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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2998

Mr MATHESON (6:45 PM) —The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend and Other Measures) Bill 2011 covers many details and measures. However, I would like to focus my attention on the proposed auction of the 694-through to 820-megahertz frequencies of the radio spectrum, known as the digital dividend, when our nation switches from analog to digital television. The auctioning of this 126 megahertz will deliver a revenue windfall to the Treasury. This spectrum will no doubt be highly sought after by mobile telecommunications and internet corporations, as this particular spectrum is ideal for carrying large amounts of data at very high speed over long distances and has the ability to penetrate buildings and other structures. Because of these unique features, this part of the radio spectrum would also be invaluable to the police and emergency services to safeguard public safety, particularly during emergencies and critical incidents when other communications systems are congested or break down.

I strongly believe it is necessary for measures to be included in this bill to ensure that part of the spectrum will be made available to police and emergency services in times of emergency. The peak bodies of Australia’s police, firefighting, ambulance and other emergency services have requested 20 megahertz of the spectrum to be reserved for these disaster situations. The use of this spectrum represents some amazing opportunities for frontline emergency services and could revolutionise the way these services operate. Mr Deputy Speaker, I bring to your attention a fact sheet that was sent to all MPs and senators by the Police Federation of Australia. In this fact sheet they have raised a number of concerns and made comments in relation to reserving part of this spectrum for emergency services personnel. This updates our February alert that the police and emergency services need the spectrum in the 700-megahertz band for digital dividend for public safety. I will read some quotes from the fact sheet:

All of Australia’s Police Commissioners met on 11 March to reaffirm the need for 20 MHz of the available 126 MHz—

which equates to about 16 per cent. The fact sheet continues:

They are supporting the Attorney-General’s proposal to reserve spectrum for these ‘mission critical’ purposes. Australia’s fire authorities and ambulance services are also united behind this proposal.

COAG has agreed that all these emergency services must have seamless, secure and robust communication systems. It’s called inter-operability.

The major telcos, like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, will be bidding for the spectrum at auction. On behalf of these big three telcos, a misinformation campaign is being run by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).

To set the record straight, Motorola—a company with the technical expertise to know what’s what—agrees that our public safety organisations need part of the 700 MHz band ‘for dealing with crisis situations’. Motorola said ‘Australia risked mortgaging its future if emergency services were unable to obtain some of this spectrum’; it ‘is critical to the future of emergency services users’.

Motorola also refutes the claim that other bands like 400 MHz or 800 MHz would do the job for police and emergency services. And they debunk the argument that Australia would be out of step with the Asia Pacific regional plan.

Congestion on telco networks is a serious problem during emergencies. Their communications systems are not designed and built to ‘importance level 1’ which public safety agencies build to. And if any telco forced to provide a service to police, was foreign owned, national security could be compromised.

Finally, police and emergency services have never said they should get spectrum for $0. State and Territory police spend millions of dollars now on their stand alone communications networks. Any charge applying to public safety agencies should take into account their non-commercial use of spectrum for public safety purposes as per the Radiocommunications Act 1992.

We also understand an Access Economics report for A-G’s says that if 20 MHz is reserved, the revenue raised at auction may not fall. The spectrum is rare and valuable and may become more so.

The Police Federation of Australia are surely an agency that we should all be listening to. This is an issue of national significance, and I hope the minister is listening. We can only assume that the sale of the digital dividend is being used for promotional purposes, probably to try to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13.