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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5661


Mr FORREST (5:06 PM) —I am pleased that the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government made reference to the switch-over being only 14 days away. I would like to put some proposals to him in seeking further information. There is still an enormous amount of work to do, which I hope the minister is aware of. I express some disappointment because it has been over 18 months since, in November 2008, the government first produced the schedule for switching off analog. I was in the chamber when that happened, and I groaned. But after thinking about it through the Christmas period I thought, ‘This is a great opportunity for my region.’ We have had nothing but problems with television broadcasting for the 15 years I have been the member, so I saw it as an opportunity to work cooperatively with the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. To his credit, he has heard the responses that I have been making, which have come from my constituents, about the inadequacy of the digital signal: it nowhere near offers the geographic spread that analog did.

I live in fear, still, for what will happen in 14 days time, because a large number of black spots have been revealed. Some of those have been addressed, although I express some disappointment at the time it has taken to get the message through. I have been warning the minister since before Christmas about the problems my community of Robinvale has been having with its digital signal. After all this time, we still do not have a solution for Robinvale. It has been promised, but we will probably not have the digital signal delivered into the township of Robinvale until the 25th, when there will be five days to go until the switch-off. That means the people of Robinvale will not have the opportunity to take the time to make the right decision about which transmitter they want to point to.

That is one complaint. I ask the minister to explain, via me, to my constituents why it has taken so long—18 months. We realise that when you are the first there are a few hiccups that have to be worked out, and we are the guinea pig. But the government has to understand that it has to do much better for the rest of regional Australia than it has done in Mildura. I hope that the lessons that have been learnt there are cemented in and that, in future, these things will be done much earlier than they have been in my part of the world. For example, the government announced last year that it would assist people on pensions with the full cost of any technical work they might need to have done to guarantee that their digital signal was to their satisfaction, such as replacement of the aerial or the set-top box. Yet the letters that came out from Centrelink were not sent until this year, and some people had already invested in a digital box and, in doing that, prevented their access to the subsidy. In the future, that has to be done much earlier. The government has seen fit to appoint a local liaison person. That is Kellie Boyce, and she has done a great job. She is a local person and knows the networks. But her appointment did not occur until early this year, which left the public relations sweep that has had to happen as a crunch in the last weeks before the switch-off.

I continue to ask the minister to consider deferring the deadline. There is absolutely no reason why 30 June is the absolute deadline for Mildura. The minister argues to me, ‘Well, if you don’t have a deadline, there’ll still be people who’ll never do it.’ That is not true in my area. There is a thirst—a real thirst—to have the services from digital TV. People want it because there are more channels to watch and there are additional services that can be operated through it. We are going to have a crunch in the last four or five days. There are still communities whose only opportunity now is to access via the satellite. We have done the legislation. In my speech, I asked: when is the satellite signal going to be available? I asked the minister to please inform my constituents when all of that is going to occur. I may have some subsequent questions, and I hope he is going to address these one by one.

My constituents are being cheated of the opportunity to make commercial decisions. The government is asking them to invest substantial amounts of funding, up to $1,000, for a new satellite dish, cabling and all the rest of it. They need to do that in a calm, considered environment where they can see the options available to them, look at the terrestrial signal and get some advice about its unreliability, have a look at what the satellite will offer and make a commercial decision. They are being asked to invest significant funds. They are going to be cheated of that because the satellite signal is still not available to them in Mildura. I say it is a very bad performance from the government on this, and I plead again to allow—(Time expired)