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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2149


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (16:58): I seek leave to take note of the answer from Senator Conroy concerning the Special Broadcasting Service.

Leave granted.

Senator LUDLAM: I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I will be very brief. This is a response to a motion that I put up, which I am pleased to say was passed unanimously by all in the Senate last November, relating to SBS. It happened, Senator Marshall, because SBS is a much-loved institution, and I think there is cross-party support—and I will not say bipartisan support, because there are many more than two parties present in this parliament—for the role of SBS. The SBS has a proud history as Australia's second national broadcaster.

The resolution noted that in Australia there are twice as many people speaking languages other than English than there were 30 years ago when the broadcaster was formed. The motion called on the government to consider whether the resources allocated to SBS are sufficient to allow it to fulfil its mandate and take full advantage of the education, employment and creative opportunities provided by digital multichannelling and the National Broadband Network.

I was pleased to get a motion up that goes directly to the government's budget considerations in the run-up to this budget with an acknowledgement that perhaps it is time that SBS gets a look-in. Regrettably—and I think it would be a surprise to most Australians—we are starving the broadcaster to death. The decision many years ago to allow SBS to broadcast commercials was criticised at the time. It has degraded viewer experience and now it is coming back to bite the station. Due to the advent of digital commercial multichannels, stations are bidding up the price of content and bidding down the cost of advertising. So the station is really suffering. Its forecast advertising revenue growth has stagnated and is predicted to decline quite steeply as competition with a much larger range of large commercial broadcasters starts to bite.

Ironically enough, the arrival of the commercial multichannels was smoothed with surprisingly generous public subsidy to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars in waived licence fees for two years. The Greens believe—and we were very pleased to have the support of the chamber—that it is essential in the next funding triennium to reverse the tide of commercialisation before declining advertising revenues and rising viewer discontent force a crisis on the broadcaster. I may be verballing us collectively in the chamber because the motion did not go directly to those words, but the sentiment was that SBS has earned and deserves our support as the nation's second public broadcaster. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. I was really pleased to be at an event hosted last week where producers and creative people from SBS were brought together to sing the praises of the broadcaster and pitch to us the importance of its remaining on air.

In addition, to thrive in an increasingly crowded and converging media market, SBS requires an injection of funds and above and beyond that sufficient to end in-program advertising. It is time we really gave this station the resources that it deserves to help phase out the influence of commercial advertising, which has become a liability for the station, and provide it with a substantial injection of funds so it can do what it has been doing with a great deal of affection from the Australian people for 30 years. I thank the chamber again for support for this motion in November. I thank the minister for this comment and I look forward to budget night.

Question agreed to.