Standing up for Canberra

Conclusion of Bonython Drone Delivery Trial


SHIRLEY: You'll hear the buzz and the movement right across your backyard. You'll see the four rotors sometimes, or hear that high pitched whine as it passes through your neighbourhood, maybe straight to your door to deliver food or other things. I'm talking about drones and a drone delivery trial that's been operated in Canberra's south for many months is finishing this week.

The company behind it, Project Wing, is moving to a second trial in Canberra's north - based around the Mitchell area and other suburbs. A small selection of houses in Bonython have been part of the initial trial, but  Project Wing - owned by Google - will soon expand through Gungahlin, Palmerston, Harrison, Crace and Franklin. And as you have spoken to us on Morning's and ABC Canberra before, it's not without controversy.

Some love it, some hate it and some think there are far more questions to be asked for drone deliveries and drone movements in the ACT en masse. Federal Member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, has been speaking at length with many constitutents on the trial through her region, and she's with us now. Gai Brodtmann, really nice to speak with you for the first time in 2019. What are some of the stand outs you've heard from constituents on the drone delivery trial?

BRODTMANN: I've got the latest tally of feedback that dates to the 4th of February. The overall figures are - 74 percent of feedback was negative, 15 percent was positive and 11 percent of feedback was neutral. That's 127 people. But as I've said before, this is people who have been in touch with me and my office. But there have been plenty of conversations at the supermarket, mobile offices and coffee catch-ups about this.

Of the concerns, noise was the primary concern with 50 complaints about that. Privacy - second, wildlife - third and the impact on pets was also high up there. 

SHIRLEY: Tell me about the detail you hear when you speak with constituents, and when they expand on whether they are for or against drone deliveries.

BRODTMANN: The detail is primarily the noise. I ask you and I ask the people of Canberra, would they like a drone flying over their home, up to 20 times between 8am on a Sunday and about 10am? That's what people in Bonython are currently experiencing. 20 times in two to three hours on a Sunday morning.

SHIRLEY: On Chief Minster's Talk Back on this program, the Chief Minister has previously likened the maximum drone noise decibel level to a lawn mower and has suggested that if people have a problem with drone noise then they would probably have a problem with anyone mowing their lawns as well. Do you reckon that's a fair comparison? 

BRODTMANN: I don't know whether you've heard it, but it is incredibly high pitched and it's new sound. I acknowledge that, it is a new sound. Personally, I wouldn't want a drone making that noise, flying over my home on a Sunday morning, 20 times.

SHIRLEY: What other issues of privacy might have been raised, if in fact that is a concern within some of the feedback you're getting?

BRODTMANN: People are concerned about what's actually happening with the data. What data is being captured by the drones? What happens to the data after it's stored for 30 days? Who has access to the data during the 30 days of storage and after the 30 days of storage? Where is the data being stored - in which country and in which specific location? Canberrans - and I - are very concerned about the privacy and what data is actually being captured, what's actually happening to it and where's it being stored.

SHIRLEY: We've spoken with Project Wing on this program before - we're seeking a response from them today on this conclusion of the Bonython and Tuggeranong trial. What information have they provided on those questions just raised?

BRODTMANN: Not much. It's just been go to the website - and the website isn't particularly enlightening, Adam. That's why I've had many concerns about it for some time and I've raised those concerns with the Privacy Commissioner, I've raised those concerns with the Minister, I've raised those concerns with CASA.

I've had responses - and the response from the Privacy Commissioner was particularly about the consultation and the privacy issues. The Privacy Commissioner requested information on any privacy concerns raised by local residents of Project Wing, and was advised at that time - we're talking here, December 2017, before the trial had started - there had been no privacy complaints received. Not surprising given the trial actually hadn't started.

SHIRLEY: I wonder what the response would be now a year and a bit on, on that very question. Gai Brodtmann, is the Member for Canberra, and is with us on Morning's reflecting on some of the ongoing feedback she's received from locals about the drone delivery trial based in Tuggeranong. I welcome your views on this conclusion phase of that trial before a second one - run by Project Wing - starts up around the Gungahlin and Mitchell regions. 1300 681 666, is the phone number. Ms Brodtmann, in summary, has this data - this feedback you've received - thrown up questions as to whether this is a good plan and something that should be approved in the ACT?

BRODTMANN: It's thrown up lots of questions and that's why I have been calling - and I continue to call - for an independent review before the Gungahlin expansion, before the Gungahlin pilot. An independent review led by CASA and the Privacy Commissioner, but to involve the relevant federal, and state government agencies. An independent review that is publicly released, and that looks at the regulatory framework - particularly for commercial operators. That looks at the privacy issues, particularly where the data is being stored and what data is being captured.

The noise issue - this is the number one issue, the number one concern of Canberrans - and it just keeps getting punted from one government agency to another, basically saying it's not our responsibility.

Consultation - there was a serious lack of consultation with the community. I understand there was a letterbox drop to some households in Bonython, but not all of them - and it was all just about notification of the trial, not actual consultation.

Also, the economic impact - people keep talking about this being the way of the future, get on board. But what actually is the economic impact of this? I understand there hasn't been any economic modelling done by Project Wing - because at the moment the service is free, in terms of delivery. What would that look like if the service was no longer free? The organisations that Project Wing has linked up with are actually national organisations. So what is the knock on effect for small businesses, and did small businesses actually get access to this trial? Was there a tender process for small businesses to say, "Okay put up your hand and be part of this trial". Look at the actual, genuine economic impact and benefit to the ACT.

SHIRLEY: That is quite a suite of critique that you've raised there Ms Brodtmann. Is it the case in your view, that the ACT Government - who approved this trial in the end - didn't follow through enough, or didn't hold a tight enough rein on Project Wing here?

BRODTMANN: I think there are a number of agencies that need to answer questions on this. I think the Privacy Commissioner needs to be more involved in this, but particularly CASA - 

SHIRLEY: The ACT Government as well though, Ms Brodtmann. Do they have responsibility?

BRODTMANN: The regulatory framework is governed by CASA. I think there are lots of questions for CASA here, and there are lots of questions to the Minister.

SHIRLEY: In terms of whether this could work in Canberra in your view - depending on those questions being answered and whether there can be some sort of agreement reached on how a future regime would work - can it be a part of Canberra?

BRODTMANN: I understand the benefits of drones for emergency services, crisis and bush fire management, agricultural management, and also the benefits for rural and remote communities - particularly when it comes to the delivery of health services. But if we are going to a place where fast food, hydrolytes, coffee and croissants are being delivered by drones, we need to be having a conversation about it in the community. Not just here in Canberra, but in the broader Australian community, about whether this is the service we want from drones in the future.

SHIRLEY: Gai Brodtmann, they're strong thoughts on the responses you've received from people who live around the Tuggeranong region. We will see whether the Mitchell trial is delayed in any way, or whether it is going to go ahead as planned in a matter of days. Thank you for your time this morning.

BRODTMANN: Thanks very much, Adam.