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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3058

Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communi- cations) —by leave-Honourable members will recall that, on 15 November 1983, I announced the Government's commitment to implement the supplementary licence scheme. Let me remind honourable members that amendments to the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942, providing for the introduction of supplementary broadcasting and television licences, received royal assent on 31 December 1982. The legislation is framed in such a way, however, as to require a date to be proclaimed by the Minister for Communications before supplementary licence applications can be received.

The major purpose of the supplementary licence scheme is to provide a greater degree of commercial programming choice to people living in areas outside the mainland State capital cities and which could not support an additional independent commercial radio or television service without threatening the commercial viability or existing services in the area. Under the scheme, an eligible commercial licensee may apply for one supplementary broadcasting or television licence to provide an additional service in the same medium and, as far as practicable, to substantially the same area as the existing station. A supplementary licence will not be granted, however, if a thorough investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal determines that an extra independent commercial service, the first and preferred option, is both commercially viable and in the public interest.

Independent Commercial Services

This Government supports the fundamental proposition that people living outside the more populous capital cities ought to be able to benefit from an increasing range of commercial radio and television programming. But just as the Government is committed to the proposition that the greatest possible diversity of programming ought to be available to audiences wherever they live in Australia, so are we committed to the equally fundamental proposition that, in any area, programming diversity ought to be provided by as wide a range of competitively and independently owned media outlets as possible. The Government, when in opposition, supported the broad thrust of the supplementary licence scheme. However, at the time concern was expressed that the scheme had the potential to exacerbate concentration of media ownership in a number of regional areas. For example, one company in an area could own or be deemed to control the sole commercial radio and the sole commercial television station and, in some instances, the local newspaper.

There are two ways that I propose to meet this concern. The first is to authorise my Department to give priority to the processing of applications for supplementary licences to serve areas that are also the subject of expressions of interest for independent commercial services. The second is to seek an early amendment to the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 to make explicit the need for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to take concentration of media ownership in an area into account when deciding whether it should grant a supplementary licence or recommend to me that I should invite an application for an independent commercial licence. Under the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942, existing licensees would have an opportunity to comment on, and, if they feel it is appropriate, to oppose the grant of a licence for a new independent commercial service.

The Application Process

As from 1 December this year, I will receive formal applications for supplementary broadcasting or television licences from any eligibile licensee. The application process will involve two stages-an expression of interest followed by a formal application. Expressions of interest should be lodged by 1 March 1984 and formal applications should be submitted within six months of the lodgement date of the related expression of interest. This does not mean that applications cannot be submitted after that time. However, licensees should be aware that as soon as practicable after 1 March 1984, my Department will publish a list of areas that are the subject of an expression of interest for a supplementary licence. In areas where an expression of interest has not been received, or an expression of interest is not followed within six months by a formal application, I will instruct my Department to write to those groups who have previously expressed interest in an independent commercial service in that area, inviting them to lodge a planning proposal for the area.

The Government has decided that absolute priority will be given to processing supplementary licence applications for areas where firstly, formal expressions of interest from potential independent commercial licensees have been received; and secondly, substantial concentration of media ownership and control already exists. Secondly, priority will be given to processing supplementary applications for areas where there is also an expression of interest for an independent commercial service. The remaining priority will be given to processing supplementary applications in accordance with the date they are accepted by my Department.

All applications and expressions of interest must be submitted on 'pro-formas' that can be obtained from my Department. The forms seek information that is vital to the planning process and a full assessment of the technically related features of the proposed service. In keeping with the planning guidelines adopted by my Department in respect of other licensed services, it will be up to the applicant to provide both the technical and non-technical details required. Copies of technical planning guidelines will be available to assist in preparing the necessary information.

Eligibility Criteria

Any commercial radio or television licensee providing a service to an area outside the five mainland State capital cities may apply for a supplementary licence. Under the provisions of the enabling legislation, each eligible licensee can apply for only one supplementary licence. In areas where two or more licensees, providing a similar service, deem it to be in their mutual interest, they may form a consortium to apply for a single supplementary licence . For example, two AM radio licensees serving the same area may combine to apply for a supplementary licence for an FM radio station to serve that area. An application will be rejected if it seeks to provide a service to an area that is not substantially co-extensive with the service area of the 'related' station. Equally, it will be rejected if it is received from a consortium whose members do not serve the same area, or are not providing the same kind of service.

Because the supplementary licence scheme is intended to benefit listeners and viewers in areas that do not have a diversity of choice in commercial radio and television programs, there are clear prohibitions on applications for supplementary licences to serve areas where diversity of choice is available. Specifically, applications will be rejected where the proposed television service will substantially overlap a mainland metropolitan television area or the proposed FM radio service will substantially overlap the determined service area of any mainland State capital city commercial FM radio station.

Honourable members should be aware that, in addition to these specific grounds for rejecting an application for a supplementary licence, the Minister for Communications is empowered to 'dismiss an application for a reason relating to technical matters or to the planning or development of broadcasting and television services'. These reasons can vary from something as fundamental as the availability of a suitable frequency to a determination that the diversity of services available within an area, or proposed for an area, is judged to be sufficient to meet community needs. In the event that an application is rejected , the applicant will be advised in writing within 21 days of the decision and of the reasons for the rejection. Applications that I, as Minister consider satisfy eligibility, planning and technical requirements will be referred to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.

Service Based Planning

The supplementary licence scheme introduces service-based legislation to the Australian broadcasting system. Under this legislation, a licensee will be authorised to provide a service to a community or a number of communities in a specified area, rather than each transmitting facility being licensed separately . The concept of the service area is crucial to this approach, as it defines the area in which the licensee is obliged to provide an adequate and comprehensive service to communities. In determining the service area of a supplementary broadcasting or television station, I shall be ensuring that it is, as far as practicable, substantially co-extensive with the service area determined for the related commercial station. It will therefore be necessary as a matter of priority to determine service areas for existing stations, especially those that will be applying for a supplementary licence. Indeed, the technical and planning assessment of a supplementary licence application cannot be completed unless a service area has been defined and formally determined for the related commercial station. Guidelines for the definition of service areas have been developed by my Department, in consultation with the broadcasting industry, and formal negotiations are now under way with individual stations for the purpose of determining their respective service areas.

Interference Limited Planning

Closely linked with the service area concept is the interference limited approach to planning. This relies on the allocation of frequencies and power levels in such a way as to tailor the coverage of a broadcasting or television signal to the station's service area, while ensuring adequate protection of the station's signal from interference from other broadcasting services.

Technical Guidelines

The technical conditions applying to each supplementary licence will be determined in accordance with the current technical planning guidelines issued by my Department, as varied from time to time. For reasons of spectrum efficiency, all supplementary television licensees will be allocated a UHF channel for the main transmitter where it is not possible to provide a VHF channel. Associated translators will be allocated UHF channels. Of course, supplementary radio services will be broadcast in the VHF-FM mode. Where appropriate, licensees will be encouraged to establish several medium or low- powered transmission facilities, rather than attempting to provide total coverage from a single high-powered facility.


Licensees will have some specific obligations concerning the programs to be broadcast by their supplementary stations. In addition to the following provisions, supplementary licences will be subject to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's programming and advertising standards in the same way as these apply to independent commercial licences. Regular broadcasts of programs on the supplementary broadcasting station from the related commercial station are not permitted unless with the approval of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Supplementary television stations wishing to telecast regularly the programs of the related commercial station, another commercial station, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Special Broadcasting Service, or a public station, must seek the agreement of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Supplementary television stations will be required to encourage, as far as practicable, local advertising and an element of local programming.

Licence Fees

In relation to licence fees, the Government has decided to introduce legislation as soon as possible which will direct that the revenues earned by a person or organisation holding both a commercial and a supplementary licence- whether for television or radio-be aggregated for the purpose of determining the total licence fee(s) payable to the Commonwealth.

The Role of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal

As soon as practicable after I have referred an application for a supplementary licence to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, the Tribunal is required to publish particulars of the application and invite interested persons to lodge with it, generally within 21 days, a written submission relating to the grant of the licence. This process will provide an opportunity for anyone opposed to the grant of the supplementary licence, especially persons wishing to establish an independent commercial service in the area, to lodge a submission objecting to the grant of the supplementary licence. The Tribunal is required to hold a public inquiry into the grant of a supplementary licence unless it decides, in the absence of any substantial submissions objecting to the contrary, that a public inquiry is not necessary. It can then proceed to issue the licence without a hearing.

It is the Tribunal's primary responsibility to determine at the outset whether or not an independent commercial service, serving the same area as a potential supplementary licence, is reasonably likely to be viable within the period a supplementary licence would be in force. If it so determines, it must then decide whether it would be in the public interest to recommend that applications be called for an independent commercial service. In the event that both determinations are positive, it will recommend to me that I call applications for an independent commercial station to serve the area that would have been served by a supplementary licence. I will be predisposed to accept this recommendation.

As I stated earlier, concern has been expressed that the scheme has the potential to exacerbate concentration of media ownership already evident in a number of areas throughout Australia. The Government's intention is to ensure that concentration of media ownership is taken into account by the Tribunal when it is considering whether to grant a supplementary licence in an area or recommend to me that I invite an application for an independent commercial licence to serve the area. To this end, I will introduce enabling legislation during the Budget session of Parliament. Provision has been made in the enabling legislation for the Tribunal to recommend to me, as a result of a supplementary licence renewal hearing eight years after the initial licence grant, that I invite applications for an independent commercial service on the grounds of viability and public interest. If I accept this recommendation, I shall advise the licensee of my decision. The company holding the supplementary licence will then have three years, or less if elected, to divest itself of one of the licences. It will be up to the licensee to select which licence should be transferred or let lapse. Regardless of which licence is divested, the supplementary broadcasting or television licence will become a full commercial licence.


It has been necessary to provide a significant amount of detail in this statement in order to outline clearly just what will be involved in implementing the supplementary licence scheme. For the benefit of honourable members, and for the convenience of those radio and television stations preparing an application for a supplementary licence, I table a paper entitled 'Guidelines for Planning Supplementary Broadcasting and Television Services'. I present the following paper:

Supplementary Licence Scheme-Guidelines for planning supplementary broadcasting and television services-Ministerial Statement, 30 November 1983.

Motion (by Mr Dawkins) proposed:

That the House take note of the papers.