Public safety comms depend on governance, not technology

Australian Radio Communications Industry Association

By Hamish Duff, President, ARCIA
Monday, 13 July, 2020

Public safety comms depend on governance, not technology

This year is proving to be a challenging one to say the least. Global events have been moving quickly and most of the international news is awful. Yet as difficult as 2020 has been, we are very lucky to be living in a country that is relatively safe. At the time of writing Australia is slowly coming out of lockdown. While we know the long-term economic damage done by COVID-19 will be felt for years to come, there is hope that our lucky country will find new ways to recover, grow and deal with our 21st-century issues.

For the LMR industry, there have been many businesses badly affected in the events and hire sectors as the market flatlined. For others involved in mining or essential services, work has still been there, so the effects across our industry are varied. We hope that as the economy is unlocked and events start to pick up that hire firms can get moving again.

ARCIA has represented our industry by writing to the AMCA and the federal communications minister for action on licence fees during the pandemic. I am pleased to report that we have heard from some members who have sought ACMA licence fee relief, or at least deferral, and that the AMCA has responded well.

The national response to the pandemic has been exceptional for many reasons. We all watched our state and national governments actually come together, listen to science and act in the national interest. It looks like there may be long-term benefit in the national cabinet structure.

Which brings me to the national public safety communications debate. After the huge bushfires and the subsequent enquiries that are taking place, there are once again many calls for better communications during disasters. ARCIA has made a joint submission the Royal Commission and I would like to particularly thank Geoff Spring, an ARCIA member and Advisor for the Centre for Disaster Management & Public Safety. Geoff’s dedication to this debate, over a number of years, is outstanding. This is a complicated area characterised by seemingly many technical obstacles and years of discussions by government.

However, I would argue this is not a technical problem. ARCIA and our associated partners simply ask state and federal governments to treat all public safety communications as a critical ecosystem. Australia needs government leadership to provide a governance and funding framework that enables public safety agencies to get on with the job. If government seeks shovel-ready projects that provide a public benefit, then investing in next-generation Triple Zero, public safety mobile broadband and LMR systems fits the bill.

ARCIA’s Executive Officer, Ian Miller, has also penned an opinion piece hopefully prompting the federal government to use the Royal Commission findings to activate our public safety mobile broadband system, in much the same way that the 9/11 tragedy in the USA gave the impetus for FirstNet. It would be great to see a really significant and beneficial outcome from the disasters of this past summer.

In other areas, we have been active in continuing to lobby the ACMA for spectrum for private LTE systems. This is a topic being mentioned more and more over the past year and hardly an issue of Critical Comms passes without some mention of private LTE. This is a technology and an application that will be of real benefit to our existing communications users and we will need spectrum to continue to improve efficiency for our clients and Australia in general.

While all ARCIA events are currently on hold, we are hopeful that in November our annual gala dinner can still take place. It is important that the ARCIA and RFUANZ annual dinners take place with the Comms Connect Melbourne and Comms Connect New Zealand events, respectively, so that both associations can help bring our industry together. ARCIA is watching the situation closely and we will report as soon as practicable.

Hamish Duff


Australian Radio Communications Industry Association

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