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Tuesday, 18 November 1986
Page: 2381

Senator PUPLICK(3.36) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

Once again I enter a protest on behalf of the Opposition about the way in which the Government has presented what is in fact a major statement about the future of Australian commercial television. It has listed this matter as a paper which is to be subject to only five minutes of comment in this chamber rather than bringing it in properly as a ministerial statement and allowing the Senate to debate what in fact amounts to one of the most far-reaching decisions about the future of broadcasting in Australia. We may have the opportunity to discuss this when the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 1986 is before us. However, I once again protest that a major statement which will reshape the whole nature of television broadcasting in Australia has been brought in as a Government paper and put down as No. 6 on the list. Although I might have five minutes to discuss it, most other senators will not have the opportunity to participate in debating something which affects all of our constituents in a major fashion.

This in fact is the second chop at this undertaking. The Government some time ago announced a draft indicative plan for the way in which it would go about the so-called aggregation of television services in Australia. That ran into a great deal of difficulty and trouble. As a result, the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) has revised those plans. The original six aggregated or approved markets which were to be established have been reduced to four. There are very considerable problems with the nature of those four approved markets, in particular the market in Queensland, where the most extraordinary situation has developed. If one reads the description of the approved market in Queensland, one finds that we are to have a three-service market comprising the current service areas of Cairns-Townsville, Mackay, Maryborough, Rockhampton and Toowoomba-Warwick. It goes on:

Thus MVQ-

that is the Mackay station-

would serve Cairns, Townsville and Mackay; SEQ-

that is the Maryborough station-

would serve Rockhampton, Maryborough, and Darling Downs; RTQ-

that is the Rockhampton station-

would serve Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, and Rockhampton; DDQ/SDQ-

that is the Toowoomba-Warwick station-

would serve Maryborough and Darling Downs; and TNQ/FNQ-

that is the Cairns-Townsville stations-

would serve the whole market.

In fact within that one aggregated market there are three sub-markets. Some people will be allowed to broadcast into some areas but will be excluded from others. Some will be allowed to broadcast into all of the areas in that market.

There is then the establishment of a weird timetable whereby four approved markets are to be established. In sequence, the first of those is to be established in southern New South Wales in 1989, the second in Queensland in 1990, the third in northern New South Wales in 1991 and the fourth in Victoria in 1992. There is a new regime in place for Tasmania in which the Government is going to lean on the Tasmanian television stations to try to persuade the proprietors to sell one of them. The report at page 5, in dealing with the fact that in Launceston and Hobart the owners are the same, states:

The licensee will be invited to consider selling either the Hobart or Launceston licence by a set date to be announced.

If that does not happen a new player is to be introduced forcibly into the game. When one looks at some of these arrangements, it is not just a matter of expansion of market services. There are some existing licensees whose market service areas are to be reduced under this proposal. In other words, they are to have their commercial position adversely affected by this aggregation plan.

This whole attempt of the Government to reorganise commercial television operations in Australia in a way which will substantially assist what the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), Mr Barron and various other Labor tacticians have described as their natural mates and punish their natural enemies in the broadcasting area is something which does deserve a great deal more attention than we are capable of giving it this afternoon. I once again indicate that I do not think that statements of major policy which are introduced in this fashion should be put down as No. 6 on a list of papers, to be given five minutes attention, when in fact they remake the whole method by which commercial television is to be dealt with in Australia. They deserve a far greater and more extensive debate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.