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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5666

Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) (5:27 PM) —There are a number of questions which I must respond to. I will pick up some of the points made by the member for Mallee. I do note that in the preamble to his questions he mentioned the amount of work he had been doing in the Sunraysia-Mildura area in support of the switch-over. That is both understood and appreciated. But we also know that under the new system 16 channels will be available to people living in that area. With regard to television reception and coverage, as has been conceded by the member for Mallee, the new system does really provide a better footprint than the former analog system, which created inconvenient black spots and made reception difficult for many regional television viewers—and families. But it is also necessary for us to be aware as members of parliament that the way in which we address these issues in our communities is critical and that the service provided by TV is an important one for all communities across Australia.

The member for Maranoa raised questions about caravanning and camping and the capacity of grey nomads to receive acceptable television signals on their trips around Australia. We will get back to him with a detailed answer to those questions. I appreciate his interest in that area.

The member for Kingston raised a matter to do with satellites and black spots. I would like to get to that answer as quickly as I can. The current government is funding a new satellite service that will deliver vastly improved content for self-help communities in the remote areas of Australia. Communities will have access to a modern and adaptable delivery platform with virtually universal coverage, supported by the government. Not only will this provide a solution for today’s self-help communities and release them from the cost of maintaining terrestrial facilities; it also allows for future expansion of communities around Australia, avoiding the need for multiple new transmission facilities to be installed at local community expense.

The use of satellite also achieves an increased level of access and content without the use of scarce broadcast spectrum and so has no impact on the digital dividend which flows from the switch-off of the analog systems. The proposed sale and subsequent use of the digital dividend for new wireless and other services will have an ongoing positive impact on the entire Australian community into the future, which is a key factor to be considered against any proposed expansion of current terrestrial television. It should be noted that, of the self-help sites not included on the published list of candidate sites to upgrade to digital, there are over 480 which currently retransmit the remote area broadcast services, meaning that those communities only receive the four analog services and news, advertising and other local material relevant to remote parts of Australia.

Moving to the satellite service will, for the first time, provide these communities with the same level of services that are currently provided in metropolitan areas. In addition, some of these communities are actually in regional licence areas but are too isolated to retransmit their local services. The availability of local news on the satellite service will, for the first time, provide local regional news to these communities.

The initiatives taken by the government in the area of the digital economy since 2008 have been genuinely revolutionary. In my home state of Western Australia we see that work has already begun on the new fibre optic link from Perth to Geraldton. It is a critical link that links our universities in Perth with research centres in the north. It is not only important for current university activities but critical, given the advent of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope and the opportunities that are presented by this $2.5 billion investment in our science future and in infrastructure in regional Western Australia. The Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will sit in concert in a rapidly growing area due to resource developments in the mid-west iron ore province, which will also take advantage of the new digital spine that will extend from Perth to Geraldton. I note that the mayor of Geraldton, Ian Carpenter, has spoken many times of the importance of this link and of the cooperation from the state government of Western Australia in the development of the proposed Square Kilometre Array. The support of it both in Western Australia and internationally is critically important to the science future not just of our nation but also of Western Australia.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—The time agreed between the government and opposition for consideration of this portfolio has expired.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Defence Portfolio

Proposed expenditure, $23,519,162,000

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—The Main Committee will now consider the Defence portfolio under Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011. It will first consider the Defence segment and then the Veterans’ Affairs segment of the Defence portfolio.