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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11791

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) (10:20 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2002 makes various amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. These amendments:

· change the HDTV quota from a weekly to an annual quota;

· clarify the requirements for program content to be counted towards the HDTV quota;

· allow advertising and promotional material to count towards the quota; and

· delay the commencement date for the statutory review of HDTV quota arrangements.

These changes give effect to the government's 2001 election policy that it would consider amendments to the digital broadcasting regime in relation to HDTV arrangements.

The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 currently requires broadcasters to transmit 20 hours of HDTV content per week from two years after the commencement of the simulcast period in their area. The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2002, introduced to parliament last sittings, will have the effect of delaying the commencement of the HDTV obligations in mainland state capitals until 1 July 2003.

There is currently no provision for meeting the quota requirements by averaging content over a longer period than one week. This bill amends the requirements so that broadcasters are required to transmit at least 1,040 hours per annum of HDTV content—this is the annual equivalent of 20 hours per week. This will provide greater flexibility to broadcasters in the way in which they meet the quota and avoid situations where programming decisions that are not commercially sensible are made simply to satisfy the quota. At the same time, it will ensure that HDTV programming is available for people who wish to purchase HDTV receivers.

The current legislation does not indicate how non-HD material included in HD programming is to be accounted for in the HD quota. The bill makes it clear that, where only part of a television program meets the requirements of a HDTV program, only that part should be considered a HDTV program for the purposes of the HDTV quota obligations. In cases where HDTV programs contain an insubstantial amount of archival material, that material may be counted towards the total requirements for HDTV programming.

In addition to this, the bill also includes provisions making it clear that any advertising and sponsorship, community service announcements, station or program promotions, news breaks or weather bulletins or similar material broadcast during a HDTV program or part of a HDTV program can be counted for quota purposes. This is consistent with the administration of similar obligations under the Australian content standard.

The amendments contained in the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2002 mean that HDTV transmissions will not be required to commence until 1 July 2003. There would be very little experience on which to base the review if it were conducted at the time currently required, 1 January 2004. This bill therefore proposes that the review into HDTV quotas required by 1 January 2004 be delayed until 1 July 2005, two years after the commencement of HDTV requirements.

The government remains committed to HDTV as an important component in the digital television regime, and believes that it will continue to be one driver in the take-up of digital television. These amendments, in conjunction with the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Act (No.1) 2002, provide broadcasters with the flexibility required to meet commercial and programming demands.

The government will now be looking to broadcasters to provide a range of HDTV programming for consumers who wish to take advantage of the high quality viewing offered by HDTV. The onus will be on broadcasters to ensure that such programming is available on a consistent basis throughout the year. When it comes to review the HDTV regulatory arrangements, the government will consider the quantity and quality of HDTV programming which has been provided under these new flexible arrangements, and how this is meeting the expectations of existing and potential digital television viewers. I present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.