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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 119

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (19:50): The decision by the ABC to cease operation of the shortwave radio services in the Northern Territory is both irresponsible and ill informed—and, I might say, just plain wrong.

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, the member for Solomon, Mr Gosling, and I have made it unequivocally clear to the ABC management that we disagree with their decision to switch off shortwave services and that it was done without consultation. And not only was it done without consultation it was done without any appropriate alternative technology in place to replace the shortwave services that are currently relied upon by so many people across the north of Australia.

This service has provided the only reliable source of information and entertainment to remote communities, pastoral stations and their employees, rangers, truck drivers, campers, fishermen, travellers and a multitude of other people who live in the north, and yet their views have been totally disregarded by the ABC, which took this decision without any intent to consult with or to consider the views of those listeners—those most loyal listeners—to the ABC who live in these remote regions of Australia.

Anyone who drives up the Stuart Highway—just the Stuart Highway, let alone going off the Stuart Highway—will soon understand and appreciate the importance of having access to shortwave services, because the AM and FM services just do not cut it. What we have learnt is that this decision was made by the ABC—apparently around a $1.2 million or $1.3 million saving—to allow the expansion of digital services to urban areas. What does this say about what the ABC thinks of the bush?

The decision has been treated with dismay and anger across the north, and that anger has not dissipated despite the fact that these services were closed down at the end of last month. Tracey Hayes, the chief executive of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, has said:

The issue that is of concern is that the ABC has failed to have a discussion with people in the bush to consult and provide any reasonable notice or explanation—

about the intended cuts to the shortwave radio service in the NT.

ABC will be providing digital radio to people in the city (who already have a magnitude of options to connect) and taking away the only option for bush people—people who don't have reliable internet access, mobile reception—

mobile satellite services—

or radio.

Louise Bilato, Executive Officer of the Northern Territory Road Transport Association, said:

Is this yet another example of double standards with those who live and work in remote Australia simply being expected to put up and shut up? The ABC should be proud to deliver services to the bush where they’ve probably got a greater listenership audience per capita than they do in the city.

Hear, hear to that!

This issue now belongs squarely in the lap of the government. The Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield, has been all but absent in the discussion, yet in response to a letter from the honourable member for Whitlam, Stephen Jones MP, he said, 'This decision is in no way related to government funding, which was confirmed for the last three years in the last budget.' So there we have it: Pontius Pilate wiping his hands. He goes on: 'While the ABC has since confirmed its decision, the government is confident the public broadcaster has learned some valuable lessons about community consultation and engagement in regional and remote areas.'

In this new post-truth world, where the fake news of the ABC relating to this issue is abundantly clear to all who care to have a look, this decision could be quickly dealt with by the government making available the $1.2 million or $1.3 million that is required to reinstate this service. This service should be reinstated so that the ABC can undertake a process of consultation to properly understand the impact of the decision on remote areas of the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia—which they clearly do not understand—and to make sure there is an appropriate available technology to take its place, which currently there is not.

Why should people who live in remote Australia suffer because of the idiocy of the ABC management and the ignorance of the Australian government? Clearly, it is not up to us to direct the ABC board, but it is up to us to say to the government, 'You have in your hands the capacity to change this decision by giving the ABC the money that is required to restart shortwave transmitter services across the North of Australia.' The Prime Minister has been written to by the Hon. Bill Shorten and there has been no response. I say to the Prime Minister: show people in remote Australia what you really think of them and do something positive for once, instead of sitting on your hands.