Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1329

Senator ROBERT RAY(5.33) —I begin my remarks on this report by congratulating the secretariat of the Select Committee on Television Equalisation. It worked extremely hard to bring in a very complex report in an abbreviated time. Susan Gibb and her staff deserve the congratulations of the Senate. The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Richardson, has already covered in some depth the majority recommendations in the report, and I do not intend to go over that ground again. There were several dissenting reports, one by Senator Puplick, and I do not intend to cover that today. His was a consistent dissenting report, fairly well argued. We do not agree with some of his conclusions, but I acknowledge that in his dissenting report he has put a logical case for his point of view.

The second dissenting report was signed by Senator Lewis and Senator Sheil. This describes Government policy and our majority report as a bucket of worms. I am not quite sure what animal analogy I could apply to their dissenting report. I congratulate them on coming up with conclusions based on none of the evidence put before the Committee. That is a remarkable achievement. They did attend the Committee meetings. How much they absorbed from them must be thrown into a lot of doubt by reading their dissenting report. First, they argue very much for the fact that television in rural areas should be `market force driven'. That term is never defined by them in their minority report, so it is very hard to understand what they are getting at. It obviously comes from some obsessive desire to prove that they are more hairy-chested free enterprise people than any one else, but I wish they had defined it.

Do they mean that if there are 10 frequencies available, one allows the market to sort it out and issues 10 licences? For instance, here in Canberra if there are 10 frequencies, I assume they are saying that there will be 10 licences. If that is the case, what does it mean? What effect will it have in terms of Australian content? What does it mean in terms of 104 hours of Australian drama? What effect will it have on children's television? Do all those regulations get thrown out of the window because market forces in their pure form are to be observed? For a start, it destroys any reference to `viability' in the Broadcasting and Television Act. That goes out of the window. Why did not those senators say in their report, if they want market forces to go, that they want to remove viability as one of the criteria by which one assesses whether a licence should be issued? I wonder what the industry's reaction will be. The industry is squawking and squealing right now that there may be three stations in an aggregated area. The minority report by Senator Lewis and Senator Sheil implies that there can be up to ten. I would love to hear the reaction subsequently of the industry to that part of the report.

The dissenting report goes on to make assumptions about Aussat II. The satellite has not even been designed, but these two dissenting members of the Committee can already design a function for it. That I cannot understand. One can assume that when Aussat II goes up there will be 60 transponders between the lot, 20 per satellite. One must remember that the launch dates are 1991 to 1996. Apparently if their grand scheme comes in, some rural people by 1996 may get a second commercial service. How generous of them to put that forward. One must also remember that of the 60 new transponders, many will be replacing the old transponders on the first Aussat satellite that went up.

Those dissenting members make no reference to what sort of beam they want from this future satellite. They do not say whether they want a national beam, a regional beam, a spot beam or the latest thing, the so-called pencil beam. There is no mention of that at all. How can we give their report any credence? Once one starts sending up the beam by satellite, what will it do to localism? We heard a lot of evidence about the importance of localism. Indeed, in another section of the minority report signed by Senator Sheil and Senator Lewis they stress localism. There will not be much localism if one sends a picture up to a satellite using market driven forces.

I also noted with humour that they are complaining about the cost of the Government bringing about an equalisation scheme that may cost $160m or more. They are talking about the effect it will have on our balance of payments. Let us look at how much their system would cost. One can do only two things with a satellite. It means that everybody in the rural areas must have a dish to receive the broadcasts. I cannot give any firm figures on the cost of that dish at the moment, but I would love to see Senator Sheil and Senator Lewis go out campaigning and telling everyone in rural areas that they will pay a minimum of $1,000 for a dish. The figure is $2,500 at the moment, but one assumes that with economies of scale and technological advance the figure will be reduced to $1,000. Let them go out on the campaign trail and tell their rural constituents that they will enact legislation that will cost those people $1,000 to receive television pictures and see what sort of reaction they get. Their only other alternative is to put up UHF towers everywhere. If they intend to do that, in my view they might as well go along with our aggregation scheme. Why go to all the bother of beaming it down from the satellite or is this technology gone mad?

The most ridiculous thing I have ever seen in a minority report comes in their reference to cable television. Obviously they have not read the 1982 report. They say that they are worried about cost and the balance of trade and of payments, yet they advocate the introduction of national cable television. When the costings were done in 1982 it was estimated that it would cost some $500m for one capital city to put in cable television. They are not talking about doing it in capital cities of the States but right throughout Australia. With the transfer from copper to optic-fibres they are talking $10 billion minimum to cover half Australia. Yet they are worried about the effect on the balance of payments of the other $200m. Cable television probably is not on any more in a country of this size. It may be that it can be argued for capital cities, but in no way can one put it in rural areas. Do they know the cost of establishing a telephone on a rural property? There is a degree of cross subsidisation that they would agree upon, but one will never get cable television to those areas.

Those honourable senators go on in their report to advocate competitive tender for licences. That is ill-defined. How many licences are they talking about? If they are talking about hundreds of licences, we will not get a zack for them. Or are they arguing that a government will just leak out the licences when the price is right, as a fund raising measure? Forget the poor old rural viewers. All that a government will do with competitive tendering for licences is use this method as a money raiser. That is absolutely ridiculous. By the way, if the two dissenters are so anxious to support competitive tendering, why last year in this Senate did they vote against cash bidding for oil leases when we put up that legislation? It is a very similar principle. We have a finite number of exploration areas and we argued very strongly that these should be put out to the highest bidder. Everyone on the Opposition benches voted against it. That was ridiculous.

This report, which in many ways supports the proposed Government action, is saying this: `We want three competitive services in the shortest possible time in rural Australia. We want this on a basis that these services are competitive and that there is not just a cosy monopoly as there has been in the past. We want it on a basis of strong cross media ownership rules'. That is what the majority report argues. We want three stations free to air time. We do not want something that will involve people living in rural areas in the expenditure of well over $1,000 for a dish. We are arguing for a system in which localism will be maintained and where there will be some sort of link in with the networks so that costs will not go through the ceiling.

I support very strongly the majority report and reiterate that the minority report signed by Senator Sheil and Senator Lewis is, to my mind, just a joke. It has no relevance to the evidence that we heard; it is fantasy; I believe that it is a product of intellectual sloth. Those honourable senators should reconsider their views, or at least read the other two dissenting reports to find out exactly how it is done.