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Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Page: 38

Senator ADAMS (12:30 PM) —As the third West Australian senator to rise today to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2005 [2006], I would like to say this is very good news for Western Australia. I see that there are two other West Australian senators in the chamber who are probably going to speak on the bill as well. It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this bill as it will have a profoundly positive effect on people in my home state of Western Australia, and in fact my hometown of Kojonup, which is located in the Great Southern region of the state. It is in rural areas like Kojonup where residents will, for the first time, be able to enjoy a level of television services similar to those currently enjoyed by viewers in Perth.

Perth residents have access to three commercial networks and two national networks. There has been considerable discussion amongst regional Western Australian communities regarding a potential third commercial television network for regional Western Australia—I have noticed several articles in our regional papers, especially the Kalgoorlie Miner. The bill allows for the implementation of the agreed model for the introduction of commercial digital television services in remote Western Australia. This includes all areas outside the Perth metropolitan area. This model includes a joint provision by WIN and Golden West Network of a third digital-only commercial television service under section 38B of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

Item 3 of schedule 1 to the bill currently sets 1 January 2006 as the cut-off date from which the Australian Communications and Media Authority, known as ACMA, can start the process to allocate the licence for the section 38B service. This deadline was intended to speed up the process and get these services delivered to remote WA. As the date for commencement has passed, the bill requires amendment. Since the introduction of the bill on 23 June 2005, both WIN and Golden West Network have worked quickly to develop plans for the introduction of their digital services. I understand that WIN and Golden West Network are ready to enact the service subject to the passage of this legislation. The digital transmission of their current television services in remote Australia will commence in 2007 with the new third service starting shortly after.

The amendment to the bill, deleting item 3 of schedule 1, will allow ACMA to set a revised date to commence the allocation process for the third commercial digital service. Within six months of this bill receiving passage and royal assent, ACMA in consultation with WIN and Golden West Network will set a launch date. We will make a small amendment so a date for the implementation can be revised and then remote communities in Western Australia will be able to enjoy a substantially increased range of information and entertainment. Unfortunately there is the small matter of the totally unrelated amendments that Labor and the Greens are trying to move, effectively delaying the implementation of services to thousands of small communities across Western Australia, but I will get to that in a minute.

Firstly, I want to outline the positive effects for Western Australians contained in the bill. To simplify the digital conversion arrangements in Western Australia, all areas outside Perth have been technically classified as remote. This allows for the formation of one conversion scheme for all of regional and remote Western Australia. Areas such as Mandurah, Bunbury and Geraldton are probably unhappy to have the ‘remote’ tag, as they strive to promote themselves as major regional centres—and indeed they are—but for the purpose of this arrangement they will have to let it be.

The broadcasting law states that, if we introduce a new service in a market like regional Western Australia, a new service can only be provided in a digital format. This means that, to access the new service, people will need to buy a digital set-top box, which costs around $100 and can be connected to their old television, or they can buy a new digital television with an in-built digital tuner, with prices starting from around $1,000.

While Golden West Network and WIN have not finalised the type of programming that will appear on the third channel, other similar services provided in Tasmania and regional Victoria have provided Network Ten affiliated shows. With the current analog transmission, Golden West Network takes programming from the Seven Network while WIN mixes programs from the Nine and Ten networks. Interstate WIN is aligned to the Nine Network and it is expected that WIN can switch across to Nine programs when the third channel comes online, allowing the new digital channel to program through Network Ten.

In addition to the new service, the change to the law will also permit the current Golden West Network and WIN services to be transmitted on a digital channel with the new service. To assist with this digital conversion, the government will provide significant assistance—almost $20 million—to Golden West Network and WIN to further assist with digital conversion in regional Western Australia.

The digital conversion model in regional and remote Western Australia represents a significant saving for the broadcasters concerned. Instead of having to establish and maintain two or three sets of digital transmission infrastructure with capacity for high-definition TV, they will be able to establish only one shared set of infrastructure without the additional cost of investing in high-definition TV equipment and significant additional and costly satellite capacity. The digital television conversion model for regional and remote Western Australia represents a balance between public interest considerations and the special circumstances of remote area commercial television broadcasters. These broadcasters face significant cost pressures due to the wide geographic area that they serve and the sparse population. Delivery of high-definition TV to all viewers in this market would be a very significant cost to broadcasters. Viewers will also benefit from the new third digital service, delivering a substantially increased range of information and entertainment.

The amendments will also provide significant savings to taxpayers, because funding assistance to the broadcasters under the government’s regional equalisation plan is reduced, corresponding with the reduced digital conversion cost to the broadcasters. The total level of assistance to the Western Australian broadcasters is approximately $10 million less over eight years than the original estimate, which was based on the broadcasters providing high-definition television services from their terrestrial transmitters. The new arrangements take into account the high cost per head of population of delivering television services in remote areas.

Remote area broadcasters have markets that are smaller in population—one-third to one-half of the large eastern Australian aggregated regional markets—but much larger in geographic area. They are 10 to 25 times greater than regional licence areas, and hence require a large number of terrestrial transmitters. Remote broadcasters also incur significant satellite costs for signal distribution and services for households with direct-to-home satellite reception equipment. The remote and regional Western Australian licence area has a population of half a million and covers an area of 2.5 million square kilometres. In contrast, the northern New South Wales licence area has a population of 1.9 million and covers an area of 132,000 square kilometres. At this stage a digital conversion model has been developed only for the remote and regional Western Australian area. However, the bill is also applicable for the remote central and eastern licence area.

The new third commercial service provided in remote Western Australia will be jointly owned and operated by WIN and Golden West Network, the incumbent commercial broadcasters for that area. A condition of all commercial television licences is that the licensee will broadcast within the specified licence area—hence, the new service is only authorised for reception in remote Western Australia.

I will now move onto the unrelated amendments by Labor and the Greens. I would like to remind the Labor Party and the Greens that this bill only concerns the introduction of commercial digital television services in Western Australia’s remote licence areas. There is nothing controversial about this bill. The bill and the amendment are about providing greater services to the bush. Why would Labor and the Greens want to prevent or delay this? It seems that Labor and the Greens have nothing better to do than move amendments that have no bearing on the bill.

The opposition amendment is seeking to lift the current genre restrictions on ABC and SBS multichannelling. The opposition should be aware that the Minister for Communications, Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan, announced on 13 July this year that the government would introduce legislation to lift the genre restrictions on ABC and SBS multichannelling, with the exception of sport on the antisiphoning list. I am aware that this legislation will be introduced some time in the future. Therefore, this amendment by Labor cannot be supported, as it is the subject of legislation currently under development.

The Greens amendment, which Senator Brown has just spoken of, is seeking a ban on food and beverage advertisements during children’s television viewing times. There has been much talk about television advertising contributing to the increased obesity levels in children. At this stage, however, there is no concrete evidence that this is the case. When my children were young, we were living on a farm. If I recall, they got off the school bus, changed their clothes and then went and did something on the farm. Their only TV viewing was just before it got dark. Rural and remote children are probably so busy with other activities—unlike their city counterparts—that they do not watch TV very much during the daytime.

It is my view that, while the federal government has a role to play in advertising regulation, obesity is a problem to be addressed by parents and individuals. The childhood obesity issue is a complex one. To suggest that a prohibition on advertising, as proposed by the Greens amendment, will be an effective remedy for this problem is overly simplistic. The Australian government also has a range of policies, programs and publications which aim to improve the dietary habits and physical activity levels of all Australians.

I note that broadcasters are already subject to a number of restrictions in relation to food advertising to children, including the content and placement of that advertising. The Children’s Television Standards, the instrument that this proposal seeks to amend, is administered by ACMA and already provide that a food advertisement must not contain any misleading or incorrect information about the nutritional value of the product. The Children’s Television Standards also provide that broadcasters must not broadcast advertisements that are designed to put undue pressure on children to ask their parents or other people to purchase an advertised product.

The standards also place a limitation on the amount of advertising to children, allowing no more than five minutes of advertising in each 30 minutes of children’s viewing periods. In addition to the Children’s Television Standards, the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice strengthens the obligations regarding advertising to children and includes requirements that advertising must not encourage or promote an inactive lifestyle or unhealthy eating or drinking habits.

As senators may be aware, ACMA is undertaking a full review of the Children’s Television Standards in 2006. This review will ensure that children’s television needs are still being met in the most appropriate way and will include well-grounded, evidence based research on the current debate over children’s obesity and the role of food advertising. I am aware that the review process will take 12 to 18 months to complete, with an issues paper for public comment to be released in the first half of 2007. There are also a number of industry and government initiatives underway to address the childhood obesity issue.

Debate interrupted.