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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4184

Mr NEUMANN (4:40 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Digital Television Switch-over) Bill 2009. I see this legislation in the context of the Rudd government’s commitment to not only regional Australia but also our senior citizens and those doing it tough. One of the great myths of Australian society, and it is a myth perpetrated by those opposite, is that the Labor Party and Labor governments do not care for regional areas and do not care for those who are senior citizens. It is a great myth that they try to perpetrate and perpetuate.

This legislation is yet another example of the Rudd Labor government caring for regional Australia. Having travelled through a lot of Queensland, I can say that Queenslanders are often different. They are often suffering from the challenges of the tyranny of distance; they are often in small rural communities or regional towns, where they have difficulty getting access to good postal services, to the broadband network and to radio and television and those kinds of services. They are absolutely crucial. We saw that last year with the floods in North Queensland and we saw it recently with the floods in South-East Queensland. Queensland, and regional Queensland in particular, needs this kind of assistance. It is assistance the Rudd Labor government is providing with respect to ports, railways and roads et cetera.

This legislation is providing financial assistance for those who are in receipt of the age pension, the disability support pension, the carer payment, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs service pension or the income support supplement. It is the kind of assistance that is typical of a Labor government that cares for those in need. Certainly the digital revolution will be enjoyed by this country, and digital television will be something that in years to come Australians will think is fantastic. The provision of set-top boxes, cables and antennas will be necessary, of course, for the switch-over. Providing household assistance in terms of a package from this government will enable those in regional Australia to make that transition across a number of years.

That assistance and the kind of payments I have mentioned will not go to people who are generally wealthy. These people will qualify by means of their military service or their age, or by their income or their assets. People who are senior citizens and who are more housebound than others enjoy the benefits of television as a means by which they can be in touch with the world. I am sure all of us in this House have friends and relatives living in regional areas of Australia for whom the television set provides access not just to entertainment but also to information. It enables them to keep in touch with what is happening in the broader world, and this is particularly the case for those who are shut in. I have friends and relatives who are bedridden or who cannot leave their nursing home and for them television is their main source of entertainment. Apart from the community activities provided by aged-care facilities, this is the only entertainment they have to enjoy. Providing help for these people in the transition to digital television is very important. We all know that digital television will provide benefits in terms of improved picture and sound quality, and greater program choice for all of us as consumers.

The Rudd Labor government is committing $11.3 million in 2009-10, $31.1 million in 2010-11 and $29.8 million in 2011-12 for a number of regions—Mildura, regional South Australia, regional Victoria and the regional area of my home state of Queensland, between 1 July 2011 and 31 December 2011. In my experience, regional Queensland is full of people who have decided to retire in particular areas. They have come from farming communities or are simply looking for a life in rural and regional areas, having come from cities on the coast, particularly Brisbane. The Rudd Labor government is strongly committed to regional Queensland, including my electorate. My electorate starts 50 kilometres from Brisbane and goes into the Fassifern Valley, down to the New South Wales border and to the foothills of the Toowoomba range, including all of the Lockyer Valley. The people in those rural communities, certainly the people in Ipswich, suffered under the previous government because telecommunications was not something that was considered by the Howard government a priority for my electorate.

When it came to national broadband, for example, that concept was alien to the Howard government. Their fixed wireless system did not take into consideration topography, so great areas of my electorate, particularly where there were hills, could not get access to the kind of internet services that they needed. They had to rely upon dial-up services or could not even get access at all. This was a constant source of frustration to many people, particularly those in rural communities, but also to those in Ipswich, where I live and which is full of hills. Many people in Ipswich could not get access to the kind of broadband and telecommunications contact that they needed in their circumstances. So I speak on this bill because I think it is important for my state. It is particularly important for those many people who live outside of Brisbane, those millions of Queenslanders. Brisbane does not dwarf our state. It is small in terms of population, compared to Sydney or Melbourne, vis-a-vis the rest of its state. A lot more people live outside Brisbane than live in Brisbane itself. So access to digital television will help many people in rural and regional Queensland.

What we are doing is providing practical in-home assistance. We are providing help to switch from analog to digital. That is good assistance from the point of view of my electorate as well. We are seeing help being given to regional Queensland. It is going to provide access to information: technological access to a national broadband network, access to digital television and access to the kinds of services which will enable people to compete in health, schooling and business. They will also get access to the kind of lifestyle that is enjoyed in capital cities.

The Rudd government is strongly committed to pensioners, and this bill provides assistance to pensioners, those on the disability support pension, those receiving carer payments and those on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs service pension income support supplement. Since I was elected in November 2007, I have seen stimulus packages which have helped my electorate. The kinds of people that will benefit in regional Queensland from this sort of funding will benefit from the Rudd Labor government’s commitment to people on those types of payments. For example, in terms of the stimulus package that was handed down last year, 43,701 people in my electorate have received funding under the Economic Security Strategy in the circumstances of $1,400 for single pensioners and $2,100 for couples. I have seen 12,553 families receive the kind of financial support available through back-to-school bonuses as well. There were too the 119 farmers who were recipients in the regional areas of my seat. Even now, with this budget funding, we are seeing the 23,505 people getting age pensions, disability support pensions, family tax benefit A or carer payments receiving additional funding from the Rudd Labor government. So I see this bill in the context of the assistance given to the kinds of people we are talking about here, such as the age pension payment recipients and the disability support pension recipients. In my electorate we have 7,783 people receiving disability support pensions. The kind of assistance that the Rudd Labor government is providing through the budget and through the first and second stimulus packages is very important for electors in my seat.

I do not share the concerns of the member for Lyne with respect to regional Australia. I think the Rudd government is caring for regional Australia in a way that the coalition failed to do. We see that in the kind of response that we have made in terms of infrastructure payments and assistance to schools and in black spot funding for roads to councils in rural areas right across Queensland.

I am very happy to speak in support of a bill which will help my state and help the people in rural and regional Queensland, as well as in the Mildura area, regional South Australia and regional Victoria. They are people on the land, mainly, and in small communities that suffer from distance. They do not necessarily enjoy the access to recreation, sporting, schooling and business life that those who live in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane enjoy, so any assistance we can give them in terms of financial support—particularly for those senior citizens who have contributed so much to our economy and community life—is a very good, noble and correct thing to do.

The transition to digital television and the assistance we are providing viewers who are entitled to these sorts of payments is a great initiative of the Rudd Labor government. It shows the commitment we have to the kinds of areas that many people think Labor governments do not care for—that is an urban legend and a myth. I am pleased to support this bill and I commend it to the House.