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Thursday, 23 October 2008
Page: 79

Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia) (10:41 AM) —I rise to speak in support of and in conclusion on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Radio) Bill 2008. I acknowledge the contributions of the member for Hinkler, the member for Parramatta and the member for Forde. The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Radio) Bill 2008 makes amendments to the legislation introduced in 2007 that provides a framework for the introduction of Australia’s first digital radio services next year. Digital radio will launch in 2009. It will operate alongside existing analog services and promises a range of new and innovative features that will enhance the radio services so valued by Australians.

The first two amendments in this bill relate to the commencement date for digital radio in the six state capital cities. Under current legislation, commercial radio broadcasters in these markets are required to commence digital radio services by 1 January 2009. Failure to do so could expose them to sanctions, including the cancellation of their right to broadcast in digital. Due to a range of reasons, including delays to the rollout of transmission equipment, broadcasters are unable to comply with this deadline.

As a result, the commercial radio sector and the ABC recently announced that the national switch-on for digital radio will take place on 1 May 2009. Accordingly, the bill will extend, by six months, the deadline for start-up to 1 July 2009. This will ensure broadcasters are not in breach of current provisions for late commencement and do not have their right to broadcast in digital cancelled.

The bill will also remove Hobart from the list of markets subject to the new deadline. After consultation with Hobart’s commercial broadcasters, who expressed strong concerns about their readiness to launch at the same time as the mainland state capitals, the bill will allow digital radio services to start in Hobart at the same time as other, similarly sized markets, such as Newcastle, Geelong and Wollongong.

The final measure in this bill amends the Radiocommunications Act 1992 and restores to the community broadcasting sector the opportunity to participate in the joint venture companies formed in 2008 that own digital radio transmission infrastructure, in line with the original intent of the legislation introduced in May 2007. The government is supportive of community broadcasters’ participation in digital radio, recognising the vital role the community sector plays in providing diversity, localism and grassroots participation in the Australian media. The benefits of digital radio to both broadcasters and listeners are enormous and the government looks forward to a successful launch of Australia’s first digital radio services on 1 May 2009.

In conclusion, again I would like to thank all members who contributed to this debate and note the strong bipartisan support that exists in this parliament for this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.