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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 39

Senator WEBBER (11:56 AM) —As a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts I would like to pick up where Senator Conroy left off about the committee process in dealing with the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Radio) Bill 2007 and the Radio Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2007. The committee did not get to formally have a meeting or a hearing on this piece of legislation that the government heralds with great fanfare and trumpets in its budget announcements. We were circulated a few submissions and the chair’s draft report before we even had time to work out whether we wanted to conduct a hearing: such was the hurry that the committee was in. Perhaps it is a sign of the way that some committees are conducted in this place.

As I said, a draft report was circulated. We were told, very quickly after that report was circulated, that we needed to have a teleconference to adopt the report. Unfortunately, that could not take place with the alacrity that the chair wanted, because I for one need more than 12 hours to consider things. I was not prepared to take a draft report one day and sign off on it the next morning, and that is what was proposed. It was an unnecessary rush. At that point, when the draft report was circulated and the initial teleconference was suggested, we had not even received the response from the department. So there is room for improvement when it comes to the way that this committee is conducted, with regard to the pressure that the government perhaps puts on members of the committee and the way that they therefore conduct themselves.

If this is about the use of new technology and new advances in communications then perhaps we could actually be given the time by the department to consider their response to the matters that were raised in submissions before the committee is unnecessarily rushed into it. This is not the first time that it has happened in this particular committee, so perhaps we have some issues that we need to deal with.

As Senators Conroy and Wortley mentioned, we not only have concerns about the committee’s tight deadlines—and that is a growing issue with the way that the government is choosing to treat some of the committees in this place—but also have some issues with the legislation itself. It was a fast-tracked process, but the submissions that the committee did get revealed a number of significant issues that we felt we could have taken further time to consider.

As I said, the submissions revealed significant issues with the drafting of the bill. The short reporting time frame that we were given, particularly when considering the response from the department, did not permit the committee to fully explore all of those issues. We could have, if we had had the chance to fully explore them, corrected some of the issues within the bill, or our concerns may have been alleviated and we may have found it was a matter of misinterpretation. I think we need to fix the process. If we are going to talk about the significance of this advance in legislation and the budget announcements as heralded by Senator Macdonald, we need to get the process right so that, if this is as good as the minister says it is, we can all support the bill process. I formally move the second reading amendment that has now been circulated in the name of Senator Stephen Conroy:

At the end of the motion, add:

“but the Senate:

(a)   notes:

(i)   that the inquiry into the bill by the Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee did not allow interested parties sufficient time to consider and draft submissions to the committee, this constraint not allowing meaningful consultation on the bill;

(ii)   the lack of information as to how the omission of the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) platform from the legislation will affect the roll-out of digital radio to rural and regional Australia;

(iii)   that this legislation only specifies the use of Digital Radio Broadcasting; and

(iv)   that trials on DRM and compression standards are still being carried out;

(b)   calls for debate on the bill to be deferred until meaningful consultation has occurred; and

(c)   demands that the Government make every endeavour to ensure that standards are in place to enable the rollout of digital radio to remote, rural and regional Australia”.