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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 3029

Mr SECKER (9:48 AM) —I want to speak today on something that has been a bone of contention with many of my constituents in Barker but particularly those in Mount Gambier and also the Barossa and, more specifically, Angaston. The government plans to introduce some legislation into the House today regarding digital television which is a massive turnaround from what it had proposed initially. I note the member for Braddon would be well aware that, if his residents, like mine, were missing out on their TV services, they certainly would not be very happy chappies. The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy had recently dismissed legitimate concerns of regional residents and the government seemed to have a very careless attitude towards improving their services. I called on the minister numerous times to give regional Australia a better deal, and this legislation is certainly a step in the right direction. I think it is important that you give credit where credit is due.

I hear all the time from my constituents in Mount Gambier that they have a bit of a raw deal down there, and quite rightly as they currently receive only two channels, whereas most of the rest of Australia receive three or more commercial stations. The government has proposed that the broadcasters will have to roll out this full suite of channels or the residents will go to satellite. This is a pretty big stick against the broadcasters that I have to say I am not entirely comfortable with, but if it achieves what we want then we will have to consider that.

The proviso is that the channels will only be in standard definition to start off with. I hope very much that the changeover to high definition happens quite soon after, but I do have concerns about how long it will take. The minister’s office has suggested that it will be only a matter of months, and I will certainly keep the minister to that. The infrastructure involved in this sort of upgrade will be quite costly, and I will be keen to know some definite time lines, which I hope the minister will be providing.

For Mount Gambier residents this is a good thing. For areas such as Angaston and the Barossa, where I also get a lot of complaints about reception, it is not such good news at this stage. The signal there is touch and go and, where analog would perhaps be fuzzy, digital will drop out altogether. In these areas, residents will have to apply for satellite services. Again, from the minister’s office I understand that they will be given the benefit of the doubt, but I have concerns here also that the residents will not in fact come out in front. I am keen that the government take the concerns of rural and regional Australia seriously and take measures to rectify what was a very dim future for digital services in these areas to ensure residents are provided with a service of the same standard as that of their city counterparts.