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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11783

Mr SIMPKINS (4:06 PM) —I would like to make some points about the proposed new Australian Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice and the strong concerns that many Australians, including indeed many of my constituents, have about the proposal that has been put forward by Free TV Australia. The Australian Communications and Media Authority, or ACMA, ultimately has the responsibility for authorising any changes to this code of practice, and that will always be the case for safety. I would like to raise in particular a number of concerns that have been drawn to my attention regarding the proposed new code.

Firstly, the code seeks to retain the requirement that formal complaints can only be made in writing. It is astounding that emails are not acceptable. Emails need to be acceptable as a means of complaining about breaches of the code. We members of parliament accept emails and act on emails. Why then is Free TV Australia being so precious on this matter? I suspect that, if emails were allowed, there would be many more complaints about programs and other issues of dissatisfaction concerning free-to-air TV. It is for this reason that a restriction on complaints is desired by Free TV Australia.

I would also advocate a reduction in the number of days allowed for responding to complaints, to 15. That is in line with the recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts in June 2008. Thirty days, as stated in the proposed code, is too long. I would also advocate a very hard line on all free-to-air television, particularly as to the need for the absolute retention of the G classification zone for every digital free-to-air station. That means that, if a child is watching television between 6 am and 8.30 am or between 4 pm and 7 pm on a weekday or between 6 am and 10 am on the weekends and changes the channel, their parents can have confidence that the G classification zone will still be in place as protection for that child. With regard to illicit drugs or the abuse of drugs in the G classification zone in programs, any acceptability or normality should be eliminated completely by having no references or visual descriptions as being allowable. The use of illicit drugs and the abuse of legal drugs are not normal activities and should not be depicted for children under any circumstances.

These are some of the problems. This proposed code of practice presents an opportunity to increase the protections, not, as Free TV Australia has done, to suggest weaker protections. Above all, I reiterate that a better and easier means to make complaints is essential. I urge Free TV Australia to consider the submissions that have been made and strengthen the protections and, as well, make complaints easier to make. If the code of practice were to remain worse than its predecessor document, I would urge ACMA to not accept the code until it has been properly written and reflects the community standards of this nation and the need for safety for all Australians.