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Tuesday, 2 December 1986
Page: 3155


Senator VIGOR(3.11) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The annual report of the Department of Communications is a massive document. I would like to take a few points from it and particularly highlight some of the chronic problems which the Department faces in its engineering area. These problems, however, get hardly any mention in the annual report, despite the fact that they are serious problems affecting the operations of the Department and the broadcasting industry. New radio and television services are not being provided to the Australian people. The supplementary licence scheme was completely undermined by a lack of political and administrative will to make it work. The record, after three years of television legislation and four years of radio legislation, is two supplementary radio licences proposed for Canberra; and one independent radio licence for Mildura, which, apparently, is under a court challenge.

Annual reports should bring to the attention of the Parliament the major problems which are confronting individual departments: There is a major problem, but it has not been mentioned. Everybody in the industry is coming to me and crying about the lack of engineering skills in the Department. The Department's level of efficiency at the policy level and in terms of its failure to provide a service to the Australian people needs some scrutiny. I take, for example, the video and audio entertainment information service matter which is in a shambles. This is the proposal which involves putting through satellite entertainments to hotels. The Department did not have the ability to handle the regulations in this area in a reasonable and orderly fashion so it had to be dealt with under separate arrangements. There is absolutely no way of collecting proper licence fees from the people concerned. In the process, the current commercial television and radio operators have been disadvantaged. They pay licence fees relating to income earned from advertising. Their competitors in video and audio entertainment do not pay any such levy. Did the Department examine the potential revenue that could be obtained by these means? I do not know, but certainly we are not told so in the annual report, despite its large size and its many words.

The Department mentions in its report the report by Henry Ergas which is called `Telecommunications and the Australian Economy'. The report was released in March 1986. On page 74 of the annual report we find mention, among the findings of Mr Ergas, of the following:

. . . telecommunications investment levels should be increased by 10-15 per cent immediately, followed by annual investment growth of 4-8 per cent in real terms . . . investment in telecommunications infrastructure will not `crowd out' private investment . . .

The Department was not very persuasive about the investment needed to establish a telecommunications manufacturing industry. The Government appears to have decided to bleed both Telecom Australia and the Overseas Telecommunications Commission this financial year to get down its rubbery deficit figures on paper.

The Department has played a positive role in trying to get the interfering and uninformed minds of the Department of Treasury and the Department of Finance away from the corporate plans of the various statutory authorities. However, I have considered various projects in Estimates committee hearings, including a terrible tendering program for Australia Post's electronic counter services equipment which needs considerably more investigation than the Department has so far undertaken. There is no mention of this project in the report. The report leaves a lot to be desired. It is typified mainly by the things which are missed out.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.