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Senator claims pay TV should be available by the end of next year

KEVIN HUME : Well it's final folks, at least for a while, the Senate has passed vital amendments to its pay TV legislation which won't please some people but will at least ensure that we all have pay by the end of next year. Here's Pru.

PRU GOWARD: Well, it took the Senate till the small hours of this morning to fix up the mess it created with its first attempt at pay television legislation last year, legislation which gave media player Steve Cosser the idea that he could get the drop on satellite delivered pay television by using microwave technology, for which no start up date had applied. Well, that's now been cleaned up thanks to Government-supported Democrat amendments passed last night. The upshot is that pay television will come into your home one way or another sometime next year and December at the latest. Well joining Daybreak this morning is Democrat spokesperson on communications, Senator Vicki Bourne. Welcome to Daybreak Senator Bourne, I don't suppose you've had much sleep.

VICKI BOURNE: Well as a matter of fact Pru, we actually got up quite early. Everybody was very civilised and we got up about 11 o'clock.

PRU GOWARD: Right. Well first a clarification, Senator Bourne. Does the legislation allow for pay television to be delivered by a number of technologies or by only one?

VICKI BOURNE: No, any number of technologies can now deliver pay television to your home.

PRU GOWARD: So that's a big win for Steve Cosser, isn't it?

VICKI BOURNE: Yes, I think it is.

PRU GOWARD: Now that means, though, that although he is formally and officially allowed into pay television that he loses his start-up time advantage which he believed he held.

VICKI BOURNE: Yes that's true, too.

PRU GOWARD: Now why did you believe it was important that he lose that advantage, Senator?

VICKI BOURNE: Because we thought that the really basic thing was that we had to have Australian culture in the home, we had to have Australian jobs created because of this. And we really wanted the best pay TV system for Australia, and we believe that includes the ABC as soon as possible and one of the earliest.

PRU GOWARD: So why should then Mr Cosser be delayed to ensure that?

VICKI BOURNE: Well he was prepared to help with the ABC but he didn't have that many licences. He's got quite a few but he could really only help in Sydney and Melbourne. The ABC has a right of their own by satellite to deliver pay TV to the home around Australia, so we believe that satellite ought to start up first and the ABC ought to have the chance to be the first one to go.

PRU GOWARD: When you say first, does that mean Steve Cosser's microwave-delivered service can only start after, or can it start at the same time as satellite pay?

VICKI BOURNE: In reality it'll be marginally after but not very much. At the moment he has quite a few microwave narrowcast licences; now that means licences that can only be directed at a few people, relatively few people in Australia. To change them to broadcast licences which he can direct out as pay TV he goes to the ABA and says: I want to change these over. They ask the Trade Practices Commission to have a look at whether he's in breach of the cross-media rules and that sort of thing. The Trade Practices Commission should in just a matter of days give him a licence to broadcast and that's when he can start up.

PRU GOWARD: But there is still a chance that he will fail at one of those hurdles?

VICKI BOURNE: There is a chance but, I think it's pretty obvious right in the beginning. Unless you're doing something a bit nefarious then you're pretty transparently able to get the agreement of the TPC.

PRU GOWARD: Now, obviously a great deal of confusion about Steve Cosser's role and therefore the role of microwave technology in delivering pay television has come about because of what appears to be conflicting advice coming from the Department of Communications. Would you agree with that?

VICKI BOURNE: Yes, I do think that is the absolute basis of the matter.

PRU GOWARD: So what's your assessment of the role of the Department of Communications in the delivery of pay television?

VICKI BOURNE: The more I hear about the role of the department, the more I'm convinced that this whole mess was in fact caused by two factors. The role of the department who are immensely deregulatory in this whole thing and to a certain degree the role of the Prime Minister who just kept sticking his bib in whenever he felt like it and changing things around not with the agreement of the Minister, in fact without even telling the Minister or anybody else.

PRU GOWARD: Elaborate there.

VICKI BOURNE: Well it seemed that there were, last year if you remember, there were three forms of pay TV that we kept hearing. First of all on the Sunday show was the first change; so there was a form of pay TV that was sort of evolving. And then on the Sunday show the Prime Minister comes in and gives facts about pay TV that it seemed to us nobody had ever heard before. He decided to announce them himself. And then when they didn't seem to be going the way he wanted, he suddenly went to a Caucus meeting and he announced again what he was going to do on pay TV and it was quite different; and then he went to the media and announced to them. So that seems immensely, immensely strange, immensely weird way, to actually have public policy being decided, not being debated but being decided in this country.

PRU GOWARD: But, I guess you can't have an inquiry into the Prime Minister's behaviour Prime Ministers tend to have an enormous licence when it comes to policy. But to get back to the department, what would you want to see done about the department's handling of this?

VICKI BOURNE: Well we've got a terms of reference to an inquiry into the whole MDS mess, I guess. I'm not sure that I think that the terms actually get to where the problem is. But I am getting closer and closer every day I think, to trying to draw up terms of reference for some sort of an inquiry into the department's role in this whole thing. I've said it all along, the department is immensely deregulatory, it is immensely to the right of everybody else. It is so dry. And they are determined as far as I can see to get their own way. I don't know how many of them there are in there. I've only personally dealt with one or two and I've found those people to be very good. But, it does seem from what we hear from the industry and from all over the place that the department has been saying something quite different to the Minister. The department has been telling people something quite different to the Minister. That department is in there to carry out Government policy and if they don't like it they just have to lump it. They have to do it. This Government was elected. I'm really looking now at whether we could in fact set up something that would show us exactly what the department's role was in all this.

PRU GOWARD: You're talking about a Senate inquiry into the department?

VICKI BOURNE: I think that's the only thing I can actually look at setting up. I'm not really keen on immense Senate inquiries. We had on into the Department of Foreign Affairs that, although it was helpful in some ways it didn't show up anything dreadful. It didn't .... we sat for quite a while and the department kept coming and talking to us and we did clear up a couple of things that probably couldn't have been cleared up in other ways. But I am a bit wary of doing that sort of thing, but I'm getting closer and closer to it.

PRU GOWARD: Senator Vicki Bourne, thanks very much for your time this morning.

VICKI BOURNE: Thanks Pru.

PRU GOWARD: Senator Vicki Bourne, the Democrat spokesman on telecommunications and yes folks, we're going to have pay television at last.

KEVIN HUME: Yes, with some assistance or obstruction it would seem from those few marketeers in the Department of Communications.