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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4191

Mr BRIGGS (5:09 PM) —I rise this evening to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Digital Television Switch-over) Bill 2009. I am sure the Deputy Speaker will appreciate the areas in my electorate that I will talk about in my remarks. As many on this side know, I am a big supporter of digital television. It has a lot of benefits for the Australian people. As we already see, it provides additional and higher quality content, particularly for those of us who love their sport. Anyone who gets the opportunity to see the AFL covered on Channel 7’s HD channel on Friday nights will acknowledge how the quality is so much better than watching normal analog or indeed digital TV—you can actually tell the difference. A couple of years ago, when I first had a high-definition television set at home, Channel 10 was covering the US Masters in high definition for the first time. I think it was the tournament where Tiger Woods’s ball sat on the edge of the hole and you could see the dimples. It was quite extraordinary for those of us who like that type of thing.

I am a big supporter of high-definition and digital TV. It has a lot of benefits, including freeing up the spectrum. One aspect of this debate that we should acknowledge, and which the previous government acknowledged too when it was looking at the digital switch-over, is that the government will benefit significantly from the sale of the spectrum that it will get out of the switch-over to digital TV. Digital uses a very small amount of the current spectrum used by analog TV. It will be quite a boon for the government when it is able to have its spectrum auction at some point in the future when it has switched all Australians over from analog TV or the joint service at the moment to purely digital.

It is right that the government does help Australians, particularly those at the lower end of the income scale, to switch over to digital TV. I think that in the future we will see more assistance given to this area. In my previous role I had a little bit to do with the government’s views on the digital switch-over. I was always of the view that the government would be required at some point to help those at the lower end to switch over to ensure that we had a safe and successful switch-over to digital TV without too many missing out on the television programs which they love and have grown accustomed to. Taking away coverage of the Crows in Adelaide, as the Deputy Speaker knows, would be quite a step for government to undertake.

But we should not just help people on the lower scale of income; we must look at the areas which have traditionally found getting TV reception difficult. My electorate of Mayo has two such areas. One in particular is the District Council of Yankalilla, which this morning Mark Day in the Australian wrote extensively about. Led by the mayor, Peter Whitford—a great fighter for the Yankalilla area—the council down there have been raising this issue about how they are treated in the switch-over for some time now. They currently only have analog towers, and traditionally they have had significant problems because of the topography of the area. The Fleurieu Peninsula, in my electorate, is one of the most beautiful parts of Australia. It is very hilly and it has significant issues; in fact, parts of the Fleurieu Peninsula are just impossible to get TV and mobile reception to, no matter how much the government has looked at it over the years. The drops are too significant to actually get the signals through, particularly down near Inman Valley, so satellite will always be an answer there. However, for a large part of this area, which is not well populated—it is a small district council and faces the financial constraints that small district councils face—it is a different story. The government should, and must, step in and help the District Council of Yankalilla in upgrading their towers to be digital-ready towers in preparation for 2013, when the Adelaide switch-over will occur.

What is happening at the moment is that, because of the attention rightfully given to the switch-over, significant numbers of people are purchasing digital set-top boxes or digital ready televisions and are getting home and expecting to see the benefits of digital TV but of course they cannot because there is no digital signal. It is very important that the government—and I urge Senator Conroy and those on the other side to consider this—provide an assistance package for these sorts of regional areas, largely, who are facing these challenges. I think it is important, for the integrity of the switch-over, that we help in areas in which people find difficulty in coming up with the financial resources needed for the digital switch-over. It might not just be those on lower incomes who require assistance, but many people might require assistance to upgrade.

The other area in my electorate that suffers similar problems is Gumeracha, which is in the northern part of my electorate. Recently quite a bit of attention has been raised about the problem, and I have written to the minister raising this issue with him. It is an area which has traditionally suffered poor analog reception and in the past the local council has had to assist. Again, the cost of upgrading to digital is significant. There are quite a few people in the township of Gumeracha affected by this and, again, what is happening is that they are buying the digital TV sets or the digital set-top boxes and then finding, when they get home, that they cannot use them. This is 36 kilometres from the city of Adelaide. It is not that far away.

For the integrity of the switch-over, to show people the benefits of digital, we should be ensuring that those in areas that have traditionally had problems with getting TV signals should receive any assistance that is needed. That is an important aspect that the government should be considering right now. I would hate to see the government just suck it and see, and wait until the very last minute for these communities to raise issues. As they are lower income members in our community, the government should act early and offer assurances to the community of Gumeracha and the community of Yankallila that they will get some assistance in upgrading their towers to digital-ready TV status shortly. Television is now such an important part of all of our lives that to leave some Australians, particularly those in my electorate, without the benefit of digital TV, or indeed without the benefit of TV, would be a disaster. I urge the government to consider this in the next little while and not wait until they have seen the first results from Mildura and other parts of the country. They know there is a problem; they should act on the problem. In the scale of things, the cost is not significant, but for these local communities the cost is absolutely significant. The federal government can and should help out in these areas.