellite small cell base stations across remote and very remote Australia.

These small cells base station options are increasingly popular as we roll this footprint out and we are needing much more specific and targeted responses to the lack of connectivity.

Like roadhouses on remote highways, visitor centres in national parks, ranger stations and tourist attractions, there is an expectation that that connectivity will be available.

Three of the small cells were recently activated in the Karijini National Park in remote Western Australia ahead of the annual Karijini Experience Festival.

For the very first time, attendees at this festival and organisers were able to share and promote festival experiences via social media because of satellite technology.

To date 32 of the 49 small cell base stations have already been installed and they are seeing strong traffic.

I recently announced a Regional Telecommunications Review and I would encourage you all to get involved in this review.
This is a statutory review which was due by the end of this year, but due to the rate of our roll out and the significant investment we have made, I bought it forward to the first half of this year. I, as Minister for Regional Communications need to understand the change in landscape and I also need to understand what's next for Government investment. I don't think it's going to look like it has in the past.
We have made a massive investment as I have outlined. We still have another 400 towers to roll out. Last decade, CDMA was the norm and dial-up internet in the regions, if you were lucky, was all you had.
We forget that, that was a very real experience for most regional Australians six years ago.
Now look at us. 3G, 4G and people are talking 5G.
We have been able to use and harness the investment Government, your industry and telcos have made, to unlock new potential that we hadn't envisaged. So in light of that, before we complete the other 400 base stations by the end of the year, it's timely to have a look at the footprint.
We have six members are on this independent review. Other than writing their terms of reference, I can't really direct them anymore, so I am asking you to get involved and let them know what the opportunities are given your industry perspective.
They will be looking at the comparison between the regional and urban experience in telecommunications. I have also tasked them to look at new technologies and the social and economic benefits of the technology we have already rolled out and where that future potential may be.
In terms of Budget 2018, I spent last week out on the road talking rural health, but there were some great announcements for this space.

There's no question the satellite and space industries are growing rapidly and it's crucial Australia remains one of the global players. Not just by producing people with the smarts, but by investing here at home—when we found out New Zealand is doing it, nothing spurs us on more than that.

The global space market is worth US$345 billion and we want Australian businesses to be able to win a greater share of it.

That's why, in this year's Budget, the Coalition committed more than $300 million to the sector.

We will establish the first Australian Space Agency with $41 million funding over the next four years.

And we are investing more that $260 million to develop world-leading core satellite infrastructure and technologies.

This will ultimately mean better GPS for Australian businesses and regional Australians and improved access to satellite imagery.

A Satellite-Based Augmentation System will improve the reliability and accuracy of positioning data from five metres to 10 centimetres.

For position agriculture, that's fantastic. For a future automation in food processing—we struggle to get these skillsets out in the regions. We produce a great commodity and then we send it overseas for someone to do the value-add. This will allow us to overcome some of those barriers to growing our local economies and value adding to our existing products like never before.

The additional National Positioning Infrastructure Capability will enable the system to improve GPS to an accuracy as precise as 3 centimetres in areas of Australia with access to mobile coverage. That's phenomenal and I am so excited about what particularly our agriculture and mining industries will be able to do as a result of this leap in capacity.

This world-class technology will mean improved safety for aircraft flying including the Royal Flying Doctor Service fleet.

And virtual fencing, there are some great things on the market with some of the start-ups. Does anyone own a dog that doesn't stay inside its fence? You know those collars? You can get them for cattle now, anyway, it'll be great, this technology. Farmers won't have to fence any more.

Another thing coming up this year that is incredibly important and that I will appreciate your perspective on going forward, is the universal service obligation. It has been a long-standing mechanism in this country and as I have said earlier—government in Australia, because of our land mass and small population has always had a role in ensuring Australians are connected. Whether it is the Australia Post Act 1901, or indeed our telecommunications legislation, Government has always had a role to play in this.

But it's my firm belief that the USO is no longer fit-for-purpose in 21st Century Australia.

Last year, the Productivity Commission concluded the USO was 'anachronistic and costly' and recommended it be wound back following completion of the NBN in 2020.

USO reform is complex, and a large body of work is underway within Government to find reasonable, cost-effective alternatives.

As a first step, the Government has announced plans to develop a new Universal Service Guarantee—one that better reflects how the marketplace has changed and is adaptable to its future evolution.

Under the new guarantee, 100 per cent of Australian premises will have access to voice and next generation broadband services. This includes regional, rural and remote locations.

This will be a first. We have always had the guarantee to a postal service under law, now we need to have access to 21st century telecommunications to allow us to grow and compete and stay connected.

Many people in regional, rural and remote Australia are open to technological change but need to be assured that new options will still deliver reliable and affordable voice services.

That is why the Coalition is taking a careful and vigilant approach to USO reform. We will not change the current delivery mechanisms unless there are clear, acceptable and more cost-effective alternatives.

Satellite technology may appear to be the obvious solution to bridge that voice divide, but current thinking suggests it is not fully viable due to latency and reliability during rainy weather. So there is something to work on, on the front end.

For the time being, these concerns mean Sky Muster is not seen as a platform for voice delivery under the new Guarantee.

We are still keen to hear more from the satellite sector including any developments that may be able to overcome the challenge of providing affordable and reliable voice services in remote locations.

We are aiming to have the new Universal Service Guarantee in place for the completion of the NBN in 2020, so now is the time to be having those conversations.

Even if satellite technology is not the immediate solution, it may well prove to be the answer for tomorrow.

To this end, this Coalition and the National Party are looking to develop a dynamic Guarantee that is able to accommodate new and better solutions should they emerge, because we know they will.

We do not want a guarantee that's locked in stone in a 2020 version of what's top notch technology. We want it to be adaptable and responsive to the rate of change and the exponential opportunities that we can see coming in this space over the coming decades.

I look forward to working with you all to make sure all Australians have access to the tools they need, to not just take advantage of all the opportunities this sector provides, but to also overcome the challenges.

I have every confidence that your industry, the satellite industry, will continue to have a key role in connecting all Australians as well as maintaining a global presence, which I hope we can grow as we roll out those initiatives, and that we harness all the opportunities a digital economy can provide, not just for those in capital cities, but right across our nation

Thank you.