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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2765


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (13:26): The coalition support this legislation. This is important legislation in relation to the allocation of spectrum, in particular the spectrum known as the digital dividend. This will allow for that spectrum, which is freed up by the shifting to digital transmission and the restacking that occurs with that, to be utilised while still part of the broadcasting services bands.

This is important reform; however, the coalition do have some concerns, notwithstanding our support for this. In particular, we are concerned about the government's failure to address the concerns of users of wireless audio microphones. Estimates put the number of such devices in Australia at between 120,000 and 150,000. They are commonly used by function centres, community groups, churches, schools and small businesses like gym instructors. Even senators have been known to use wireless audio microphones! These devices operate in the white space of the BSB spectrum, including in the 694 to 820 megahertz spectrum which forms part of the digital dividend. Once the auction process for that spectrum is complete—and that may now be a little further away than was anticipated previously—and the frequency is made available for 4G services, these devices may no longer work. This of course is a concern, one that the government did not appear to be on top of. Thanks to amendments moved in the other place by Mr Turnbull, the shadow minister for communications and broadband, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be required to review and report on the provision of spectrum for such low-interference potential devices class licences and provide a transition pathway for such licences by 30 June 2013.

While I understand that many wireless audio devices operate on a set radio frequency, I hope, as does the rest of the coalition, that we will be able to find a suitable solution that ensures that as few of these devices as possible are rendered inoperable and that Senator Conroy's legislation here does not result in unintended consequences. Senator Conroy is a master of unintended consequences, and I could spend a long time addressing the broader issue of spectrum simply to highlight the fact that Senator Conroy's failure to manage his portfolio was once again on show in the most recent auction of spectrum and the fact that his personal intervention, against the advice of the ACMA, to set a higher reserve price has left spectrum sitting on the shelf and ensured the government failed to meet its budget expectations in that regard. As I said, it is another demonstration of Senator Conroy's failure in his portfolio—just another example to go with so many others.

Notwithstanding the minister's great failures on these issues, we know this legislation is necessary. We supported the transition to digital; we of course want to see the spectrum utilised in the most efficient way possible. That is why the coalition are concerned that so much of it will now be left sitting on the shelf. We support this legislation that would facilitate its usage, and in particular usage where the spectrum has managed to be sold.