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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6379


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:51): I speak in support of the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2012. The bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to include the regulatory framework for digital television services. Importantly, it will facilitate earlier access to services licensed under section 38C, known as viewer access satellite television, or VAST, for viewers in areas which will not be able to receive adequate digital reception after digital switchover and gives the minister greater flexibility in varying the dates in switchover determinations.

These amendments will benefit television viewers in regional and metropolitan areas who do not receive adequate commercial digital television terrestrial reception. Currently, viewers in Australia who do not receive adequate commercial digital television terrestrial reception are not eligible to access the VAST service until six months before switchover in their licensed area. The proposed amendments to the conditional access scheme will establish a means for those viewers whom the commercial broadcasters do not intend to serve terrestrially to obtain early access to the VAST service.

On 2 November 2009 the minister made the Broadcasting Services (Simulcast Period For Metropolitan Licence Areas) Determination (No. 1) 2009, which determines when the switchover would occur. Switchover for Brisbane TV1 and Perth TV1 licence areas will occur on 30 June 2013. Switchover for Adelaide TV1, Melbourne TV1 and Sydney TV1 licence areas will occur on 31 December 2013. Following further consultation with broadcasters it is apparent that the switchover dates in all of the metropolitan licence areas are likely to require change. These variations in the switchover dates are to facilitate a staggered approach to the transition to digital television in metropolitan areas to ensure both government assistance schemes and broadcaster engineering resources are available and appropriately managed to achieve digital switchover by the end of 2013. In some cases the amended dates could fall outside the legislated six-month variation window where a determination can be varied up to three months earlier or three months later than the determined date. This means that setting the dates in some metropolitan areas could not be made by a simple variation to the Broadcasting Services (Simulcast Period For Metropolitan Licence Areas) Determination (No. 1) 2009.

The amendments allow the minister to vary the date of the switchover determination to a new date that the minister specifies, provided that the date determined is before 31 December 2013. Current restrictions do not provide the minister with sufficient flexibility to do this. Current restrictions do not provide the minister with sufficient flexibility to do this. Similarly, legislative provisions governing the making of digital-only local market areas determinations to allow the minister to vary the timing when a local market area becomes a digital-only market area are also being amended.

Failure to pass the bill during the winter 2012 sittings will delay earlier access to VAST services for some viewers in digital television blackspots in the major population centres of Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Failure to pass the bill during the winter 2012 sittings will also prevent the minister from varying the switchover dates in metropolitan areas to ensure that switch-over occurs progressively throughout the year and that the switchover dates are varied in time to provide certainty to both viewers and the broadcasting industry.

This is an important consideration for people who live in my electorate of Makin. One of the proposed variations in the switchover dates requested by the broadcasting industry was to determine the switchover date for Adelaide in the first half of 2013. This would be welcomed by people living in Makin and other residents in South Australia.

This is a matter that is of real importance and would be very much welcomed by the people of the electorate which I represent—the people of Makin. My electorate is located along the Para Escarpment, which is predominantly what would be referred to as a 'hills face zone'. For decades, people living in that region have not received good television reception. That is because the TV towers of the main channels are located on the top of Mount Lofty above the area of my electorate. Many homes do not receive the signals because they are not in direct line of sight from where the signals are sent. Homes in some of the valleys, or which are obstructed by some of the local hills from the direct line signals, receive very, very poor service. This has been a longstanding problem.

Of course, in recent years the installation of cable TV, such as Foxtel, has helped out. But unfortunately not all people can afford pay TV. Even with some retransmission facilities that have been constructed over the years, the service to some parts of the electorate is still very poor. And it has been made even worse by interference caused by the roofs of some very large buildings that have been constructed in the area in recent years. Services whereby the TV screen becomes snowy or fuzzy, or in some cases where there is no service at all, or where you have what is referred to as 'ghosting' are commonly brought to my attention. I can recall having a long discussion with Mr Ian Hunt, a local resident of Salisbury East, who spent some time looking into this matter and the causes of the poor reception to people in the region. We had a discussion about what those causes were and what some of the solutions might be. It was interesting to speak to him because he certainly has done some really good work in respect of analysing what the problems were.

This legislation is therefore most welcome because for so many people in my electorate it will mean that finally they might be able to get some good television reception. In respect of that I have heard stories of people who have spent considerable amounts of money replacing their television set, constructing different types of aerials—sometimes at considerable cost—putting in new set-top boxes and the like, and yet they have still failed to get a good reception.

The importance of this legislation is simply this: firstly, digital TV should provide better reception to all. My understanding is that the digital signal is much more effective. Secondly, the digital switchover in Adelaide may be brought forward to the first half of 2013, and that is also good news. Thirdly, it now means for those people who have been waiting so long to get good television reception that they will be able to do so as a result of the flexibility that this legislation provides to the minister to enable people to access the satellite VAST service much sooner than they otherwise would have been able to do. It is the access to the satellite service that I believe is absolutely important with respect to this particular legislation.

I represent an electorate where there are a considerable number of aged people. For aged people today, access to their television set and having a good picture is very, very important, particularly if they are aged people confined to their home or who have other mobility problems. Television today is not simply a luxury anymore, as it might have been in years gone by. It is an important facet of life because people get so much information through the television set. It provides entertainment to those who cannot leave their home and, to many people who are living alone, it also provides a sense of company. For those reasons it is important for them to have good television service. Some of the people who have, over the years, raised with me their concerns about the poor service they are receiving are, in fact, elderly people.

This is good legislation because, for all of those people who have been waiting decades to get good television service, it looks as if they will be able to do so much sooner than they otherwise might have been able to. For those reasons I commend the legislation to the House.