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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 309

Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (15:19): I am grateful also for the opportunity to speak on the matters that have been brought to the attention of the Senate through the questions from senators McCarthy and Dodson. I appreciate the perspective they bring, coming from the communities they do, having spent a bit of time with those communities myself, particularly in the Northern Territory last year, and seeing firsthand some of the issues they face in that region.

I start with the answers from the Minister for Communications that Senator McCarthy was referring to. It is an interesting juxtaposition, I suppose you could say, with regard to what this question was getting at. On the one hand, the opposition demand the independence of the ABC, which the minister referred to in his answer—that the ABC has legislated independence—but, on the other hand, they demand that there be an intervention. I accept that there are concerns and issues around what is taking place with the cessation of the short-wave service. But you cannot have it both ways. The ABC Board, as the minister said, had gone through the process they needed to go through and had made a decision. In view of the reference to the ageing technology of the short-wave service and the cost of maintaining it, is it the best deal that the Northern Territory community can get? That is a question that I think remains unanswered.

In addressing this, I just wonder whether it is the ALP's plan to take back control of operational decisions made by the ABC Board. Is Senator McCarthy, in asking that question, insisting that Senator Fifield intervene; and, if so, is that what the Labor Party would do if they were returned to the treasury bench? On the point about budgetary constraints made by Senator McCarthy, Senator McCarthy said she spoke to the managing director of the ABC and claims that Ms Guthrie made claims that it was related to budget cuts, and I will be very interested in exploring that exact issue with her at Senate estimates in a couple of weeks time. But the minister said that this matter was not related to that. It is always interesting to hear what people have to say about these things, and, as I said, I will be interested to hear what Ms Guthrie has to say about it when we get the chance to speak to her about it.

The Minister for Communications did outline the transitional arrangements that the ABC is assisting with, including the provision of VAST satellite services to a number of organisations, including all Royal Flying Doctor Service bases, which I think is a vital and important part of making sure that communications still operate. The RFDS provide an incredibly important service right throughout that community affected. Also for all of the four-wheel drive radio clubs in the affected region, which will allow the rebroadcast of emergency or warning messages, which I think is important.

The minister did stress that this was not a decision taken lightly by the ABC. Indeed, he also expressed his views about the community reaction around the consultation process, so I think that must be taken into account. But, going back to the original point, we also need to take into account the independence of the ABC board and how they make their decisions. So I believe it is not entirely fair to come in here and say: 'Fix it! Go and fix it!' when there are legislated mechanisms around how the ABC make these decisions.

Turning briefly to the answers that Senator Dodson made a contribution on a little bit earlier, I think I can only reinforce the points made by Senator Paterson. The key one is around the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and the point that when we have knowledge about services being provided and the funds being provided it allows us to understand properly where we need to go from the current point in time. I think the point was made by Senator Paterson and indeed by the minister that there is always room for improvement, which I think is a very mature acknowledgement for any government minister or any senator to make. I think it is the right one. I do not think there is anyone sitting here saying, 'Yep, it's absolutely perfect.' I think Senator Paterson referred to it as policy nirvana with regard to this particular portfolio. It is important to note that this is about giving us that knowledge so that we know from here where to go. There is work to be done. I just think that we need to get some reason into our debates in this place and not demand what we cannot have. (Time expired)