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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1875

Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(9.55) —in reply-I thank honourable members, with the specific exception of the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony), for their contributions to the debate tonight. It is indeed a welcome change to have the bipartisan approach which we have seen tonight. That is, of course, appreciated by us all. The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd ) raised, among other matters, the question of the enforcement of standards and standards generally. As he indicated, the standard making powers are at the heart of the regulatory regime established by the radiocommunications Bill. I think the problems in respect of sub-standard transmitters should be dealt with just briefly in relation to the whole question of standards. The offences arising out of the use of sub-standard equipment are dealt with in clause 11 of the Bill.

Other honourable members tonight have raised the question of interference. I think it is worth looking at some of the interference that is caused by the use of sub-standard transmitters and giving some examples of the matters which concerned the previous Government and concern this Government. For example, the use of an industrial radio frequency heater for drying wool blacked out television reception and mobile radio services over a substantial area of Launceston, Tasmania. In Carlton, Victoria, a small plastic goods manufacturer used a radio frequency heater to seal goods, blacking out local television reception, and refused to make relatively inexpensive equipment modifications which would have solved the problem. Those sorts of matters go on and on. There are very many examples. I think those people who have participated in the debate tonight are sufficiently interested in the subject to know about them, therefore I will not go through them. That is really at the heart of the need for standards and controls about which this Government is concerned, as was the previous Government. That is basically why this legislation was introduced.

The honourable member for Murray referred to the Customs Act in relation to imports. He referred specifically to telephone handsets. I point out that Telecom Australia sets standards by certification under the Telecommunications Act. It is not actually a matter to be dealt with in this legislation.

Mr Lloyd —I realise that. I was interested to know the attitude.

Mr DUFFY —I appreciate that the honourable member is aware of it. I just wanted to point out that that was the case. The point made by the honourable member in relation to the Customs Act probably deserves consideration but the worst cases are dealt with anyway on the basis of equipment not being able to be imported. We are, of course, concerned about inferior standards getting through the net. I take note of that specific point but, as the honourable member has indicated, it is not related specifically to this legislation.

The honourable member for Murray then raised the objections from the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations and the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters of which, as the honourable member for Murray would know, I am aware. They have made their views known. In an industry sense they are organisations which make their views known, as they should. I think the honourable member indicated that Parliamentary Counsel made some last minute changes to the Bill, covering unlicensed transmissions. Because unlicensed broadcasting is covered by the Wireless Telegraphy Act and was to be covered by the Radiocommunications Bill and because of legal drafting problems it was decided to remove this offence from this Bill and to provide a consequential amendment placing it in the Broadcasting and Television Act. For consistency the wording in the Broadcasting and Television Act amendment follows closely the wording of the Radiocommunications Bill, and FACTS indicated that it had some reservations about this change. It considers that the reasonable excuse which condones an unlicensed broadcast, if it deals with an emergency involving a serious threat to the environment, is unacceptable. That was the main issue that FACTS raised with the Government. It put the view that it could encourage illegal broadcasting in certain circumstances, and FARB, the other industry body , also indicated to the honourable member for Murray that it was unhappy with this provision. I think that the Natural Disasters Organisation also expressed the reservation that well meaning people broadcasting in an emergency could sometimes do more harm than good. However, in relation to this matter which I raise for the information of honourable members, the Director-General of the Natural Disasters Organisation indicated that he does not feel strongly on this matter.

I must say that the opposition from FACTS and FARB did not really come with the normal vehemence that it may have come with if those organisations had been really concerned about the matter. They expressed the view which, I can assure the honourable member for Murray, we did not ignore. I do not think the issue was one of enormous substance. For example, on the environment issue I think a major oil spill is an instance in which a person who is unlicensed to broadcast- say an amateur-should be in a position to be able to broadcast warnings. Having taken into account the matters raised by FACTS and FARB, I nevertheless think that the Bill should stand as it is. I repeat that FACTS and FARB raised their opposition and concerns about this provision, but it did not seem to me that it was a matter that they would really freak out about in any event. On balance we have decided to leave that clause as it is.

The other matter raised by the shadow spokesman on these matters is that of inspectors. Clause 69 deals with arrest without warrant and clause 71 deals with search warrants obtained by telephone. I think that the matter the honourable member for Murray referred to specifically was probably that of searches or entries in emergencies as stated in clause 72. Clause 72 no doubt could cause some concern. I understand why the honourable member has expressed some worry about it. But I simply point out that that action can take place only when an inspector believes on reasonable grounds that it is necessary to prevent the concealment or destruction of evidence or that such urgent circumstances exist that such search or entry is warranted.

Such action would be undertaken only in the most compelling circumstances, circumstances such as those which came to mind when clause 71 of the Bill was being considered. They were such things as aircraft safety frequency and instances in which emergency services or similar vital services were being deliberately disrupted. In cases in which a vehicle is involved in the use or transport of substandard equipment it is not possible to obtain a normal search warrant or a telephone warrant before the vehicle goes elsewhere. The extent of these powers is, of course, of concern. I will not go through them again because the honourable member for Murray went through the various Acts in which these powers exist. That does not mean that they are not powers which ought to be looked at each time legislation which has these sorts of powers comes forward. All I would say to the honourable member for Murray in respect of that matter is that the concerns that he has raised are concerns of which the Government and I are conscious. I think that we would have reached a parlous state if ever a government in this country was not concerned about the sorts of issues the honourable member raised tonight. I assure him that that proposed section would certainly need to be reviewed if it were used other than in the sorts of circumstances that I have indicated.

The honourable member for O'Connor raised the question of licensing of receivers. Part VII of the Bill addresses the question of licensing for certain classes of receivers. It is probably necessary to make it clear again that licences will not be required for receivers for radio or television programs intended for reception by the general public. The Government has no intention of requiring the licensing of typical multi-band portable receivers, continuous tuning television receivers, shortwave receivers, scanning receivers or similar consumer devices commonly available to the public. The policy of the Government on this question is that regulations requiring a licensing of particular classes of receivers will be made only where there is a clear need to protect them from interference. Receivers which would also clearly be in that category would be those requiring protection, such as major satellite earth stations. That would be a classic example of a receiver which would require licensing. It would be a major, high capacity satellite earth station, the cost of which takes it out of the category about which the honourable member for O'Connor expressed concern. He also expressed concern about the general problems with broadcasting in his electorate, as have members on the Government side of the House.

The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton) may have strayed marginally from the relevance of the Bill tonight by speaking again of his major broadcasting problem, the reception in the Dandenong Ranges. But I take account of what both the honourable member for La Trobe and the honourable member for O'Connor have said, in that they are expressing concerns which the Government shares. The honourable member for O'Connor said that for a long time-the matter is not strictly relevant to this Bill-the matters of band 2 clearance and further frequencies being available have tended to be matters under discussion and that not enough has happened with respect to them. On various occasions in this place , particularly over the last few weeks or certainly since the Budget, I have indicated that, in fact, there has been an allocation in respect of those matters. We hope that it will be full steam ahead to clear up a planning backlog which it is hoped will satisfy the complaints of members from both sides of the House in that regard.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.