Interview with ABC Illawarra

3 February 2021

NICK RHEINBERGER: And David Littleproud, the Federal Emergency Services Minister joins us now. Good morning, Minister Littleproud.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

NICK RHEINBERGER: This is a very dramatic release. Why are these companies risking lives?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, because they're failing to provide the information to our emergency service personnel of strategic assets that keep people safe during natural disasters. These are strategic assets, particularly around communications that our emergency services need, because without communications, they're not able to have real time data information from emergency centres to be able to make the right decisions, and that is putting people's livelihoods at risk ...

NICK RHEINBERGER: What are they actually missing, the emergency services? Is it where they are…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Exactly.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Or how [indistinct] they are, or how much battery life they've got? Is that what we're talking about?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: All of the above, and particularly where they are. So, they become strategic assets. If you're fighting a fire and the emergency service personnel don't know what that asset is and where it is and what value it adds to their communications, it makes it very hard for emergency service personnel to deploy assets to protect it, to make sure that they know where it is, to be able to ensure they have the continuity of communications in a disaster. And that is real life information they need.

And we're just saying- we said to the telcos, I, in fact, toured Telstra back in October 2019 at their operation centre, and they gave me a commitment that they would provide this to our emergency service personnel right across the country. It's commercial in confidence. And I understand the reticence of Telstra and the other telcos to provide this. But this isn't something where emergency services are going to share with all other telcos where their assets are. This is just about doing the right thing for your community. And...

NICK RHEINBERGER: I mean, surely the SES and the RFS are not going to be doing anything that's going to interrupt this commercial in confidence [indistinct]?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It's to be placed on maps that they use. That's all we want to use it for, is to be able to give the emergency service personnel the information of knowing where these are on a map, the strategic value to them as an asset in terms of their communications in a disaster, so they can make the appropriate plans to actually protect it if need be and put the resources where it needs to be so they can make those strategic decisions. And to actually not allow them to do that, now actually goes against the recommendations of the royal commission.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Is that the defence, that it's commercial in confidence and we refused to provide this information?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, this is frustrating thing. I've written letters to them. I met with them in October 2019, mind you, this is before Black Summer. I met with them and asked them to provide this. I then subsequently have written to them last year around this and had a personal conversation with Andy Penn around this and said this was imperative that you actually provide this. We will respect your commercial rights here. But this is about doing the right thing, putting people above profits and understanding that we will protect your intellectual property. But this is far more important, far more important than the profits of Telstra. And Andy Penn has been silent on this, as have the other telcos.

We simply need action on this. And it's a recommendation in the royal commission that the telcos need to work closely with all levels of government to provide and maintain the infrastructure. In fact, we put $37 million as part of the bushfire recovery into telecommunications to support the telcos. So the taxpayers actually supported them, and then they turn their back and won't provide the information to give this critical information to our emergency service personnel.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Well, you would have been in places like the Rural Fire Service control room in New South Wales. I mean, in there you have RFS, ambulance, police, councils, local government, the army. Are these telecommunications companies not in there providing all of this information transparently?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, the information- they are in- they are part of the process in making sure that communications are provided, not only during the disaster, but also post it. So NBN in particular will position a number of their trucks very nearby to the disaster area and then move them in immediately after. But this is about making sure that during the disaster, we know what strategic assets are within that disaster zone, so that those emergency service personnel can strategically make decisions about whether that asset should be protected or not, whether resources should be deployed to it, and because it could actually feed in to the actual overall response to that disaster.

And that's all we're saying. Allow them to have it on the map, allow them to understand exactly where they are, what they are, so that when our fire commissioners are looking at maps, they can go, that's a strategic asset that may need to be protected because it will have a pivotal role in our communications from the fire front or the disaster front back to our centre. And if it falls down, then it has an exacerbated impact not only on that, but on other communications. So, they have to have that understanding. They need to be able to make those real time decisions. They are life and death decisions that our emergency service personnel are making. And we're just saying to telcos, we will protect your commercial rights, but just trust our fire commissioners to have that information, to be able to put on a map, to be able to make the right decisions for our people.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Alright. David Littleproud, thanks for joining us this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

NICK RHEINBERGER: David Littleproud, the Emergency Services Minister here at ABC Illawarra and ABC South East.