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Tuesday, 8 May 2007
Page: 54

Mr CREAN (5:54 PM) —I hope the member for Moreton stays in the House to understand why the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Radio) Bill 2007 does not get the balance right. Labor does support us going digital in radio but it believes going digital means going digital for the whole of the country, not just for the capital cities. That is the fundamental problem with this bill. It has been conceived in haste. It is in the right direction, but it is a direction that only benefits the capital cities. Why shouldn’t we get right the framework that ensures the technology delivers it? I see the member for Moreton is now leaving the chamber. He poses the question of why Labor is concerned about the direction of this bill but will not stay. However, I am pleased to see he is now staying for the answer.

Mr Hardgrave —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not wish the member for Hotham to misrepresent me. I have answered the question he has posed to me, so I reject his point that I am now leaving.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AM Somlyay)—There is no point of order.

Mr CREAN —I notice that he has no point of order and now he is not even staying in the chamber to listen to the answer to the question that he has posed. Why is that? Because he does not have any concern for regional and rural Australia, and nor does this bill. This bill does not get the balance right, and that is why we have moved the amendment that says we should defer the implementation of this bill until we do understand where this technology takes us.

It is not just the Labor Party that says that; it is also the national broadcaster, the ABC. The ABC has indicated that it believes that the only technology being referred to in the legislation is the digital radio broadcasting which is referred to as DAB or the Eureka 147 platform, but the ABC says that this will not adequately service remote areas. The commercial radio stations that the member for Moreton refers to may think it is great because they may be interested only in serving the capital cities, but the ABC is a broadcaster of international repute covering something like 100 per cent of the country, and it has problems with the direction of the framework that is being proposed in this bill. The ABC goes on to say:

… a wide-area digital radio standard should be determined before the provisions of the ... Bill come into effect.

The bill omits the very technology that will provide that regional platform. Again, do not just take the Labor Party’s word for it; look at what the explanatory memorandum to the bill has to say. On page 21, where it talks about the technology choice, the explanatory memorandum says:

Digital Audio Broadcasting—

that is, the Eureka 147—

will be the primary technology platform for ... digital radio.

It then goes on to say:

DAB is unlikely to be a suitable platform to address the extended coverage requirements of some regional and remote services.

Why should we be proceeding now in haste to do something that will jeopardise the ability for this system, this technology, with all of its benefits, to be extended to the whole of Australia? Why should we be doing it in such haste that denies us getting right the framework that makes sure that that coverage is extended to the whole of Australia?

As I said before, Labor does support going digital but we support going digital by getting it right. We believe that we should defer implementation until the regions are assured of the benefits that the government claims this system will bring. We do not deny the benefits; we say that the regions should not be denied them, and we believe that as this bill stands we run thereal risk of denying regional and rural Australia access to the very best of technologies. If you look at the places in which this has been successfully implemented, such as in Britain and parts of Europe, it has led to a better standard of service, but it has led to the introduction of new content and stations and it has been done by embracing the technology that this bill says it will wait till later to assess. We will run out of time.

At this stage, I think I have run out of time because of the provision for this House to adjourn early this evening. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.00 pm to 7.30 pm