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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 3579

Ms MARINO (4:52 PM) —I rise to support the amendment moved by the member for Casey to the second reading of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010. This bill will enable the delivery of digital television services by satellite to viewers who cannot receive an adequate terrestrial signal for the digital television services licensed for the areas in which they live. While the coalition does not oppose the bill, we have concerns that only 87 of the 698 self-help retransmission sites across Australia have been identified for upgrading. Television viewers in regional, rural and remote areas deserve the same access to television as their city counterparts, ideally through an upgrade of terrestrial service and not through satellite.

This legislation was referred to the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. One of the concerns which was raised in many of the Senate inquiry submissions is the cost of installing satellite receiving equipment for households in regional and remote Australia, such as households in my electorate of Forrest and in your electorate of Grey, Mr Deputy Speaker Ramsey. The cost to such households includes the cost of installation, the equipment required and how and when people will know if they require satellite equipment.

On this note, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has stated that households requiring satellites are expected to pay, on average, $650 for equipment and installation, of which $400 will be subsidised by the government, meaning that householders will still be approximately $250 out of pocket. Mr Andy Townend from the Digital Switchover Taskforce has stated that the new satellite service would create a situation where householders who wish to receive both the full range of services available on the new satellite network and subscription TV would need two satellite dishes and two set-top boxes. If this is the case, it will cost such householders in our areas even more.

My regional and rural electorate of Forest will be the last area in Australia to switch over, with the switch-over date set for between 1 July and 31 December 2013. I have been contacted all the same by licensed installers from my electorate. One of them shared with me his concerns about the digital switch-over from his perspective. One of the issues he raised was that, if no towers are being upgraded in my electorate and his part of the world—which I believe is correct—installers must be notified whether, when a new house is built in the region, they are required to fit the house with an antenna or a satellite.

The installer informed me that presently most new homeowners are choosing to have antennas installed, as a cheaper option. However, if in two years they can get extra channels via satellite, it would be more cost-effective to have the satellite option installed now. Even though digital television may not be available in my area until 2013, installers and homeowners need to know now what equipment they should be installing in houses now in preparation for that future. This would be a far more efficient and cost-effective process.

Another area of uncertainty for my electorate in this bill is that currently the Forrest electorate has digital transmission for ABC; however, there is no confirmation from broadcasters of whether or not GWN and WIN will also have their own digital transmission towers. In an article in the Adelaide Advertiser on 9 March 2010, regional network WIN raised concerns at the cost of paying for the digitalisation of its Western Australian and South Australian networks. In the article, WIN owner Bruce Gordon is quoted as saying:

We are looking to the Government to say, ‘You’re going to have to help because we’ll go broke quick enough without having to buy 68 new transmitters for WA to go digital.’

That means that residents in my electorate may need an antenna to be able to access the ABC and a satellite to access GWN or WIN if these networks do not have transmitters in the region. People who currently have satellite dishes are being bombarded with free-to-air adverts about channels that they currently cannot receive. Eastern states and even Perth residents may be able to view the new channels being promoted, but south-west residents cannot.

I recently received an email from a constituent in my electorate who is quite angered by ‘the state of the commercial TV networks who seem to be making a joke out of the conversion to digital TV’. My constituent highlighted that, when the commercial TV services went digital in Perth, the introduction of the subchannels such as GO!, 7Two and One HD saw a number of programs move from the main channels to the subchannels. This resulted in some programs previously available on the commercial TV channels in regional WA simply disappearing and being inaccessible for those people. Some can also no longer enjoy the picture quality that a digital TV set-up provides.

My office has received a number of calls from residents in response to an article in a local newspaper, the Bunbury Mail, on 3 December, where GWN and WIN stated that they have no intention of converting to digital until close to the changeover date of 2013. They are concerned that there may be a reason or an excuse to delay further when that date actually approaches.

The Mount Lennard transmitter in my electorate serves most of the south-west, with a coverage of over 150,000 people. This is a seriously large audience. It really does not make sense that there are no plans to upgrade this transmitter to digital in the near future.

I am also concerned as to how the government will regulate installers. We certainly do not want to see a repeat of the process we saw in the Home Insulation Program. We cannot afford to have a repeat of that bungled program.

As these issues highlight, people right across Australia deserve certainty regarding the digital switch-over—when it is going to be rolled out, exactly how much it is going to cost and how much it is going to cost them. The Labor government must do the simple hard work and provide the necessary levels of funding and on-ground support to ensure viewers are not left without a television picture when the analog signal is switched off.

The coalition has always said that local content currently available, including news, sport and community information relevant to each region should continue to be available in digital. The government’s plan will be judged by the actual delivery of digital services on television screens right around Australia and certainly in my electorate of Forrest.

In concluding, we certainly have some concerns that only 87 of the 698 self-help retransmission sites across Australia have been identified for upgrading and that there is still an amount of uncertainty surrounding this bill. Television viewers in regional, rural and remote areas—such as the residents in my electorate of Forrest—deserve the same access to television as their city counterparts. As we all know, with so many farmers and people engaged in small business in those areas, access to services like this play a critical part in their lives and often in their businesses. I support the amendments proposed by the shadow minister.