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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 3020

Mr JULL(8.33) —The Broadcasting (Ownership and Control) Bill and the Communications Legislation Amendment Bill are the most significant pieces of legislation concerning the television industry we have had since 1956. My time to speak on the legislation has also been cut down. The histrionics of the television industry have been mentioned in the debate tonight and I certainly will not repeat them. However, I have been fascinated to hear the diversity of views expressed in the debate by honourable members on both sides of the House. I think it would be true to say that underlying the thoughts of many honourable members is a concern about the effect of this legislation. I can understand that. I would not be honest if I did not also say that I have a few concerns about what the legislation is all about.

I am trying to cast my mind forward to picture what the television industry will look like in two to three years time. The only thing I can see is a very sharply defined networking of the three commercial television stations. I wonder whether we have all thought out exactly what that will mean. If this legislation gets through the consequence will be that the network corporations will make sure that they have the major metropolitan stations wrapped up. The ramifications of that for the future of the industry could be quite alarming.

I am delighted that the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Charles) is in the House. One of the things he referred to in his speech earlier this evening was the future of Australian programming. The point he made was very salient. There must be fears on the part of honourable members on both sides of the House as to what exactly we are letting ourselves in for. I know that an inquiry into Australian programming is coming up soon. I trust that this area will be one of the areas to be addressed by the inquiry. It concerns me to see what has happened at HSV7. The honourable member for Streeton (Mr Lamb) has pointed that out. Three years down the track we will have a great number of slave stations around Australia. I am concerned that if we go along the line of this legislation virtually the entire television industry will be centred in Melbourne, where the major station will feed out its particular signal. I have concern for the hundreds, indeed the thousands, of people who are employed in television stations around Australia-people with a great deal of talent. What will their future be if we go down this path?

There is some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the electronic media in years to come because ultimately, in under a decade, this legislation will probably become quite irrelevant. As the new technology catches up with us we will have some amazing opportunities to get a diversity of media ownership and control greater than we could probably ever imagine. That is good, but in the short term I do not think we will be without problems. I also have some concern about what might happen in the regional areas of Australia. It is a fact that the networks have a capacity to tie up sources of program production and to go out into the regional areas and put the screws on regional operators to take programs. They have a capacity to go overseas and choose the best overseas product that is available and then, perhaps, feed it out to some of the regional stations. I wonder what will happen to the viability of some of these regional areas, even though they might be aggregated. That is one of the things we should be terribly concerned about.

We have to make absolutely sure that we continue to promote the concept of localism as much as we possibly can. I have worked in the industry, as has the honourable member for Isaacs. We know how the networks have operated-under pretty loose arrangements. But they were tough and they were tight, and they did not give too much sway to anybody. When we have the super-networks the competition will be even more fierce. As I have said, down the track we will have opportunities to open things up. By virtue of the tremendous electronic advances that are being made-such as fibre optics interplay, the greater use of satellites and pay television-we may have the opportunity of blowing the whole thing wide open and starting to get diversity. They tell me that in the United States at the moment fibre-optics has reached the stage where it will not be too many years down the track before we have the capacity to use fibre-optics to beam about 960 separate television programs into the home. That is a frightening prospect. It will give us all sorts of options in terms of providing information. The entertainment and information components will certainly be there. At last we will have the opportunity to provide things such as educational television. But that is a decade down the track. At present we are tying up the industry very tightly indeed, which we should be very concerned about.

Of the 11 pieces of legislation we have had in this House since 1985 concerning the electronic media-in less than two years-this legislation undoubtedly is the most significant. I do not think anybody would doubt that change was necessary. Thirty years down the track the two-station rule became quite ridiculous and had to go. I suppose it would be very easy for me to argue, like the honourable member for Streeton did, the case for 43 per cent. The figure we have been given is 75 per cent and maybe we are stuck with it. In the short term we will not be without problems. We have to start making detailed planning proposals as to what we are going to do with the new technology.

What worries me at the moment-it worried me when we were in government-is the capacity of governments, Ministers and departments to go ahead and try to form some concept of what the electronic revolution is going to be all about. I am not convinced that Australia has realised the full ramifications of the new technology. I am sure that we do not realise what might be available to us. We should be making those detailed planning proposals. We should be looking at all the technology options. We should be having inquiries to find out what will be available and what we should be doing, rather than tying ourselves into this old technology. That we will be tied in so very tightly to that technology, which in the short term will be detrimental to the industry as we know it today, concerns me. My plea is for this Government and future governments to start working out the strategies of how best we can use some of that new technology.

The purpose of the associated legislation before the House tonight is to impose a moratorium on pay television. I do not know whether that is a very good idea at all. I would rather hope that we would be encouraging people to look at particular propositions. I would rather hope that we would be looking towards the initial installation of cable television because fibre optics are not too far away. We have a lot more options available through cable television than we have now. We should be looking at the ramifications of satellites, whether we will have any capacity to control television signals in the years to come. We should be trying to get our act together so that we do not make the mistakes in the planning for future radio and television that I think Australia has made in the last four decades. So it is with some reservations that I talk about this legislation.

I sincerely hope that if we get the super-networks in place there will be a sense of responsibility by the people who control them for the future of the Australian television industry, especially the production industry. We have the capacity to make good television programs. I hope we do not squeeze ourselves out of the Australian market and also out of the world market because the potential is tremendous. I hope that legislation will not put us into a hole that we will find difficult to get out of in the short term.