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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 310

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (15:24): I also rise to take note of the answers provided to Senators McCarthy and Dodson by Senators Fifield and Scullion on the cessation of ABC's short-wave radio and the poor management of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy grants. What these senators on my left were asking were simple questions—which I think could have been given very clear answers, but were not—on critical services that apply to rural and regional Australia and also to Indigenous Australians. They were very simple questions and they both were at the heart of clear problems with the Abbott-Turnbull government's cuts to vital services and lack of consultation. We see that very clearly.

The cessation of the short-wave radio service is yet another example of Prime Minister Turnbull's confusion over innovation and reality. The ABC and the government have displayed a complete lack of understanding of the services in communications that are available to people in remote outback Australia. People have been told that they should subscribe to the new viewer access satellite TV, satellite phones and internet services. But this advice completely misses the point that these services are scratchy at best and are not available to people on the move. As Minister Scullion surely knows and as I would hope Minister Fifield knows, it can take many hours to travel from one end of one property to another, and if the weather is inclement satellite services may not even work across that journey. It is as though the ministers expect the people of remote Northern Territory to travel the countryside in a massive bus akin to the one in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, with a huge, outrageous satellite on the top. It is not the reality of what we would expect.

Because of the campaigning of Senator McCarthy and our colleagues in the lower house, Mr Gosling and Mr Snowdon, the government was forced to at least make a comment on this issue. But late in the peace, just a few weeks before the short-wave service was to be cut, Minister Scullion made a late attempt to save face with his constituents in the outback. But his worth in cabinet must be questioned because all his colleague Minister Fifield can do is blame the ABC for a decision that this government made to cut that back. Both ministers have a very shorty memory about their budget cuts to the ABC, but they are trying to hide the fact that under their watch $254 million have been cut from the ABC's budget. Now all they can say about these services is, 'It's the ABC's decision.' Of course the ABC has to make decisions around budget cuts when the cuts are coming from this government.

It is also important to note that this cut to short-wave services—as I think Senator McCarthy made reference to—does not just affect Australians. Millions of people in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and right across the breadth of the South Pacific rely also on short-wave radio for information on natural disasters—this is an area which we know has a number of these—and news about the world. At a time when China, New Zealand, the UK and Germany are expanding their short-wave services into the Pacific, the Turnbull government sleeps at the wheel and completely lacks any understanding of the availability of digital satellite technology in remote communities across the Pacific and across the top of Australia. Do the minister and the Prime Minister seriously believe that people in remote villages on Pacific islands have access to digital radios? Come on. It is a critical time for Australia and the Pacific, with the referendum in Bougainville coming up, with the withdrawal of RAMSI in the Solomon Islands and with the push by China and other people to increase their influence. And yet this government cuts off our direct line to the people. For what? A total saving for the ABC of $1.8 million. It is outrageous.

The ABC and the government have claimed that another reason for ending the short-wave service is a lack of understanding about the number of listeners. And yet there is evidence from Papua New Guinea that over 20 per cent of that population listen to Radio Australia either on the day of that survey or the day before. Minister Fifield spent a lot of time blaming the ABC board for this decision. I think it is time that the ministers in this government stood up and represented the people in those communities and listened to the people in those communities about their needs. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.