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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10162

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (09:45): I rise to speak yet again on the matter of poor digital television reception in many parts of my electorate of Paterson. I have continually called on the government to deal with this problem and, despite numerous attempts to convey the urgency of this matter to the minister, the government has been asleep at the wheel and has failed to respond to this serious matter.

In recent weeks as the warmer weather has arrived, the level of complaints regarding digital television reception in my electorate has risen in conjunction with the temperature and, as summer approaches, the experience of those constituents who are fortunate enough to receive any digital television signal is that their reception will go from bad to worse.

We are fast approaching a potential 'winter of discontent' for my constituents. The proposed date for switching on digital television in my electorate is sometime between 1 July 2012 and 31 December 2012. Naturally, many of my constituents are becoming increasingly worried about whether they will have any television reception at all after the switch-off of analog. The people of Paterson are concerned that they will be left in the dark when analog is switched off, and that is because the government was telling my constituents back in 2009, three years before the transition from analog to digital was due to take place, to 'get digital ready' when, for many, no such signal exists.

When the Labor government began its multimillion dollar advertising blitz encouraging viewers to 'get digital ready', many of my constituents who had little or no television reception took its advice and invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars on new digital television sets. This campaign was not only a highly irresponsible waste of taxpayers' funds; it also has resulted in many of my constituents spending considerable sums of money on set-top boxes and new digital televisions only to find that no digital television reception exists at their location. All my constituents have ever asked for is adequate digital television. They do not want all the spin and slick advertising campaigns. My constituents need decent services now. Despite repeated calls to Senator Conroy to upgrade self-help sites throughout my electorate, the Gillard government continues to sit on its hands.

The only other alternative for Paterson residents—which comes at a far higher cost—is the Viewer Access Satellite Television, or VAST. At present, this subsidised satellite system is available only in areas where analog reception has already been switched off. Under these arrangements, my constituents will be unable to access subsidised satellite services until late 2012 when analog is switched off in the greater Hunter region. Although my preferred option is to upgrade the existing analog towers, a rollout of the VAST system will provide much-needed digital television signal to black spots throughout my electorate. I accept that for some viewers VAST will be the only option to receive digital television reception. That is why, late last year, I called on Senator Conroy to make VAST available immediately. Once again, the government has ignored this request.

My constituents deserve much better services from their government. This government has failed them desperately.