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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 504

Senator LEWIS(3.36) —The Senate has at last before it the statement of the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) in regard to additional commercial radio services in regional Australia and the two supplementary documents `Planning Program 1987-89' and `Outline of Planning Procedures for New Commercial Radio Services' referred to by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans). It is not until we get to the second last page of the ministerial statement that we finally get to an admission by the Minister for Communications that a log jam has developed in the supplementary licence process. That very simple admission at the bottom of page 12 is in fact an admission as to what a disaster there currently is in commercial radio services in regional Australia. For example, the report indicates:

. . . fifty thousand people in the rural areas north and south of Ipswich . . . have lacked a technically adequate commercial radio signal since the old Ipswich station . . . moved to Brisbane . . .

On page 12 the Minister says:

My statement today effectively sets the future course for commercial radio in regional areas but there is clearly a great deal of planning work yet to be done to fill in the details.

It is in fact the so-called planning, the bureaucratic interference, which has created this situation. Indeed the Department of Communications really has been saved on a number of occasions by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. One wonders what would have been happening around Australia without the Tribunal. The areas of Geelong, the Gold Coast, Gosford and Shepparton have been in need of at least one additional commercial station for many years. Finally the Minister has said that they will now receive some priority of planning. In other words, in 1987 they may get an additional commercial station, but then again they might have to wait until 1988 or 1989 for the inquiries which the Minister refers to in this statement to be completed. Of course all of this is nonsense. Indeed, much of the report is nonsense, as the Minister regurgitates the bureaucratic arguments for the regulation and control of the media. I suggest that the Minister should look at what his colleague, the Treasurer (Mr Keating), did in relation to the provision of additional banking facilities in this country. If the Minister could demand that his Department adopt a similar approach to the quagmire which holds back the provision of commercial radio services to regional Australia, something would be done and done with haste. The Minister also says in the statement that the Government wants to speed up the delivery of new commercial regional services by introducing competing services wherever possible, but in fact all he says in the statement is that he will introduce further regulatory controls for regional services. Indeed he does make reference in the statement to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He talks about the variety of services which the ABC will be able to provide, but of course we now know that what the ABC will provide throughout the evening will be rock and roll. I suggest that the Minister should ask the ABC to have a look at providing some decent alternative services around Australia.

Senator Puplick —Rock and roll is decent.

Senator LEWIS —I am not complaining that rock and roll is not decent for those who want to listen to it, but there are plenty of rock and roll stations around Australia. Why the ABC wants to get on to that bandwagon, I really do not know.

Senator Reid —Not in Canberra.

Senator LEWIS —My colleague from Canberra says: `Not in Canberra'. All right, let the ABC, through one of its stations, play rock and roll, but what about through the other one broadcasting, for example, Radio Australia? Then at least those of us who want to listen to some intelligent programs throughout the evening might be able to listen to a sensible program and not simply to some form of music which we can get on commercial radio. As I say, if we read the report from the Minister with the hindsight of what has been happening in the Department since this Minister took over, we will realise, as I said earlier, that all he is doing is regurgitating the bureaucratic arguments for the infinite control over every step which is taken in regard to the radio and, indeed, the television media throughout the country.

I do acknowledge that there is a need for control of the spectrum to ensure that one service does not interfere with another service. But I ask: Why is there a need for all of these other controls which the Minister not only continues but expands? I also acknowledge that after inordinate delays and confusion the Government appears finally to have resolved a plan for the next three years for additional commercial radio services for nearly 30 regional areas. I am sure that the industry will welcome that at last the Government has a plan for the future expansion of regional radio and has indicated some direction for the future, something that has been so sadly lacking since it took office.