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Official opening of redeveloped ABC Canberra premises: Corner of Wakefield and Northbourne Avenues, Dickson: Wednesday 3 December 2003.



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MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS

THE HON DARYL WILLIAMS AM QC MP

Official opening of redeveloped ABC Canberra premises

ABC, corner of Wakefield and Northbourne Avenues, Dickson

Wednesday 3 December 2003 6.00pm

(Check against delivery)

Thank you Donald [Donald McDonald, ABC Chairman], Russell Balding [ABC Managing Director], ABC Board Members, ABC staff members, ladies and gentlemen.

Introduction

This is an unusual "house-warming" for the ABC in Canberra.

As you have heard, the ABC premises here on Northbourne Avenue have long been a Canberra landmark, visible to everyone entering or leaving the national capital by its main northern artery.

When the first buildings were constructed on this site, Watson and Dickson were frontier suburbs. Very few people could even pronounce the word "Gungahlin".

Plans to renovate or totally replace the building on this site have been around for decades. In the 1980s, the plan was to bulldoze the site and start over again.

I think the message we can take away from today is that, if you put off capital works for long enough, eventually the building you want to knock down will assume some cultural or historic significance in a town, and people won't want you to knock it down at all. And that is exactly what has happened here.

ABC as a Canberra institution

Canberrans are attached to this building and this site. And for very good reason.

Broadcasts from this site have kept Canberrans informed of everything, from dramatic national events to the minutiae of local traffic jams.

It was from these studios that locals were kept in touch, moment by moment, with the terrible unfolding events of the January 18 bushfires earlier this year. At that time, the ABC provided a much-appreciated lifeline for Canberrans worried for their families and their homes and needing information on available emergency and support services. ABC radio, ABC television and ABC online all won awards for their coverage of those hours.

It was here that ABC staff mourned when local television news was ceased more than a decade ago. And it was here that they celebrated when local television news services resumed, after an absence of 10 years, in September 2001. And it was, as you have heard from the Managing Director, from these premises that weekend television news services began for the first time in January this year, a week ahead of schedule due to the January fires.

The buildings

Over the years, the original buildings have been added to in a piecemeal fashion. Some "temporary" demountables ended up being occupied for almost 30 years. This is rather akin to building a provisional Parliament House and then treating it like the real thing for 60 years.

The electronic media has always been the source to which people have turned for instant, up-to-date information, for companionship, for entertainment and for a window on the world beyond their own backyard. And the ABC has always been the voice of authority and reliability amid the many electronic services on offer.

But even the voice of authority changes as technology changes. Technological advances have been among the most pressing reasons for the re-development we celebrate today.

So swiftly is communications technology evolving that the outside broadcasting unit so proudly displayed by the local ABC in the early 1980s is now an artefact in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.

The ABC in the digital age

In recent years, technology has taken yet another of those quantum leaps that seems, overnight, to transform the manner in which we communicate. This is the leap into digital technology.

I am delighted that this Canberra studio upgrade has coincided with, and benefited from, the ABC's digital conversion program. Ageing analogue equipment has been replaced by new digital equipment. And the result is a workplace that will encourage greater innovation and greater creativity in program-making.

The Australian Government is investing more than $89 million in the ABC's conversion to digital technology, as well as meeting all of the costs of the ABC's digital distribution and transmission. This is likely to amount to around $600 million over the next decade.

Conclusion

The ABC here in Northbourne Avenue is a valuable part of Canberra's cultural and intellectual life. This site is also important as a source of technical support for regional stations in Bega and Wagga Wagga. Programs produced here also feed into the national ABC network, including radio programs for Classic FM and Triple J and television productions such as Sunday Spectrum.

ABC Canberra is the only media organisation in the ACT that provides a seven-day-a-week local television and radio news service. That is a significant undertaking and it will become easier in the future, as the presenters and the behind-the-scenes professionals settle into these wonderful new premises.

It gives me great pleasure now to declare the redevelopment complete and to officially open the ABC's new Canberra headquarters here on Northbourne Avenue.