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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 4080

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) (13:06): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


Access to electronic media is important to all members of our community, including those with a hearing impairment.

Electronic media such as television, film and the internet have proven to be invaluable sources of information and also can provide entertainment for all Australians.

The influential nature of television on our society should not be underestimated; it is an important tool for building national identity.

Increasing media access levels is consistent with Australia's international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as our domestic policies, such as this government's social inclusion policy.

The United Nations Convention sets out the obligations on countries to promote, protect and ensure the rights of people with a disability.

It specifically prohibits discrimination against people with a disability in all areas of life. The Convention also sets out obligations in relation to participation in cultural life and specifies that countries take all appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities can access cultural materials such as television programs in accessible formats.

Improving access to television is an important component of the Australian Government's response to the United Nations Convention.

It is expected that by 2020 hearing loss is likely to affect more than five million Australians. This is an indication that now is the time to act, in terms of legislating to provide important services for a growing portion of our population.

The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Improved Access to Television Services) Bill 2012 (the bill) implements the government's response to a number of recommendations from the government's investigation into access to electronic media for people with hearing and vision impairment, known as the media access review.

The media access review occurred in stages and involved significant public consultation, including receiving 167 submissions on a discussion paper and 54 submissions on a subsequent discussion report.

These views were considered by government in developing the final report titled Access to Electronic Media for the Hearing and Vision-Impaired final report, which was tabled in Parliament on 3 December 2010.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to provide for greater access to free-to-air and subscription television for the hearing impaired.

The bill will achieve this policy objective by introducing new legislative requirements and, where applicable, increasing existing requirements for captioning on commercial, national and subscription television broadcasters.

Captioning is an important tool that assists people with a hearing impairment by providing the text version of speech and other sounds during television broadcasts.

The bill sets out a path to achieve 100 per cent closed captioning between 6 am and midnight of non-exempt programs for free-to-air broadcasters' main channels. It also sets out a path to achieve 100 per cent closed captioning of non-exempt programs for subscription broadcasters. Reaching these targets will be a significant achievement, as we move toward equal access to electronic media, for all sections of Australian society.

The proposed captioning targets are comparable with international best practice, including in international jurisdictions such as the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom which feature captioning requirements of 100 per cent of non-exempt television programming.

A gradual, incremental increase in targets has been designed to assist the nation's broadcasters adjust to the increasing costs that will result from the move to higher and higher levels of captioning.

The bill will also provide for improved access to televised emergency warnings for people with a hearing or vision impairment.

The bill will achieve this policy objective by mandating that emergency warnings broadcast on television must be transmitted in the form of text and speech, and captioned where reasonably practicable.

The requirement for emergency warnings to provide important information both verbally and visually is in keeping with international best practice such as the United States of America's Federal Communications Commission's rules which require broadcasters and cable operators to make local emergency information accessible to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to persons who are blind or have visual disabilities.

We also intend to address the issue of captioning quality.

Under this bill the Australian Communications and Media Authority will determine standards relating to the quality of captioning. This will be in terms of readability, comprehensibility and accuracy. This is to ensure that captioning is legible for the benefit of those whose disabilities prevent or hinder their hearing of broadcast programs.

We understand that currently there can be variability in the quality of captions and this element is designed to combat it. We also understand that for those who rely on captions, there is little value in captions that are of poor quality.

There are a number of programs that broadcasters are not currently required to caption for practical reasons, and these exemptions will be maintained. These include television programs that are not in English and music-only programs. We have made these exemptions to ensure that meeting increased targets is achievable for broadcasters.

Achieving regulatory certainty is important, and we will also ensure that there is a clear regulatory framework for captioning.

The bill will prescribe the new captioning requirements in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, which will provide both consumers and broadcasters with a level of regulatory certainty through one set of clear future targets, one overarching regulatory system, and a clear and cost-effective compliance and complaints mechanism.

The Attorney-General will develop the required regulation.

The Disability Commissioner and the Australian Human Rights Commission are supportive of this approach as currently broadcasters are subject to targets under both the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and having one regulatory system will remove the current need for the Commission to negotiate with broadcasters recurring temporary exemptions under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

The bill reflects recent developments. On 1 May 2012, an agreement on targets for increased captioning levels across existing subscription television channels and minimum captioning levels for new channels was finalised by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association. The agreement was taken into account when developing the new legislative requirements in the bill.

The government will take a considered approach to the regulation of captioning for television like services provided using the internet. In 2011-12 the convergence review examined the policy and regulatory frameworks applying to a converged media and communications landscape in Australia, and advised the government on potential amendments to ensure the regulatory framework for media remained effective and appropriate.

The convergence review final report covered a variety of content services. The government will respond to the final report of the independent convergence review later in 2012.

There are ongoing significant technical developments in the area of access technologies and government initiatives have the potential to transform the media landscape in Australia, such as the introduction of the National Broadband Network and the switch to digital television.

The government intends to ensure that meaningful improvements to levels of media access for people with hearing and vision impairment is achieved in a way that is practical for broadcasters and content producers.

The passing of this bill will improve the accessibility of television, ensuring a more inclusive viewing experience for all Australians.

Debate adjourned.