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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 3516

Mr CHAMPION (12:33 PM) —I rise to support the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010 and, obviously, to oppose the amendment moved by the member for Casey. This is an important bill for regional Australia. It is an important bill to close the digital divide that exists in Australia, a digital divide that is the legacy of 10 years of confusion and inaction by the Howard government. And what we see from the member for Casey is yet another commitment to inaction. That is what his motion represents—more inaction, cementing the digital divide that already exists in Australia that they created under the Howard government. Because they diddled and fiddled and waited all that time, confused and sitting on their hands, they created and cemented a digital divide.

The digital divide threatens to separate Australia into regions which are information rich and regions which are information poor, and in the process it condemns some Australians to lower standards of living, restricting their opportunities and their rights to participate. It was a terrible thing that the Howard government did to this country, not just on digital TV but also on broadband. We know very well about the digital divide there. We know that their inaction, their special deals—a bit here and there—resulted in a system which was riven with inequality. It was a regional divide. And today they are talking about cementing that again with inaction instead of action. Rather than passing a bill, they will be moving a motion that does nothing—inaction, basically

Getting back to the bill, I want to talk about two areas in my electorate which have had really significant TV reception problems for some time. For years under the old analog system both of those problems were serious issues. Craigmore and Hillbank have been experiencing television reception problems for the last 20 years. The Para Escarpment basically lies in the shadow of Mount Lofty, which has caused all sorts of TV reception problems over the years. Some people simply cannot get any signal at all. Despite having spent hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars on antennas and boosters and the like, they still often cannot receive a signal.

My Labor predecessor in the seat of Bonython, Martyn Evans, improved SBS and ABC coverage by obtaining funding for a tower in Elizabeth South. Sadly, the commercial broadcasters would not come to the party on that occasion because there was some dispute about the local community providing funding for the maintenance of that tower. It created a Mexican stand-off which cost the residents of Craigmore and Hillbank a lot, in that they were not able to watch the tennis or the cricket or the footy on channels 10, 9 or 7. We have a suburb of 10,000 people across northern Adelaide with intermittent or very poor television coverage.

The previous government was well aware of these problems. My Liberal predecessor in Wakefield, David Fawcett, surveyed the area many times, yet we never ever saw concrete action by the previous government to resolve the problems. There was plenty of surveying, plenty of inaction, plenty of ‘if only we could do this or do that’—but never any solutions. The problem with the opposition amendment is that it cements the digital divide; that is what it is all about. When I doorknocked the Craigmore area as a candidate this issue quickly became my No. 1 priority. We got an election commitment from the then Rudd opposition. That became a budget commitment that morphed into proper signal testing in the area, and from June we will have an operational tower which will improve TV reception across Hillbank and Craigmore and give those 10,000 people the same rights as every other Australian. I know there are many in Craigmore and Hillbank who have waited decades for better TV reception. All the technical advice that we have had indicates that this tower will provide that long-awaited coverage. If people want to talk about the switch-over, the proof will be in the pudding. In my case I have found that a problem that existed for 20 years, a problem that my predecessor knew about and surveyed but never actually got a solution for, has been resolved under this government.

So the proof is in the pudding with these things, and I would just urge the public to ignore the opposition’s cries and to march onward into the future with digital television. It is going to be a great advantage. This bill provides regional Australians for the first time with a satellite service that encompasses both national and commercial channels, delivered over a common satellite platform. Access will be through a satellite dish and a set-top box. All Australians living in remote TV licence areas will have access to the new commercial satellite service. And any Australians in regional or metropolitan television licence areas who do not receive adequate digital television services in their terrestrial licence area will also have access. So what this bill does is provide a new layer of protection and a new layer of service to those Australians who have experienced these problems in the past. That will certainly reassure some of my electors in the country areas, particularly those in the Clare Valley. The Clare Valley is a beautiful place, but all the things that make it beautiful: the valleys, the hills, the native fauna or flora—one of those; the flora—

Mr Perrett —Trees!

Mr CHAMPION —Yes, trees. All those things that make it beautiful also make TV reception in the area somewhat problematic. That is a problem I have been made aware of by the Northern Argus, which is a great country paper. I will be doing everything I can to maximise the opportunities for better coverage during the switch-over and to minimise the problems people might face. I think this bill represents action; it represents moving into the future. There will always be concerns and people will rightly have some apprehension about the switch-over, but that does not mean that we should not move forward or that the country should be held back. It certainly does not mean that we should cement in a digital divide in this country which was created by the previous government. We have just got to get on and embrace the future. This bill helps us do that and I commend it to the House.