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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7107


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (9:13 PM) —One matter of interest in the communications sector in this budget is the lack of assistance or the lack of progress in regard to captioning for television. Over the last decade there have been some gestures in this direction around the question of SBS and ABC but it has largely been left to the commercial stations to see what effort they would make. We have a very sorry situation in this country at the moment. In comparison with the United States, where 95 per cent of programs are now captioned, and with the United Kingdom, where it is on 50 per cent, the Australian level is still 15 per cent and that is after 16 years of allowing the industry to see what progress they can make.

I want to commend the activity of a constituent in the adjacent electorate of Parramatta, Mr Nick Tayeh, who, in the last session of parliament, produced the latest 35,000 signatures on a petition now of 123,000 Australians who wish to see a greater effort by commercial television and by the government in basically putting a bit of enthusiasm into commercial television to increase captioning.

This problem is very serious for a large number of Australians. A 1995 ABS analysis concluded that at that stage 1.7 million Australians were either deaf or suffered hearing impairment. One has to add to that list of those that will be assisted the large numbers of non-English speaking background Australians who, essentially, because of pronunciation problems and other difficulties, are actually assisted by captioning on TV. So it is not only for those who are directly affected by hearing impairment, but also for those people who have English as a second language.

The reason we trail the United States has been the level of intervention by government. It is surprising when we look at the United States and its general image that over there it is the people making the programs who are responsible under 1996 US legislation and that after 1 January 1998 all programs have to be made fully accessible. In the United Kingdom from 1996 under their Broadcasting Act all digital terrestrial has had to caption. So there has been a significant effort in those countries. It is also interesting to note that in this country, when a commercial television station decides to go ahead of the pack and do something about it, cost is not a significant problem. In reality, Channel 7 is acknowledged as putting a bigger effort into this and preparing for a stage when the government is going to require activity.

I want to emphasise the efforts on this matter of Nick Tayeh, who is an elderly person who essentially became interested because of his own son's difficulties. He has got 123,000 signatures and he has made this effort at times in pouring rain, and it has affected his health on some occasions. His latest thrust is a concern with the upcoming Olympics. We will see a lot of hoopla and hyperbole about the Olympics, but he drives home the reality that the people who cannot hear television are going to be isolated to hearing only the opening and closing ceremonies. Quite frankly, that is not a very satisfactory outcome for those people. The two things he is driving for at the moment are: that all television programs and videos in Australia be captioned for the year 2000, including the Olympic Games, for the benefit of deaf and hearing impaired people; and that from the year 2000 all television sets made in Australia must have a Teletext facility built into them.

This is a matter that has not been in mainstream debate in Australia. We have allowed the commercial television stations to make their own rules, their own progress, to get around to it when they feel like it. The amount of money involved in this is nowhere near as significant as to actually stop progress. We have seen that, in other countries where there has been a degree of government pressure and there have been different means of doing that, progress has been made. So I hope that, in the next few years, governments of whatever variety ensure that there is increased access for these people, that they are not condemned to only knowing the news and a few current affairs programs and that they do get a wider opportunity to experience television.