Standing up for Canberra

Transcript: Breakfast with Dan Bourchier

DAN BOURCHIER: Last week we heard about the expansion of the drone delivery trial in Canberra to cover several of the northern suburbs, and this comes after there has been the trial in the south that has raised quite a bit of concern. Project Wing, which is owned by Alphabet - the same parent company as Google - has secured a new warehouse in Mitchell.

But this comes before the ACT Assembly inquiry over safety and privacy concerns and community disquiet over the first trial in Bonython. And also, it came on the same day as we heard the Chief Minister say there wasn't a lot of power the ACT Government had on this front. On Friday, we had a chat with Project Wing CEO, James Ryan Burgess, here's a little of what he had to say.

*Sound clip*

JAMES RYAN BURGESS: We are aware of these complaints. There are a small number of residents in Bonython who have been highly organised and voiced their complaints repeatedly to us, and we welcome that.

I don't know if we have exact numbers off the top of my head, but it's been roughly about 10 percent negative versus the positive responses. It's about 160 trialers who are using our services in Bonython and we have 800 or 900 more who are interested in seeing the service come to their suburb in the surrounding Tuggeranong area.

So we have a lot of controls and systems in place to ensure privacy of the community, that's something very important to us. And likewise, as mentioned, we've heard the feedback that the noise is bothersome to a few of the residents, despite the fact that, by a decibel metre, it's actually less-loud than a car. We still want to make sure that the sound is pleasing, and it's not disruptive to the community. So we're going to be working on new aircraft design for that.

BOURCHIER: That's James Ryan Burgess, the Project Wing CEO. Gai Brodtmann is the Member for Canberra and her office has been fielding complaints on this. Gai Brodtmann is here, good morning. Just how many complaints have you had?

GAI BRODTMANN, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Thanks very much Dan. I would have thought, given that this is a trial, that James Ryan Burgess would have had a bit more detail and would have been a bit more diligent on keeping statistics on it. I have been keeping statistics on it.

In terms of people that have written to me or phoned my electorate office - we've had 124 people who have been in touch. 19 are positive on the Project Wing trial, 91 are negative and 14 are neutral. In terms of the issues that they've raised, noise is the biggest with 47 people having complained about the noise, 27 about privacy, 12 about wildlife, 15 concerned about pets, and then there are legality concerns and the commercial issues, as well as risk to safety and the heights being below standards.

They are the people that have written to me or been in touch with the electorate office, but I've also had people coming up to me at my mobile offices and my coffee catch-ups, in the street and when I'm at the supermarket, raising their concerns and saying, “keep on the campaign”. So we're looking at probably 200 plus who have come to me.

BOURCHIER: This is red hot issue, not as we heard from Project Wing, to quote him, "a small group who are highly organised, and a few of the residents". This sounds like it could be a bit more wide spread than that. 

BRODTMANN: It is more wide spread. Those people that have phoned me or written to me are largely from the Bonython area. But, as I said, there are people at mobile offices and coffee catch-ups and conversations in the street that are from the broader Canberra community.

BOURCHIER: What do you make of this, given this is a trial that we've seen underway? And what does this say to you about the communication?

BRODTMANN: I have been concerned about the lack of consultation with the community and a lack of transparency about the approval process and also the lack of transparency about what is actually happening with the data. In terms of the concerns of the Bonython residents, I understand there was a letterbox drop to some households - but not all - and it was all about notification of the trial, it wasn't about consultation.

In terms of the approval process, I've had a number of questions about why the trial was granted an exemption, who granted the exemption, did the Minister grant the exemption and on what grounds, and for how long was the exemption granted. Also, despite Project Wing's assurances on its website, we're still not clear on what data is being collected, the cyber security of the data, who's going to see the data and why the data is being stored offshore, who has access to the data during the 30 days of storage and after the 30 days of storage. These are concerns I've had since I've been contacted by the community.

BOURCHIER: We also heard there, James Ryan Burgess, saying the noise was very low, in fact lower that a car. But, that's certainly not the information we are hearing from residents, is it?

BRODTMANN: That was the number one issue - noise was the number one issue. The second concern was privacy. He was also pretty vague about the exemptions, which I find rather concerning given that he is running the trial, and he wasn't clear on the details of the exemptions.

I've gone to the instrument signed by Shane Carmody, who is the Director of Aviation Safety at Civil Aviation and Safety Authority - this was on 29 June this year - the exemptions are operating near people, they're around operating over populous areas, and they're around compliance with documented practices and procedures. What was also interesting was the instrument is repealed at the end of 31 May next year. To me, that suggests there is a beginning and end date to this trial, which Project Wing has again been vague on.

We've finally got a date of February next year, but this instrument is repealed in May next year. I'm calling for an independent review. We've got this independent inquiry happening at the ACT Legislative Assembly, but unfortunately that's not due to report until the last sitting week in 2019 - that is the last date it can report on.

My view is we need an independent review, by one of the federal regulators - either the Privacy Commissioner or CASA - on this trial. CASA gave the exemptions to these regulations, so my view is, there should be an independent review by one of these regulatory agencies, whether it be the Privacy Commissioner or CASA, on the range on issues that have been raised - around consultation, around privacy, around what's actually happening with the data, and around the approval processes. We need greater transparency around this.

BOURCHIER: Are you comfortable with the next stage of the trial happening before that sort of an inquiry gets off the ground - if it does at all - because we know they've got space in Mitchell in a warehouse, and that's looking to be the next focus?

BRODTMANN: Again, my view is there should be an independent review of this trial in Bonython. Now that we have an end date, there should be an independent review before we move onto the next phase, before there is any expansion, to actually look at the lessons learned. To consult with the community about their views on it. To go through the detail about what is happening to the data, and to answer some of those questions about the data and the privacy issues.

BOURCHIER: Clearly there is a demand for this, and we've seen services like these very popular abroad. Outside of the concerns that you've heard, is it something you think that should happen, given there are people that are wanting to take part in this trial?

BRODTMANN: I understand the benefits of drones for emergency services, crisis and bushfire management, and agriculture management. I also understand the benefits of drones for rural and remote communities, particularly when it comes to delivery of health services.

In terms of what is being planned - in delivery of fast food, hydrolytes - I think we do 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 that we want from drones in the future. Yes, there are all sorts of innovative opportunities that drones provide, but are these the types of services that we want them providing in the future?

BOURCHIER: If they don't expand here, they'll likely go somewhere else. How do you balance that out?

BRODTMANN: That's the issue. That's why we need to be having the conversation here in Canberra. We also need to be having a conversation as a nation. There was an inquiry done at the Parliamentary level that reported in June this year. There are a number of interesting lessons learned, and a number of good recommendations on that. If this is the way of the future, then we as a community - here in Canberra, and we as Australians - need to be having a conversation about, is this what we want for the future?

BOURCHIER: You're listening to Gai Brodtmann, the Member for Canberra. We're talking about drone deliveries, and the number of complaints - 124 that Gai Brodtmann has received. Breaking down the numbers - 47 concerned about the noise, 27 about privacy, 15 about pets, 12 about wildlife and some other issues in the mix as well. Gai Brodtmann has just called now for an independent review before the second stage of this trial goes on. Gai Brodtmann, in addition to that, is it appropriate for the ACT to be inquiring into this if it's not in their purview of powers, if this is a matter for Commonwealth bodies?

BRODTMANN: Looking at the Terms of Reference, they are focussed on a range of opportunities in the ACT, but also the impact of the drone delivery trial on residents in the trial area, and native wildlife and domestic animals. It has come in response to community concern about the issue and it is covering off a range of ACT issues as well.

They are looking at the regulatory oversight of drone technology at various levels of government, including at the ACT level, but also at the federal level. That's why I think CASA needs to be involved in this, in terms of an independent review - its own independent review - CASA, or the Privacy Commissioner, or both.

BOURCHIER: Many thanks for your time this morning, we will stay in touch with you on this one. Appreciate you joining us.

BRODTMANN: Thanks very much Dan.