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Monday, 16 October 2006
Page: 114

Mr LINDSAY (8:18 PM) —That was an interesting announcement in relation to further measures to switch off the analog system in this debate on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006 and the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2006. That will be interesting to see when it comes out. We are an interesting society these days. When you talk to the educators in this country, they will tell you that we are a country that is information rich but knowledge poor. What they are really saying is that there is plenty of opportunity and plenty of information available from a wide range of sources, but in fact there is so much that people cannot take it up. Therefore, they cannot play it back. It is very interesting: the way that media is going in this country, although there is the demand for more and more channels, it is probably going to have less and less take-up because there is just too much of it. I cannot see some of these channels being viable, I have to say. But the government will make the opportunity available. If broadcasters can see that they can use that opportunity then they will take it up in a commercial way.

The member for Perth said that government policies had failed in relation to digital take-up. I do not think that is right. I think what has actually happened is that the consumers have decided not to take up digital at the rate that was expected. You cannot really make a viewer change from analog to digital if they do not want to—you just cannot. It does not matter what legislation you put in place. Other than switching off the analog transmitters, you cannot make a person change. Many of us who have been in the industry have long known and understood that, when it comes to television, if the picture moves and talks, no matter how horrible the picture might be, people are happy. They do not understand the benefits of going to digital television, not only in relation to picture and sound clarity but also in relation to the provision of additional services. They do not understand that. As long as they can sit down in their chair and the picture moves, they are basically happy, so they do not move to digital.

As a person who has been in this industry for a long time, I have seen a number of changes. I have seen some changes that have not been for the best in the country and I have seen other changes that have been very well received. For example, when local news on regional television began to disappear a couple of colleagues and I got quite animated about that and we made it very clear to the government that we wanted local news to be back on our local channels. That has been achieved and local viewers very much appreciate what the government did to achieve that. That is why the priority given to local content of radio in the bill before the House tonight is so important.

Some would argue that we have too many radio services. In Townsville we have got 12 radio stations. We have perhaps two or three main stations and the rest have a handful of listeners. The diversity is certainly there but the listeners are not. That is why I guess it is important to make it clear that the government wants to see local content on local radio and not just a network station out of a major capital city. I have heard some of the broadcasters say, ‘This is the end of some of the radio stations.’ I judge that an ambit claim. They will find a way to provide the local content which we are mandating in the bill before the parliament tonight.

The minister has been sensible about this. The minister has said that there will be a review done before this is implemented. There will be a review of local content on existing radio stations and then the minister will have the power given under this bill to adjust the local content requirements according to local circumstances. This is sensible. The minister will make a decision that will suit the local circumstances and I think that the radio stations certainly should be happy with that.

I know that it is very important in my area in relation to emergencies such as cyclones that the local radio station be local when it is needed to be local. Certainly in the past our local radio stations have discharged their responsibilities towards their community and have been on the ball when they needed to be broadcasting local information to the local community in times of emergency. I know that some would say, ‘Why should the government be mandating local content?’ The answer is very simple. The spectrum that they use is not free. It is a scarce public good. It belongs to the people of Australia and if a particular company is given a right to use that spectrum then there should be an obligation that attaches to that. That obligation generally takes the form of local content.

I think that radio stations that were very progressive stations attuned to the local community would embrace without regulation or legislation local content in their programming. That is the way you attract listeners: by being live and local. Some of the smaller radio stations may find it a bit more difficult but, in my area, 4GC in Charters Towers, with a listening audience of only about 8,000 people, still manages live and local. There is no reason why stations in a bigger market should not do that.

In relation to television and media in general, the kind of media that is available these days is just extraordinary. Today, for example, I was at the Telstra demonstration of the Next G system. I was able to watch pictures, with sound if needed, coming live from a property in the bush in south-west Queensland. You could control the cameras to look at whatever you wanted to look at. You could control the pumps on a local dam and troughs providing water for the stock. From your homestead you could even look at the back gate of the property 50 kilometres away. This particular homestead was having problems with people nicking in the back gate and pinching the stock. They just wired up the gate to the new media so that when somebody opened the gate it immediately sent an alarm to the homestead and took a picture of whoever was at the gate. It was absolutely fascinating. More than that, that kind of visual and aural information was available anywhere in the world instantaneously. It was also available on your mobile phone if you wanted it. That was an amazing demonstration to see. In digital television there are all sorts of opportunities. Removing the current genre restrictions on multichannelling by the national broadcasters will allow the national broadcasters to provide a broader range of digital services. I think that the ABC in particular will be very pleased to see that decision.

In relation to high-definition television there have been some changes about what is mandated and what is not. We are giving the industry more flexibility to decide what they are going to broadcast. I think that high-definition TV is here to stay. I think that stations who broadcast in HD will do so because there is a market demand to have better quality pictures, particularly for things like sporting events.

In relation to the antisiphoning system, all of us have probably had a number of campaign emails from a site called Save My Sport. I have certainly responded very directly to anyone who has sent me an email and said that I am a strong supporter of sporting events of national importance appearing on free-to-air television. As far as the government are concerned that is our intention. We will stick by that. But it is also interesting that some of the free-to-air stations have not played the game. They have had the availability of nationally important sport and have not used it—have not broadcast it—when it could have been broadcast by other media. We will also introduce what is called a ‘use it or lose it’ scheme. That will work very well because the free-to-airs will know that if they are not going to use a nationally important sporting program then they will lose the rights to that particular program.

I am not concerned about the concentration of media ownership. I think—and I have said this publicly—that in my area we will get more media owners coming into our city. The two out of three rule was very important; I certainly supported that. As media readjusts around the country, some owners will divest themselves of some of their stations and move into other markets. I think that is a healthy thing. I think in Townsville we are going to see a different array of media owners than we have at the moment. We will have a wider array of media owners, and that can only add to diversity and be good for the listeners, the viewers and the readers.

So I am not concerned about that and I have supported this particular suite of bills. I pay tribute to Helen Coonan. I have never seen so much consultation on a suite of bills in the 11 years I have been in the parliament. The minister has consulted very widely and very intelligently. There have been a lot of changes along the way; they have improved the bills. And that is why I will be supporting them in the parliament.