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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 3514

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (12:19 PM) —The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010, which was introduced in March, will enable satellite digital broadcasting. As members know, Australia is converting to digital television. That switch-over begins in the Mildura region in less than 50 days—and I am very pleased that my friend and colleague the member for Mallee is here with me in the chamber. The switch-over must run smoothly. I will address the substance of this bill and some of the issues at stake more broadly, and point out some of the critical issues the government have been failing on to date which we call on them to rectify to avoid a television train wreck on switch-over day in the Mildura region.

As I said, this bill will provide for a satellite service when that switch-over from analog to digital television occurs. There will always be a need for a satellite service, and that is why this legislation is before us. This bill will provide the important architecture and licensing regime for the proposed satellite service. As the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy made clear back in March, it will set out the conditions of the satellite service, including authorisations and exemptions for commercial television programming, local content obligations and all of the operational features of that satellite.

We on this side of the House say that every opportunity must be taken to provide Australians with terrestrial television coverage. At the moment many areas in regional Australia have benefited from self-help towers to overcome television black spots. People in those communities have been receiving television reception as a result of those self-help towers. Back in January the government announced that the broadcasters had agreed to upgrade around 100 of the 600 self-help towers to digital, which will mean that, when the switch-over occurs, those 100 communities will receive digital television as they receive analog television today.

Where those towers are not upgraded, households and businesses in those regions will require a satellite service. Of course everyone supports legislation to provide for a satellite service, because it will always be needed, but the point is it should be a last resort and it should be for areas that cannot receive a signal from a television tower. Most recently the broadcasters identified 87 sites that would be upgraded. In some areas there are towers that they have deemed may not need upgrading because they will receive a digital signal but over and above that people will be requiring a satellite service. Of course, a satellite service costs money. The government is proposing some subsidies, but the cost of every satellite service is borne by every household.

As I said at the beginning of my contribution, the switch-over begins in Mildura. I have had an opportunity to visit the Mildura region with the member for Mallee, who will speak after me in this debate. Every day for the last year or so the member for Mallee has warned the government that the area is not yet adequately prepared for the switch-over. The minister maintains that everything will go smoothly on switch-over day. This switch-over day is of critical importance to the people of Mildura.

There has been an education campaign, but we maintain that it has been inadequate. The member for Mallee will outline in great detail the deficiencies that need to be overcome in that short space of time. The people of the Mildura region will have to sprint flat out just to have a hope of having a smooth switch-over. The great risk is that, because of the government’s inadequate planning and preparation, some people in that region will find that switch-over day is television switch-off day for them.

There are not just issues with the cost of a satellite service for households; there are costs and preparation for other households, particularly with respect to cabling and antennas. These have not been widely communicated at all by the minister or the government. Steve Petschel from Teletune in Mildura, who is an expert in the area, has expressed concerns publicly. He said the installers and the workforce are going to be overwhelmed with work at the last minute. He has made that very clear, and the member for Mallee will enlarge on that in his contribution.

At the end of my contribution I will be moving a second reading amendment. In that amendment we call on the government to recognise some of the critical issues and we point out the government’s lack of understanding to date. We want the government to guarantee that Australians receiving analog television today will not lose their signal on switch-over days across Australia as a result of their policy failure and their failed implementation that we have seen on so many levels.

Of course, the satellite licensing regime that is embodied in this legislation must proceed, but we are here today again warning the government that its effort to date is unsatisfactory. The people who will pay the price for that will be those in regional Australia who will have their analog switched off earlier than the rest of us, starting in less than 50 days time in Mildura. On every occasion that the minister has had concerns expressed to him he has dismissed them. He has said that everything will be all right on the day.

The people of the Mildura region deserve certainty. They have not had that from this minister. Those throughout the rest of regional Australia deserve certainty as well. Where it is possible for people in regional Australia to receive digital television from a self-help tower, they should. Where they are receiving a television signal today from a self-help tower they rightly expect that when the switch over to digital television occurs they will be able to receive that same signal without having to go to the expense of paying for a satellite service. The member for Mallee wants the switch-over to go well. He has worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents. He has pointed out serious problems along the way and some of those, thanks to his effort, have been rectified. But there is still a lot of work to do in the Mildura region, and after Mildura other regional areas will begin the same process as the analog signal is switched off.

Mr Deputy Speaker Schultz, today I move an amendment on behalf of the coalition. That amendment, circulated in my name, is as follows:

That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1)   condemns the Government for its lack of understanding of television broadcasting issues across regional Australia;

(2)   further condemns the Government for its inadequate planning and preparation for the switch-over to digital television across regional Australia, beginning in the Mildura region on 1 July 2010;

(3)   warns the Government that its failures to date risks leaving some Australians without television reception; and

(4)   calls on the Government to guarantee that Australians will not lose television reception on each digital switch-over day as a result of inadequate planning and preparation.

I call on the government to take heed of the warnings we are giving today. To date, their effort has not been good enough, and in the coming weeks they will need to lift their game if they are to avoid a television train wreck in the region.