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Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Page: 78

Ms LEY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (6:19 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Subscription Television Drama and Community Broadcasting Licences) Bill 2006 amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA)  to increase flexibility in the operation of the 10 per cent requirement for new spending on drama on subscription television.

The bill also amends the BSA to give the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) a discretion to allow the transfer of a community broadcasting licence to another person which represents the same community interest. This is intended to deal with changes of corporate arrangements by licensees.

Subscription television drama

On 29 December 2005 the government announced changes to the 10 per cent requirement for new spending on drama on subscription television. With these changes the government has reaffirmed its commitment to the new eligible drama expenditure requirement.

Currently, subscription television broadcasting licensees who broadcast channels predominantly devoted to drama programs, and their program providers, are required to spend at least 10 per cent of their drama program expenditure each year on new Australian drama.

The requirement continues to ensure that the subscription television industry contributes to the production of high quality local drama. It also ensures the promotion of high quality and innovative programs by providers of broadcasting services.

This remains an important policy objective for the government. It reflects the role of drama in shaping a sense of ‘Australian identity, character and cultural diversity’, which is one of the objectives of the BSA.

The new eligible drama expenditure requirement commenced on 1 July 1999. It has annually delivered $15 million to $20 million in funding support to a variety of Australian productions, ranging from multi award-winning feature films such as Somersault to television series such as Love My Way.

A review of Australian and New Zealand content on subscription television broadcasting services has been conducted, as required by the BSA. The report of the review, which was tabled in parliament on 16 March 2005, found that the 10 per cent new eligible drama expenditure requirement remains an appropriate measure.

The review also found that the requirement is highly valued by the production industry and underpins a wide range of drama projects for theatrical, subscription and free-to-air television release.

Whilst the requirement is considered successful in meeting its objectives, the review recommended some changes to ensure its continued effectiveness. The government has therefore drafted this bill to reflect these recommendations and to ensure the ongoing success of the requirement.

Currently there is a disincentive for licensees to spend more than the 10 per cent requirement for new drama production in one financial year. The then Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) found that the inability to carry forward expenditure from one year to the next has previously resulted in decisions not to finance new programs that would have otherwise met the new eligible drama requirement.

The government has therefore introduced this bill to amend the BSA to allow spending in excess of the 10 per cent requirement to be carried over into the following financial year. This will provide the subscription broadcasting industry with increased flexibility in its investment decisions and will encourage a higher level of investment in quality local drama productions.

The bill provides for more flexible arrangements for the treatment of preproduction expenditure on script development. This will encourage greater investment in script development and encourage licensees to become more involved in the earlier stages of drama production in Australia.

In addition, the bill seeks to amend the definition of ‘drama program’ for the purposes of the subscription broadcasting expenditure scheme to make it consistent with the definition of ‘Australian drama program’ within the Australian Content Standard that applies to free-to-air television broadcasters.

Expenditure consistent with the proposed changes incurred after 1 January 2006 will be able to be treated as new eligible expenditure. This will provide the industry with some certainty in relation to proposed investment in Australian drama, allowing investment decisions to be implemented ahead of the legislative process.

A further review of the new eligible drama expenditure requirement will take place in 2008 to take account of the changes occurring in the subscription television sector.

Transfer of community broadcasting licences

Part 6 of the BSA provides for the allocation of community broadcasting licences by ACMA. Part 6 currently contains no provision for the transfer of a community broadcasting licence. This can lead to difficulties when a licensee changes its corporate identity or ceases to exist, leaving ACMA with little alternative but to seek the surrender of the licence and conduct a new allocation process. Such situations have arisen in relation to changes in the corporate arrangements of governing councils of remote Indigenous communities and arrangements for Radio for the Print Handicapped services.

The bill amends the BSA to allow ACMA to approve the transfer of community broadcasting licences where there is a change of corporate identity, provided that the new licensee continues to represent the community of interest that the licensee represented either at allocation or most recent renewal (whichever is the later).

Any decision to refuse to approve a transfer will be reviewable by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I commend the bill to the House.