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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2920

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (1:41 PM) —As we have heard, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend and Other Measures) Bill 2011 seeks to take some further steps in the government’s program to convert Australia’s television system to digital. The elements in the bill will make some improvements in that regard, but this debate gives us an opportunity to review the progress of the analog switch-off. There are widespread concerns in the community about the impact on households of the digital conversion. This is the first time in history that a Labor government has delivered something to the country areas before the cities. I suppose that should have set off alarms in the first place. Country areas are clearly being used as the experimental guinea pigs to see whether this conversion can be run smoothly before it is attempted in any of the large cities.

The member for Greenway said that the digital television system will deliver equality of access to people in regional Australia. It is true to say that for most people who live in regional communities it will deliver equality of access to the range of channels that exist in the cities. There will also be a small number of people in remote areas who will be better off than they were, and that is certainly to the credit of this program. Unfortunately, there will also be some thousands who will be much worse off. Those people cause me the greatest concern.

The government’s decision to not convert over 400 of the self-help transmitters around the country means that over 400 communities will have their analog television signals switched off and there will be no digital transmission coming from the transmitters. Instead, the government is offering a satellite option, an option which is obviously inferior for most of these people. The government is going to make billions of dollars out of the sale of the spectrum that will be freed up as a result of the closure of the analog television network. Why can’t it spend some of those dollars—$100 million or so would just about do it—to convert all of the self-help transmitters so that people living in small regional communities and in some cases urban communities are able to get their signal in the same way that they get it now? That is surely a reasonable request.

About 100 or so of the transmitters will be converted, largely at the expense of the television stations themselves, but over 400 will not. That seems to me to be not treating people in regional areas as fairly as they should be treated.

Debate interrupted