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Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Page: 13474


Mr HUSIC (ChifleyGovernment Whip) (17:25): Before I begin my contribution, I do need to pick up on some of the comments made by the member for Bradfield. The issue he exhorted us to consider is that he did not wish to be verballed, but I think he did a pretty good job on verballing the minister and the government. Whereas those opposite have placed enormous emphasis on the benefit of wireless in the delivery of broadband in this country, we have sought moderation. By that I mean that as it currently stands today, and until there are potential improvements down the track—we are seeing the rollout of 4G networks that are promising much better speeds than what we have now—wireless technology has a place, but not overwhelmingly in the delivery of data or the delivery of broadband, particularly in heavily urbanised areas. Where we have sought to bring wireless or looking at putting that into the mix where network constraints, for instance the actual rollout of fibre, would not necessarily be the best method of getting broadband to people, wireless would be best in other parts of the country. In particular wireless will certainly fill a gap in regional areas where, for example, wireless does meet a problem in heavily urbanised areas where a great number of consumers on the network at any time, using a wireless network, will find that the speeds that they believe they are entitled to do not match reality. We have certainly not ruled out the use of wireless—we would incorporate it within the network—we just do not believe in the overall reliance upon it as those opposite would be—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Sorry to interrupt. If the member for Bradfield leaves we will not have a quorum and we will fall over so, if you need to leave, wait until someone comes to replace you. So either get the phone and ask them to send someone up or do not move. My apologies for the interruption to the member for Chifley.

Mr HUSIC: Do I get extra time on the clock? At any rate those opposite are worried about being verballed on wireless and I think it is important we set the record straight. We have had a very stirring defence of the OPEL contract. At no point in time, and it was borne out certainly in the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network hearings held in Sydney, did the 19 broadband plans put forward by those opposite ever have a cost-benefit analysis attached to anything they proposed, yet they are seeking to defend here and now the value of what they had previously put forward as valid and worthy public policy. We are certainly trying to fix once and for all, in a major way, the gaping hole that has existed in providing uniform access to the provision of high quality broadband—fast broadband. We are doing it. But within the context of what we are discussing here today this all gets caught up in the matters we are currently concentrating on in the course of this debate.

The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Review of Future Users of Broadcasting Services Bands Spectrum) Bill 2011 itself has been remarked upon and makes amendments to Broadcasting Services Act 1992. It is being reflected already, or noted, that it will amend 35A to reform the scope of the statutory review so it will consider the possible use of the broadcasting services band spectrum. Putting all that dry talk aside, what this is looking at in simple terms is how we allocate additional commercial TV broadcasting licences. There was a time in this country when such a debate would have caused a great amount of discussion in the public domain. Anything to do with the delivery of TV—who was controlling it, what we actually watched on TV—would have provoked a great deal of discussion. Where we are at right now is a reflection of how far things have moved, and a lot of this has moved as a result of people being able to exercise different content decisions—that is, the way they actually receive information, the way they interact in the public space through the internet. It has been an incredible thing to witness and we are truly a part of what right now is a phenomenal turn of events. We are looking at a whole range of mechanisms as to how we get information and how we relate to the outside world. Obviously this legislation that is before us is in part a recognition that there are a lot of examinations taking place right now about how technology is changing the way information is delivered.

The minister is convening the Convergence Review, which is an exceptionally timely review because it is looking at the policy and the regulatory framework as it exists within a rapidly changing industry environment. That review, being chaired by Glen Boreham, would look at how to best match policy regulation within the environment. Again I reflect on the fact that we are seeing amazing changes in terms of diversity of choice. Something that was mentioned earlier was the value of IPTV and other platforms available to people so that they can access what they view, whether it be through iTunes or through Netflix, and also the way that people may use the internet even for things such as listening to radio or being able to access other forms of media.

In these debates, particularly in terms of the impact of technology on society, we generally find that people are pessimists, believing that technology will have a detrimental effect, or optimists. And then there is a whole bunch of people who just get on with life and adapt to the technology around them. I stand as an optimist, believing that technology continually seeks to improve what people have available to them and that people willingly embrace that new form of technology. People are now actually calling for greater diversity of choice in what they have available to them. You can see it, for example, in digital TV. Broadcasters are recognising that people do want choice. They have seen it through pay TV and the multiplicity of channels available to viewers there. It is happening in digital TV and it is happening on the internet.

The member for Wentworth was reflecting earlier on the predictions of gloom and doom that had been made at a given point in time in relation to one particular broadcaster, Channel 10. He indicated that he did not necessarily believe that gloom and doom should be applied to Channel 10, and he was right. But he also indicated concern about what might happen in delivery of analysis through news. What happens to people who are journalists when the business model comes under increasing pressure within media outlets, particularly in the print media? What happens to the quality of analysis? What happens to the delivery of news and the way things are reported on? I have to say that view on what is happening in print conflicts with his rather optimistic view about broadcasting and what happened to broadcasters in years past. I am surprised by his degree of pessimism. If it is true that in a dynamic market people will fill the void when there is demand, then I think we will see evolution. We will not see the collapse of journalism as we know it today; we will see the use of technology combined with people's demand for quality. As a result of that we will see things evolve. People are themselves taking control of the way in which content is delivered. For example, most people have taken up the option of what is available on YouTube. I do not necessarily subscribe to the quality that exists via that channel, but what it has done is challenge the notion that the only way you get content is if you stick with TV and that commercial TV or public broadcasters are the only ones able to satisfy an appetite or a demand that might exist for content. That is effectively what is being recognised within the convergence review, which I referred to earlier. It is currently calling for public submissions and is looking at this whole issue. I will not go through all of the principles here but the noteworthy ones are, for example:

1. Citizens and organisations should be able to communicate freely, and where regulation is required, it should be the minimum needed to achieve a clear public purpose.

2. Australians should have access to and opportunities for participation in a diverse mix of services, voices, views and information.

3. The communications and media market should be innovative and competitive—

and, importantly—

6. Australians should have access to news and information of relevance to their local communities, including locally generated content.

The issue of content and the point that I made earlier about the pressures being borne by the current business models that exist within the media industry mean that we are having to make really hard decisions about how we will maintain local content quotas, the way in which we expect content will be provided, and how we will satisfy local demand while recognising that there is a great diversity of choice and expectation by people that they will be able to either hop onto the internet and look at what is happening on TV or listen to something different on radio and be able to participate in that. So it is not just a one-way street.

There is also recognition within the convergence review that our regulatory framework in the past has operated within silos. I liken it to former Prime Minister Paul Keating, when he was Treasurer back in 1986, commenting on the fact that you could be either a prince of print or a queen of screen. That debate on cross-media ownership back in the 1980s really reflected our view back then that there was regulation for print and regulation for broadcast and that there was not much convergence. In fact, the convergence review itself recognises that there is a great degree of mixing of mediums and that people will need to cross over a variety of mediums to exist in the modern world. Certainly that review, which is expected to be brought down in March next year, will be critical in shaping the way that we respond to technology in a policy and regulatory sense.

The bill before us now is sensible. I think we on the government side welcome the opposition's support for it, because it is common sense to wait for the convergence review to finish and report to government and to then make decisions about the future use of spectrum. As others have remarked in this debate, the spectrum itself is of critical importance to the country. Decisions about allocation need to be made sensibly. We need to balance a range of interests, and certainly in terms of whether an additional channel comes online we do need to make that decision in the context of what might come up in the convergence review.

Certainly, and at the end of it all, I am very optimistic about the way in which we need to balance a whole range of decisions—the types of issues being dealt with in the convergence review and the power of technology that will further liberate what Australians can do locally but also what they are able to showcase to the world. Obviously people want to know where they are getting their information from, the interests that are behind that information and the transparency required. Ultimately, people want to have a lot more control and choice and they want to have the freedom to express themselves and take advantage of technology that is available a lot more these days. Certainly this bill is very mindful of that, as is the convergence review. I am looking forward to the release of the convergence review and, ultimately, the response to the review. I commend this bill to the House.