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Communications Committee recommends Caucus acceptance of the 10-channel pay TV proposal endorsed by Cabinet

PETER THOMPSON: In Canberra, the Federal Government's Caucus Committee on Communications has backed the latest plans for pay television which would establish 10 new digital pay channels. The 10 stations would be divided between established broadcasters who'd get four; new operators with another four; and two stations for the ABC. The ABC Board will discuss the plan today, and is expected to reject the model. Doug Weller asked the Chairman of the Caucus Communications Committee, Neil O'Keefe, about its endorsement of the latest plan.

NEIL O'KEEFE: We support the structure for pay television that was decided by Cabinet on Monday, and that, in particular, we will try and ensure that the Trade Practices Commission has a role in this and we're also determined to structure a very strong industry policy to make sure that the maximum job potential comes out of the decision to proceed with pay TV.

DOUG WELLER: What role will the Commission have?

NEIL O'KEEFE: There's been a lot of question mark over who might bid for the licences for pay TV and who'll be associating with who. And in the Senate inquiry the chairman of the TPC, Professor Fels, did make the point that he would like to have a look at those tendering arrangements, and so we're keen to make sure that that occurs.

DOUG WELLER: Who's going to be involved in this industry policy?

NEIL O'KEEFE: At the moment, Senator Button, the Industry Minister, has a brief to bring back to Cabinet in a joint brief with Minister Collins, the industry policy to apply, and both the Ministers will be working with a joint working group from both the Communications Committee and the Industry Committee to ensure that we have all the fine points dotted, I guess - the i's dotted and the t's crossed.

DOUG WELLER: Well, the ABC Board meets today and indications are that they'll reject this plan. What's your reaction to that?

NEIL O'KEEFE: Well, I heard Minister Collins say publicly last night that the ABC Board should look carefully at the options, because I think there's tremendous potential in this structure for the ABC. We've had a lot of talks with David Hill during the last six months, and a lot of the entrepreneurial or business opportunities that have been identified for the ABC during that time are there in this model, and I think the ABC has a strong role to play in pay TV. So, I hope the Board has a good look at it. I hope the ABC proceeds on this basis.

DOUG WELLER: If the ABC Board did reject this plan, what would the impact be?

NEIL O'KEEFE: I don't think it changes anything terribly. It's there. The Government has provided for it. If the ABC Board says at the moment 'We don't want to proceed. We want to wait and see what happens with pay TV', there'll be a number of members of the Government quite happy with that, because a number of members of the Government have been quite concerned that the ABC should stay out of these commercial arrangements and just continue with its current role as a provider of quality programs in the free-to-air range. Now, if they decide, 'No, this is not a go for us', there's no budget implications, there's no risk, the ABC let's someone else do it all. But all along, the ABC have put to us that they want to play a role in pay TV. They see it as a strategic area for the ABC; so do we, and we're providing an opportunity for them to do it.

PETER THOMPSON: Neil O'Keefe of the Labor Caucus Communications Committee.