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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 3522

Mr PERRETT (1:01 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010 and strongly oppose the jeremiad amendment proposed by the member for Casey. Digital television has given Australians access to a whole new world of free content and high-definition television. As someone with two young children, I should perhaps declare an interest here. I particularly love the ABC and some of the pay-TV channels and the way that they help out with babysitting and educating children. However, unfortunately there are still some areas in this land of sweeping plains and rugged mountain ranges that do not receive a quality digital signal, and these are usually in the valleys between the sapphire-misted mountains. We are the flattest continent, but we still have significant mountains. That is why the Rudd government has committed to funding a new commercial digital satellite broadcasting service to improve reception for these black spots. I am very optimistic about the rollout in the Mallee. Unfortunately, hearing from the member for Casey and the member for Mallee reminded me of another poem, Said Hanrahan. In it, Hanrahan says, ‘We’ll all be rooned’. Hearing their speeches—‘it ain’t gonna work; it ain’t gonna work; we’ll all be rooned’—was like listening to Bill and Ben Hanrahan. It was like a cacophony of Cassandra voices. But I am a little bit more optimistic, and I have received assurances from Minister Conroy that the consultation and rollout will occur and will be a wonderful thing.

This bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Copyright Act 1968 to establish the new commercial digital satellite broadcasting service. It creates three new commercial television licence areas for the new satellite service. The licence areas will cover the Northern Territory and Queensland; the ACT, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria; and Western Australia. The satellite service will deliver both national and commercial channels through satellite dish and set-top box. This is an important step in ensuring that all Australians can access digital television. The digital television services of the national broadcasters will be delivered by satellite using the same satellite platform as is used to deliver the commercial digital television services provided by satellite broadcasting service licensees.

Access to commercial channels will be overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, or ACMA, and managed by a conditional access system administered by regional broadcasters. It is expected that commercial digital television channels on the new satellite service will be provided by existing remote commercial television broadcasting licensees; however, if a licensee is unable to provide one or more digital television channels, they will be required to provide equivalent replacement channels from a metropolitan broadcasting licensee. Satellite licensees will have the flexibility to adjust programming such as local sporting events or advertising more relevant to the local audience subject to commercial agreement.

The bill also introduces a statutory licensing scheme into the Copyright Act 1968 to allow the use of programming provided to a satellite service licensee by the remote, regional or metropolitan broadcaster. The new satellite service will provide news and information sourced from the regional commercial broadcasters operating in the relevant satellite licence area. The regional commercial broadcasters will be required to make available local news and programs to the relevant satellite licensee. If a satellite service ignores its licence conditions regarding digital television and local news, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will have the power to cancel the licence and reallocate it to another provider—an example of that simple concept of use it or lose it.

The Rudd government wants to ensure that digital television is fully available to all Australians, no matter where they live. That is why the conditions this bill places on satellite licensees are so comprehensive. The bill also ensures that commercial free-to-air digital services, including multichannels like 7TWO, Go! and One HD, can be provided anywhere in Australia. Under current rules, commercial broadcasters are not allowed to provide the full range of digital television services in a small number of licence areas where, historically, there have been fewer than two commercial broadcasters.

I began with a reference to Dorothea Mackellar’s poem My Country and I will finish with a reference to that poem. I love the far horizons and the jewel-sea of my country, but the land of the Rainbow Gold does throw up a lot of challenges for media and communications. We are such a huge continent. Queensland, for example, is a very spread out state—even though the population is concentrated in the south-east corner, there are significant cities scattered throughout, like Toowoomba, Townsville, Mackay, Cairns and Rockhampton—so there are challenges for media and communications in terms of rolling things out. However, a good government should not allow the tyranny of distance to prevent some Australians from accessing digital television. This bill will ensure that we have a workable framework in place to secure the future of digital television via satellite for all Australians. I commend the bill to the House.