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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 399


Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (19:29): I rise to speak in the Senate tonight on an issue of great importance to the people of the Northern Territory, to Northern Australia, to Australians in the Pacific region and to all those who rely on the ABC's short-wave radio service right across this country. On 6 December the ABC decided to reveal information showing that it would no longer allow short-wave radio to continue beyond 31 January. This was the first time that anyone in Northern Australia had learnt of, or was even aware that the ABC was considering, this drastic change to their lives. One of the incredibly disappointing aspects of this, on top of the announcement itself, is that they only gave seven weeks notice and that they provided the information at a time when we in the north are incredibly vulnerable to the weather conditions, as it is the wet season. We are vulnerable to cyclones, to floodings and to all kinds of unpredictable weather. In fact, even in the Pacific as recently as earlier this week the Solomon Islands were receiving warnings about flooding and possible landslides. People there were being encouraged to listen to short-wave radio, which now no longer exists, because on 31 January short-wave radio was switched off.

Why is short-wave radio important to the people of Northern Australia? Because it is the only reliable source of information that people can tune in to rain, hail or shine. It is the only reliable information that people can access, because there is no thorough access with internet coverage, telephone communications or even satellite phones. Satellite phones rely on the sun shining. In places like Northern Australia the sun does not shine all the time. If you are trying to hold that satellite phone out there to try and get information about the weather, or to get emergency details out, or even just to talk to someone because you are feeling isolated and alone and it is something important for your emotional health and wellbeing, you cannot access it 100 per cent.

I explain these things to give the Senate an understanding of Australia's vast remoteness—and I am not talking about the 'VAST' technology yet; I am talking about 'vast' in the sense of remoteness. The remoteness is so great in this country, and people choose to live in various beautiful parts of Australia—people who farm their properties; people who muster their cattle; people who fish in our seas for their livelihoods; people who man the coastlines looking out for illegal fishing boats and monitoring the dugongs and sea turtles around our coasts; and people who travel the hundreds and thousands of kilometres across our many roads in our vast areas of country. All of these people listen to short-wave radio. It is their only form of communication.

Now, if you are living on an isolated cattle station, you are told that you must have access to VAST—viewer access satellite television. On your cattle station, you must now carry that satellite dish on your horse as you muster cattle, as you set up camp out on the Barkly, or as you go across the VRD. Make sure you take that big satellite dish and put it on your horse, because that is the only way you are going to be able to know what is going on in terms of communication. And there is more—those of you out in your tinnies, prepare to put that big satellite dish on the end of your boat. As you are out there fishing for your livelihood, wanting to know what the weather patterns are doing, whether there is a cyclone coming, whether a particular creek or waterway is a place to go, just throw that satellite dish on your tinny and you'll be right, mate. For all those truckies who travel the regions delivering food supplies and mail, just chuck that satellite dish on your truck, mate, and you'll be right, too. That is what the ABC and that is what the Turnbull government are expecting the people of Northern Australia to do.

We do not have the capability yet, as our brothers and sisters in the cities of the south do, to access the digital technology that we so do want to access. We want to have that, but we are not there yet, and we should not be missing out on vital services as a result of someone's brainwave decision to remove the only service that provides information for all of these categories that I have explained so far, and also for our Aboriginal communities who need to know what is going on. It is not good enough for the ABC or even the government to say that FM and AM services are accessible when people are telling you they are not. I urge senators: travel out to Northern Australia and find out for yourselves. I urge the minister and I certainly call on the Managing Director of the ABC to go out to these regions. This is not a call because people feel like making a problem. This is a call that is based on people's livelihoods. It is a life and death matter for many people, and I quote that from the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association. They worry about their pastoralists who remain isolated for long periods of time as a result of their cattle work. These are people whose own emotional health and wellbeing is dramatically impacted because of this decision as well.

So this is incredibly serious to northern Australia, and I ask southern Australia to take a deep breath and acknowledge when you have made a serious error in judgement. Do not keep passing the buck and saying, 'It's someone else's decision; isn't it bad!' To hear the minister stand up today and admit that the consultation process was totally inadequate and that the time given to the people of northern Australia and indeed the Pacific region—six weeks over Christmas and New Year; such limited time to respond appropriately—was a complete slap in the face. It was a complete rejection by the ABC of its own listeners—very loyal listeners—and by this government to accept that that decision is okay.

Members opposite have said that Labor is wanting the Turnbull government to direct the ABC. We are not asking that at all. We are saying: just do your job. Fund the ABC adequately so that these kinds of decisions do not have to be made. In fact, go further: today you admit to the House, to the Senate, that consultation was totally inadequate. Well, then, stop this. Work with the ABC, Minister. Allow the proper consultation process to take place. Reinstate the service and make sure you fund it adequately going forward for all Australians.

Senate adjourned at 19:3 9