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Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Page: 2755

Mr NEVILLE (12:13 PM) —I can understand that the member for Calare (Mr Andren) may be well motivated by his desire to see that a technology exists in all parts of his electorate. But I think you have to take a broader vision of what has to happen for the future of telecommunications in Australia.

We have had a history of various forms of phone technology, from the old wind-up phone, to the dial phone, to the latest handsets that can hold calls and do all sorts of things. In parallel with that, we now have digital, which is about the third technology that we have adopted with regard to mobile phones.

But I think the member for Calare is not recognising that one of the things allowing mobile phones to be competitive and forcing the cost of calls down is the fact that there is competition. What he is suggesting flies in the face of the medium-term and long-term needs of Australia. We are now moving in television technology from analog to digital.

Mr Filing —You've just given that away in a bargain basement sale.

Mr NEVILLE —That is rubbish and you know it is rubbish. Whether you like the way it has been done or not, we are introducing into Australia the latest technology in television transmission. I would have thought the member for Calare, given his background, would have been one of the first to embrace this and would want to see that implemented in Australia.

Mr Filing —It will cost a fortune.

Mr NEVILLE —Indeed, it will cost a fortune. It will cost about $900 million to introduce, but it will give Australia the best television technology in the world. We will be the only country that has high definition television mandated. Let me draw the analogy. We know that, with the compression of the signal and the use of the digital spectrum, we can achieve a lot more such as enhancement and forms of multi-channelling; all sorts of things will be available under that system. No-one would seriously suggest that we would hold back from that and doom the Australian public to analog television transmission forever and a day.

We have a unique problem: the digital signal does not reach out as far as it might to cover those areas currently covered by analog. The member for Moore (Mr Filing) quoted a public servant who was asked if the digital signal would cover all of Australia. The answer is no. That is self-evident. We cannot put $300,000 towers across the desert in remote parts of Australia. The whole of Australia will never be covered. Already 94 per cent of Australians are under the digital signal. I would have thought that the challenge, rather than regressing to analog, would be to try to get that other six per cent covered by digital.

Mr Filing —You don't understand it.

Mr NEVILLE —Yes, I do understand it very well.

Mr Andren interjecting

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. N.M. Dondas) —Order! The honourable member for Calare and the honourable member for Moore will allow the honourable member for Hinkler to conclude his remarks.

Mr NEVILLE —Ninety-four per cent of the population already has access to digital. I would have thought that the challenge was to make sure that more people had the benefit of that technology. Using again the analogy of television transmission, if we were to let analog and digital TV exist side by side indefinitely, we would be dooming Australia or the operators to $30 billion to $50 billion of dual transmission costs.

I would have thought it was sensible to phase out the analog in an orderly way, taking into account what the Minister for Finance and Administration (Mr Fahey) said, that is, protecting those areas that will not get a comparable service in the meantime, then from there moving to a more focused view on digital so that we can take on board new technologies like CDMA—I agree with that—and low-orbiting satellites. To regress to analog is like going back to the old wind-up phones; it makes no sense.