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Monday, 22 September 1997
Page: 8028

Mr HICKS(4.16 p.m.) —I seek leave to move the motion appearing on the Notice Paper on behalf of the member for Lyne (Mr Vaile).

Leave granted.

Mr HICKS —I move:

That this House:

(1)   acknowledges the expansion of SBS television services to regional areas by the present Government;

(2)   notes that there is a significant number of people throughout rural and regional areas wishing to access the service; and

(3)   affirms its support for the continuation of the expansion program to areas not yet receiving the service across regional Australia.

In moving this motion on behalf of the member for Lyne (Mr Vaile), I start by saying that culturally rich and diverse broadcasting is the key to successful multicultural communication. The coalition remains strong in its commitment to multicultural broadcasting, which provides for a diversity in language, tradition and culture, and we are committed to retaining the Special Broadcasting Service as a separate entity.

The history of SBS in Australia dates back to 1975 with the development and transmission of a radio service which expanded into television in 1980. Since then SBS has grown to provide an excellent combination of multilingual and multicultural services which entertain, inform and educate all Australians, recognising the various cultural backgrounds of Australian society. In line with the coalition's pre-election commitment, the government has spent a further $10.63 million in expanding SBS television throughout regional Australia since being elected to office last year.

In the first round of funding, five regions benefited from this expansion commitment by the government. These included the regions of upper Murray, Grafton-Kempsey, upper Namoi, Central Tablelands and Rockhampton. It is estimated that an additional 700,000 people are receiving SBS television as a result of the coalition's latest expansion program into these regions. With these regions receiving the service, the coverage of SBS television across Australia has been lifted from 75 per cent to 79 per cent of the population.

As outlined in the coalition's communications policy, the government believes that as a national broadcaster SBS should be available to viewers across the country and the government is committed to ensuring that coverage is lifted to 100 per cent. The government is determined to reach that goal, and it will do so in the context of future budgets.

With this in mind I have made representations to the Minister for Communications and the Arts (Senator Alston) on behalf of the Junee community in my electorate where residents are anxious to access SBS television, which is already available to nearby Wagga Wagga. As part of the government's strategy to expedite the roll-out of the SBS television network, we will have particular regard to the demand demographics of the various unserved regions.

The demand for SBS television across Australia is very high. Where the previous government failed to expand the service into major regional centres, a number of local communities have paid for a self-help, low power service. Some of the areas that have taken this action include Griffith, Wagga Wagga, Taree, Young, Orange and Bathurst—to name just a few. Although it is some time since Griffith obtained SBS, I would like to congratulate Mr Tony Dal Gigante and his committee on their fundraising work. From memory, the cost was in the vicinity of $60,000, but other donations in kind were also received. No doubt this has been the practice in many other areas.

However, the ongoing cost of providing and maintaining the service is considerable and representations to the Minister for Communications and the Arts are continuing on behalf of the Griffith City Council to obtain some level of financial assistance, as was readily available to other centres that obtained the SBS television service without cost to the viewers. I am hopeful this situation will be addressed by the minister in future budgets.

Because of the large number of people living in regional areas from non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly in areas such as Griffith and on the mid North Coast, which is represented by the member for Lyne, we believe that interest in the SBS service has been substantial. This is one of the main reasons behind the government's commitment to expand SBS television through regional Australia.

Given the widespread community support and the government's firm promise to increase community access to SBS television, I encourage the minister to continue his efforts to ensure this promise comes to fruition. The coalition government and the minister have already achieved a great deal during the past 18 months in expanding SBS television services. I have every confidence this expansion program will proceed during the life of the current parliament and into the future.

Before I take my seat, I also congratulate SBS on their wonderful news service. I believe it is the best news service on television. It is not biased or bigoted in any way. They express the news as it is, without comment. I am sure I speak on behalf of members of this House when I congratulate SBS on the wonderful service they provide.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?

Mr Ronaldson —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.