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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1502

Mr COWAN(10.20 a.m.) —-I am pleased to speak in the committee stage debate of Appropriations Bill (No. 1) on the estimates of the Department of Transport and Communications. I wish to refer to television reception throughout Australia, particularly within my own electorate of Lyne. I know it is the aim of the Government--and it is the wish, I am sure, of all members of this chamber--that we should improve television services to make them available to all people, no matter where they live in Australia.

A matter that does concern me, and I wish to raise it here, is the fact that within my electorate the method of transmission has changed from VHF to UHF, and this has caused quite a number of people in outlying areas, particularly in the Gloucester and surrounding districts, to lose their television service--not only the ABC but also Prime, which comes from over Tamworth way. It was a shock to those people because earlier they were receiving transmission from Middle Brother Mountain, a facility in the Gloucester area. The changeover is equipping that part of the coast for aggregation, which will take place in the next year or so. It has meant a change in frequency and, as I say, a lot of people living in farming areas, particularly in the Gloucester district, are now missing out on any television reception at all.

I have taken the matter up with the Minister for Transport and Communications (Mr Beazley). He has responded, and his technicians have spoken to me about the situation. The transmission is to be boosted again prior to Christmas, but there is no certainty that these people will actually receive a service. It concerns me because people were receiving it before. That is the important fact. The reception might not have been top class, but they were receiving both ABC television and Prime television.

I again want to draw this to the attention of the Government, and particularly ask the Minister to have the situation further examined. It is apparent that a mistake has been made. I do not know what the technical mistake is, but the fact that people were receiving transmissions before and are not receiving them now, when there has been an upgrading of the facility available, is an indication to me that there is something wrong generally in the area. I ask that we get the ABC on channel 6 and not on channel 1. There will be changes so far as Prime is concerned. We will get the aggregation within a certain time, and three commercial stations will be available.

The answer, of course, is for the people who have the difficulty to put in dishes. To put in a dish will cost approximately $3,500. It is very hard to turn to people who were previously receiving a service and say to them, `If you put in a dish and pay out the money you will get very good television reception'. Six or seven people have actually installed dishes, but I am speaking about rural properties, which are suffering tremendously at the moment from the drought and because of the problems with markets for our stock throughout the world. I intend to raise the matter again directly with the Minister concerned.

I want to say something about road funding generally throughout Australia. I know that at the Premiers Conference last July there was general agreement on the changing of regulations and charges between the Commonwealth and the States. These will take place over a period of time. I understand that there will be general changes in financing by the Commonwealth and the States for all categories of roads. If I am quite clear on this, it is my understanding that the money will go in bulk to the States for all arterial roads and rural and urban local roads and that it will be the responsibility of the Commonwealth to upkeep the national roads.

The Pacific Highway is of grave concern to the honourable members who live in or represent the coastal areas of New South Wales. The traffic on this road is enormous and is increasing week by week. I travelled on a lot of the road the other day. From 6 p.m. to the early morning there were at least 80 to 90 semi-trailers per hour travelling south from, one could say, Taree to the metropolitan districts. So we have the heavy traffic but there is an enormous increase in vehicular traffic generally.

What I would like to see happen--and I think it is in the interests of Australia and particularly that area--is for the Pacific Highway to be declared a national highway. I know that we have a national highway around Australia; the New England Highway is part of it. We want to take nothing from that road in the New England area; it is improving. But people want to travel along the coast because of the geographical situation and the growth in the population of that area. I want to say to the Minister for Land Transport (Mr Brown) that he should look at this again. I personally would like to see it declared prior to these new financial arrangements in road funding generally that will be taking place over the next one, two or three years.

There has been a downgrading--there has been a fall-off--in real money terms in the amount of funds made available by the Commonwealth to the States and local government for road funding. There has been an uplift this present year. I think the Budget has approximately $1,600m available, but there is an indication that that will be declining. There is a special grant that was actually within the Budget. If these new arrangements come into place, they will have an effect on the baby of the Minister, which is a good plan. I commend him for the fact that he was keen to upgrade the black spots that he recognised were dangerous throughout Australia and he has allocated certain moneys for that purpose alone; I think $110m over a two year period. But, of course, what worries us all, I am sure, is a duplication between the Commonwealth and the States in the administration of these funds. It is important that, if there is going to be a change, it is ironed out so that we will get the best value for the dollar placed back onto our various categories of roads. There is no doubt that they are part of our economic reform.

I support the fact that the Minister and the Government are keen to do something with the main existing arterial roads that feed our ports that are so important and other important centres throughout the State and the Commonwealth. I actually support that. Not only do we have the national roads, but also we urgently need the upgrading of roads by local government for their rural and urban local roads and the arterial roads that are serving our farming communities and our towns throughout the country areas of Australia.

From the observation that I made as we travelled the roads over a wide area, I saw that we can construct our roads in a better way. If one travels along a roadway, one will find a large amount of machinery--graders and tractors of various kinds--that is sitting on the road almost, I suppose, for 16 or 17 hours a day and not being worked. I was delighted the other day--and I do not know whether this work was being done by the Road Traffic Authority or by private contract--to see lights on the side of a road with men and machinery working at night-time. Other countries of the world are doing this and it is so important that we should look at this and do the same thing. I think that we have a lot to learn in the general building of our roads to get a better standard of roads and, certainly, to get much better value for the dollar.