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Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Page: 1486


Senator BOURNE (9:33 AM) —by leave—I move:

(1) Clause 9, page 9 (after line 5), after subclause (3), insert:

(3A) The Minister for Finance and Administration must not make a declaration under this section in respect of a transfer of assets unless the arrangements for the transfer specify the responsibilities of parties to the transfer for any community service obligations under section 15A.

(2) Page 10 (after line 26), after clause 12, insert:

Part 2A—National Transmission Network Reserve

12A Establishment of the National Transmission Network Reserve

(1) A fund called the National Transmission Network Reserve is established.

(2) The Reserve is a component of the Reserved Money Fund under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 .

(3) The purpose of the Reserve is to make payments for subsidising the costs of community and national broadcasting services in transferring to digital broadcasting.

12B Payments into the Reserve

There is to be paid into the Reserve in any financial year an amount equal to any amount received by the Commonwealth as a result of a transfer of assets under section 9 (either directly or indirectly in any form including shares or the proceeds of the sale of shares) in that financial year.

12C Payments out of the Reserve

(1) Amounts in the Reserve are to be applied for the purpose of assisting community and national broadcasting services to transfer to digital broadcasting.

(2) Amounts in the Reserve may also be applied for the payment of carriage fees and fees for access to sites or telecommunications transmission towers on behalf of a customer who is a nominated customer because of subsection 15(3) or (6).

(3) Total payments out of the Reserve in any financial year must not be less than payments into the Reserve in that year.

(4) The Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts is to decide what proportion of the fund in any year is to be applied for the assistance of national broadcasting services and what proportion is to be applied for the assist ance of community broadcasting services, provided that not less than 5% of the fund in any year is to be applied for the assistance of community broadcasting services.

12D Investments and income of the Reserve

(1) So far as is practicable, money in the Reserve that is not required for the purpose of making payments out of the Reserve is to be invested in accordance with the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 .

(2) Amounts equal to income derived from the investment of money in the Reserve are to be transferred to the Reserve from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

12E Payments

Amounts required or permitted to be paid under this Act are to be paid out of money appropriated by the Parliament for the purpose.

The Democrats have several amendments to the National Transmission Network Sale Bill 1998 and the National Transmission Network Sale (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1998 and have several questions for the minister as well. Both the first and the second Democrat amendments relate to the establishment of a National Transmission Network Reserve. This would be a fund to hold the money that comes in from any sale under this act. The money that is so held would be allocated by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts for the purpose of mainly digitisation of the national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS. A maximum of five per cent of the fund would be to assist the community sector in changing to digital, and the rest could also be used for various other purposes which would include payment of carriage fees and fees for access to sites or telecommunications transmission towers on behalf of customers.

The nominated customers—the ABC, SBS, community broadcasters, emergency service organisations, commercial broadcasters in declared remote areas, non-profit bodies and any government bodies—could have their fees paid by the government through this fund as well. I think the government estimates at the moment that the money that would come in from the sale would be between $200 million and $300 million—I do not have it down here, but I think that is right. Perhaps the minister could enlighten us.

As we all know, the amount of money that the ABC will need to transfer to digital for both their broadcasting and their transmission facilities has been estimated by Arthur Andersen in the report to be about $180 million. If they sell off as much of their property as they possibly can, which I think is a very bad idea—and, if I recall, Arthur Andersen thought it was a very bad idea as well—they would need anywhere between $84 million and $108 million. Obviously that money has to come from somewhere.

At the moment, the government has promised $21 million plus about another $22 million or $23 million, which comes nowhere near $180 million or even $84 million. It seems to us that this would be the most sensible way and, indeed, the easiest way to make sure that both the national broadcasters and the community broadcasters have the funds that they will definitely need—it has to happen—to transfer their television to digital. Then, of course, there will be the extra funds that will be needed to transfer radio to digital. That has not even been decided yet. We have not seen that legislation yet. There are no standards yet for that.

Having the fund in reserve as an amount of money which could be used to do all those things seems to us to be an eminently sensible way of doing it. The minister, Senator Alston, did say during the digital bill that the government would fund the ABC to transfer to digital. The money has to come from somewhere. We think that, if this is put aside for where the money comes from, everybody—the ABC, SBS, community broadcast listeners and workers—will feel a lot more sure, a lot more certain, that digitisation of the national broadcasters and of community broadcasters will be able to happen smoothly. There will be a lot more certainty about it than there is at the moment.