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Monday, 9 August 1999
Page: 7087

Senator O'Brien asked the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, upon notice, on 9 July 1999:

(1) When did the Latrobe Council in Tasmania first write to the National Transmission Agency (NTA) about difficulties with television reception for many residents in Port Sorell, Shearwater and Hawley.

(2) Did the NTA receive any submissions from any other organisations or individuals about the poor television reception in those areas; if so: (a) who made those submissions; and (b) when were they received by the NTA.

(3) Did the NTA identify a site for a transmitter to address the problems facing these communities.

(4) (a) When did the NTA commence the process of site identification and transmitter development; and (b) when was the site located.

(5) Were any contracts let as part of the process of locating a transmitter in the region; if so: (a) what was the nature of each contract; (b) what was the cost; and (c) was each contract completed.

(6) If some contracts were not completed: (a) were they still paid out; and (b) what happened with regard to any unfinished work associated with each contract.

(7) (a) What expenditure was incurred by the NTA in progressing the establishment of a transmitter to assist these communities; and (b) can a breakdown be provided of those costs.

(8) (a) When did the NTA cease work on the establishment of the transmitter, and (b) what was the justification for not completing the project.

Senator Alston (Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Latrobe Council wrote on one occasion to the National Transmission Agency (NTA) about the television reception in the Port Sorell district. The Latrobe Council letter is dated 9 February 1999.

(2) (a and b) The NTA received three submissions concerning television reception in the Port Sorell area:

The Hon Dick Adams MP, the Member for Lyons, who met with the NTA on 1 June 1995;

A letter from Mr John Robertson of Port Sorell (received by the NTA on 24 October 1996); and

A letter from Senator Kay Denman, dated 17 March 1997, representing Mr Bob Walker of Port Sorrel, Mrs J Meehan of Shearwater, and Mrs Tuner of Northdown.

(3) The NTA identified a number of sites in the area that could provide television signals, with varying degrees of efficiency, to the communities. Of these sites, Hawk Trap Hill was the preferred location. A site adjacent to the Port Sorell reservoir was potentially suitable.

(4) (a) The Port Sorell area was identified as likely to require translator facilities during planning for Band II Clearance which commenced in 1991. The NTA began actively considering potential sites for the establishment of the translator in 1994, concurrent with the commencement of ABC TV simulcast UHF transmissions from Mt Barrow, Launceston.

(b) The first and best translator location, Hawk Trap Hill, was identified in 1995. In August 1995, an NTA field survey team conducted propagation tests from this site. On the basis of the tests, the NTA determined that a translator located on Hawk Trap Hill could receive a program input signal suitable for retransmission and would provide good UHF television coverage in and around Port Sorrel, Shearwater and Hawley Beach.

The NTA was unable to complete the acquisition of access to Hawk Trap Hill because the land, which was designated as a public recreation area, was the habitat for Spyridium obcordatum. The plant was listed as vulnerable under the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992.

The NTA consequently investigated a number of other potential sites. Of those sites, the only viable alternative, near the Port Sorell reservoir, would not provide the degree of coverage offered by Hawk Trap Hill. It would require a much taller mast than Hawk Trap Hill, and the installation of microwave links for program input, thereby being more visually intrusive and costing more than twice as much as would a facility on Hawk Trap Hill.

(5) (a) (b) (c) and (6) (a) (b) (c) There were no contracts made to provide translator facilities in the area.

(7) (a) (b) The expenditure incurred by the NTA to identify and acquire a suitable translator site at Port Sorell is not separately identified in NTA records. A breakdown of those costs cannot therefore be provided.

(8) (a) The NTA effectively ceased work on the Port Sorell translator during the later half of 1998.

(b) After the Government confirmed its intention to sell the National Transmission Network (NTN) on 29 July 1998, the NTA undertook a review of projects in hand to determine which ones could be completed prior to the sale. As the NTA had not been able to acquire a suitable site at Port Sorrel, it determined that practical completion of the translator, or the letting of contracts for later completion, were not possible in the time remaining. The NTA therefore directed its resources to such projects as could be brought to completion.