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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1215

Senator FORSHAW (2:06 PM) —Mr President, my question is directed to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. I ask, can the minister inform the Senate of progress towards digital switchover in the Mildura-Sunraysia region. How many households have made the switch to digital television and is the region on track to meet the switchover date of 30 June this year?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Forshaw for that question. I am pleased to report that Mildura is absolutely on track to lead the nation to a digital switchover on 30 June this year. Digital television offers improved picture and sound quality and greater program choice with access to new digital channels such as Network Ten’s ONE, Nine’s GO!, 7Two, ABC2, ABC3 and SBS2. The switch to digital-only television will also bring significant social and economic benefits as it will free up scarce spectrum which can be used for a range of new communications services, such as high-speed wireless broadband.

This morning my department released the results of the latest digital tracker survey, which measures the take-up of digital television across Australia. The tracker shows that in the Mildura-Sunraysia region 79 per cent of households had already converted to digital TV by the end of 2009, which was an increase of nine percentage points over the year. I am delighted to report that since the last survey closed on 15 December there has been a massive six per cent increase in take-up in that region. The latest information shows that 85 per cent of households in the Mildura-Sunraysia district have converted to digital television. The Digital Switchover Taskforce is undertaking a range of local meetings and campaigns to ensure that everyone in Mildura is fully informed about how to make the switch and when that switch will occur. The government has also appointed a community liaison officer in Mildura so people have someone on the ground they can talk to about switching over. (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I appreciate the information provided by the minister. Can he provide further information about the provision of digital television to people in black spots in the Mildura-Sunraysia area and what measures are being taken to ensure that no-one will lose their television signal when the switch to digital occurs?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Under an agreement with broadcasters which I announced on 5 January this year, the government is ensuring that no viewers will lose their television reception as a result of the switch to digital-only broadcasting. Moreover, the switch to digital will mean that viewers in regional Australia will, for the first time, receive the same number of channels as people in the cities. The commercial broadcasters have agreed to upgrade the self-help transmitter at Underbool in the Mildura-Sunraysia region. Broadcasters have also agreed to build an entirely new transmission facility at Ouyen, where residents have for many years received extremely limited television services. Negotiations between broadcasters and the local council to upgrade the analog self-help site have commenced. (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister provide the Senate with information about the government’s measures to ensure that all people in the Mildura-Sunraysia region, including the elderly and other vulnerable groups, are able to make the switch to digital television?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The government recognises that some people may require practical assistance to switch over to digital TV. That is why we have put in place a household assistance scheme. The scheme will at no cost to eligible households supply, install and demonstrate a set-top box specifically chosen to meet the needs of the elderly and those with a disability and will conduct any necessary cabling and antenna work. The scheme commenced in the Mildura TV licensed area on 18 January this year. As of last Friday, 19 February, more than 1,200 appointments had been made through Centrelink for accredited installers to provide assistance under the scheme to households in the Mildura-Sunraysia district. Those installers have already completed 712 installations under the household assistance program in the Mildura-Sunraysia region. (Time expired)