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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2909

Mr HAYES (12:57 PM) —The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend and Other Measures) Bill 2011 will amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, with improved planning and enforcement powers to implant the reorganisation of digital television channels as required. The bill will also allow for the realisation of a digital dividend of spectrum by 31 December 2014. I will go into what that means in the broader context a little later.

The bill will ensure the equalisation of television services for regional, rural and remote Australia, allowing all Australians the same degree of access to television channels. Allowing for regional Australians to have access to the same television channels as the rest of us is a key outcome of the government’s switchover program. The bill will enable viewers in remote and regional areas to access the VAST satellite communications service to receive the full suite of digital television channels. Providing equal access to television services to all Australians, regardless of where they live, is extremely important, and its importance has been known for some time. Before I came down to make my contribution I looked up the report of a committee inquiry that I participated in back in 2006, the House Standing Committee on Communications, Information Technology and the Arts inquiry into the update of digital television in Australia. Belatedly, I got my highlighter out and flipped through that document. I want to draw your attention to a couple of things I have noted. The report noted:

Not since the shift from black and white to colour has so radical a change in the nature of Australian television taken place. The ‘revolution’ is the introduction of digital television … and the planned switch-off of current analogue services.

DTV offers clearer, sharper pictures in widescreen format. As it requires less spectrum to broadcast, it also offers opportunities for many more channels, and additional features such as interactivity and datacasting.

In terms of dealing with digital television, the report says:

[Digital television] is a new television technology that is replacing existing analogue free-to-air television in Australia.

[Digital television] delivers television signals in a substantially more efficient way than the current analogue system. With analogue broadcasting, the signal is in the form of a continuous wave, whereas digital broadcasting signals are in the form of discrete bits of information.

Analogue television channels can transmit one continuous stream of programming … DTV is a broadcasting transmission system which uses digital modulation techniques to transmit television programs.

Mr Hartsuyker —You don’t sound convincing, Chris!

Mr HAYES —I am getting to that. I am going to win you over yet, Luke. The report says:

Through compression technology, [digital television] broadcasting transmitters have the capacity to transmit an [high definition TV] picture, or to transmit multiple programs at the same time using the same amount of bandwidth as used for analogue television.

It concludes that digital television will allow for making available residual transmission capacity. And that is what has occurred.

I am glad the member for Cowper intervened. He was not on that particular committee, but I recall one of his colleagues who was on the committee and who sits on the opposition frontbench took the view that under no circumstances could she ever see analogue television been switched off. Obviously a lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1976, and we have certainly progressed a long way to deliver digital television in a meaningful way to the Australian public. But we are going further. This is where the member for Cowper would probably want to get up and support this piece of legislation. He represents a rural seat—including my parents, who are in that seat—and his constituents will all benefit from the application of digital television. They will see the vast array of new programming available and they will have the ability to see it in high definition. We are certainly moving with the rest of the world in being able to make these services available to the Australian people.

The bill also provides for a very important aspect—that is, the freeing up of some of the residual spectrum. That is scheduled to be auctioned in 2014. That spectrum is obviously very valuable space. It is something that was previously used through the analog transmission. It is now capable of being used for other activities in servicing the community. In fact, there are 106 megahertz of spectrum which has been freed up in what is known as the 700 band. It is an extraordinarily interesting band. This particular spectrum can carry large amounts of information, of data, at high speeds over very long distances and can penetrate buildings. As I have had the opportunity to have a discussion on the odd occasion with the minister, I have indicated to him that this is the very sort of capacity that both the police and the emergency services need to safeguard public interest, particularly during critical instances when communications systems are often congested or break down. I would highlight the experiences that we endured during the Victorian bushfires, the recent floods in Queensland, Cyclone Yasi and what occurred to our colleagues in Christchurch, where their 000 services went down for a period of five hours.

Police and emergency services need access to an appropriate spectrum. I am not saying how much, but I know each of the police commissioners has sought to articulate that particular position. I know they have written to the government seeking that 20 megahertz be quarantined in that 700 spectrum for the use of police and emergency services. At the moment our ambos, our firefighters and our police all communicate on the 400 megahertz spectrum. That is a spectrum limited to voice command, voice communication. It certainly is not an area of spectrum that is going to be capable of meeting the modern needs of law enforcement or emergency services. When you have to dispatch people to a particular scene or incident and, for instance, you have to provide them with data or provide them with maps, provide them with video streaming, the 400 megahertz spectrum will not do any more than what a police walkie-talkie does, quite frankly.

As I said, I know each of the police commissioners has made this matter known to government. Indeed, only recently Commissioner Negus of the Australian Federal Police, when he spoke to parliamentary officers of the law enforcement committee, indicated the AFP’s significant interest in having a measure of the 700 band reserved for discrete communications of police and emergency services. If this does not occur the telecommunication systems—presumably operated by companies such as Optus, Telstra, Vodafone—would all be out there and vying for this valuable piece of digital real estate, if I can put it that way. I just do not see that the police and the various fire and emergency services would be in a position to compete against those particular power players for that valuable spectrum. That is why the position has been put that a certain part of that spectrum should be quarantined from sale or auction.

I know this is not what occurs in this bill but, should the government eventually reserve part of the spectrum for police and emergency services, I suggest that it be done on the basis that requirements are made for national policing and that every state and territory police service, together with the AFP, and their respective emergency services counterparts, establish a fully functioning network within five years or that such spectrum should revert to the Commonwealth for commercial disposal—in other words, a provision of ‘use it or lose it’.

Fast, reliable communication and data exchange is needed by our emergency services personnel in order to provide them with the tools to do a job which is often in very, very difficult circumstances. Our police and emergency services are duty bound to protect the community at times of threats, emergencies, natural disasters and crises, and we all pay tribute to them in this place and say what an extraordinary job they do. But one of the things we also have to have central in our minds is that it is okay to give accolades to the police and emergency services but we must also make sure that, when they go and do the job that we want them to do on behalf of our community, we equip them with the appropriate resources and technologies to do just that. It is in the interests of community safety and also the safety of the 350,000 ambulance, police and fire officers and state emergency service personnel, for them to be equipped with such technology. Relying on a commercial provider does not meet the need of our public safety agencies, particularly during times of high usage or high threat, when the services of these providers could be congested to the point of failure.

Internationally, the switch to digital television has also resulted in a freeing up of additional spectrum. I think it is important for this place to note that both the European Union and the USA have targeted the 700-megahertz band for public safety and police communications networks—what I understand is referred to in the US as the D Block communications system. The Obama administration in the US has recently lent its full support to a proposal to give a valuable chunk of their radio waves to the emergency services and to build a national wireless high-speed broadband network for public safety. I think this is indicative of the way we are going with the application of technology—not simply in our viewing technology and how we can use it to the benefit of our communities but also in how we apply it for the issues of police, emergency services, law enforcement, and rescue and disaster response.

If we are going to be conscious of providing our police with the tools that they need for protecting society, we need to ensure that they have present technologies and emerging technologies capable of being used in their communication networks. It would a great shame, in my humble opinion, if we found that a young person with a smartphone has more advanced and better communications than the capability of police officers out there carrying their two-way radios and seeking to protect the Australian community.

As I indicated, I have raised these matters with the minister and he is very alive to my concerns in those areas. What I have sought to do from the outset is to show that we took what was identified in 2006, when people opposite were saying that the analog system would never be turned off, and moved this forward. We have taken the nation into the digital age not only in digital television but more recently in digital radio. We are showing the leadership that is required, and we will continue to do that. So I suggest to my colleagues opposite, including the member for Cowper, that they get on board, support this piece of legislation, support the member for Cowper’s community and, more importantly, support my parents.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—Thank you for your contribution. The question is that the bill be now read a second time. I call the member for Cowper—probably in response as well.