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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6381

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (11:01): I am pleased to speak on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2012 because it has an effect on many in my electorate, which is an outer urban electorate. This bill effects changes needed to improve the processes around the switch to digital-only TV. In particular it makes VAST, Viewer Access Satellite Television, services available earlier for viewers who will never receive a reliable terrestrial signal.

By the end of 2013, all analogue TV broadcast will cease and all free-to-air television will be broadcast in digital format only. Some areas on the eastern seaboard have already made the switch, but in Western Australia we will see this occur sometime after June 2013. The coalition supports the bill and the switch to digital television but wants to ensure the rollout is effective, that digital coverage is adequate and that the rollout times are achieved.

Canning electorate is 6,500 square kilometres. Much of it is rural and has a topography which sometimes affects television signals. This legislation is very relevant to some of the outlying towns in the electorate. Two of those towns are Boddington and Waroona. Boddington is the home of the Newmont Gold Mine, which is going to be the largest gold mine in Australia, producing some 850,000 ounces of gold a year. There are a number of people moving to Boddington and Waroona, and their populations are due to increase as a result of that large mine. Boddington, as I said, is listed to possibly receive the Satellite Subsidy Scheme, the SSS. The scheme will provide a subsidy for eligible households to switch to digital TV via the Viewer Access Satellite Television; however, we need to see that this Labor government is not leaving people in rural and regional areas at a disadvantage with regard to the switchover.

The western VAST service, in other words the service for Western Australia, started in August 2011 to provide digital free-to-air channels to those who require a satellite service for digital TV. One of my constituents, Mr Peter Shoudra of Boddington, told me he thought it was unfair that country people need to get the VAST service to access digital TV and then have to pay for the connection of the technology while their city counterparts do not.

Although I expect the Satellite Subsidy Scheme will be applicable to Mr Shoudra in Boddington—and this is yet to be confirmed, unfortunately—he will still have to contribute something like $200 to $350 towards getting this service. As I said, this seems unfair for somebody living in the bush when their city counterparts do not have to. This is a big cost for families struggling with the rising costs of living and even more so for pensioners.

Furthermore, although the VAST service started in Western Australia in August last year, people in the Boddington area, according to the Digital Ready website, are not yet able to apply for subsidies under the Satellite Subsidy Scheme, with the application open and close dates yet to be determined. So how can Western Australians apply for them if they do not even know when they are available to be applied for?

Western Australia has the most towns of any state listed as eligible to receive a subsidy under the Satellite Subsidy Scheme, but it is the last state where you will have the opportunity to get it. There is something funny about that—it is a long way from Canberra, so out of sight, out of mind. Once again, as I said, the further away we are from Canberra, the more insignificant we are to the Canberra based bureaucrats—and I see them sitting over there.

One of the specific provisions in the bill should make this situation better—that is, 'to facilitate early access to the VAST service for viewers who will never be able to receive an adequate terrestrial television signal.' Currently, some viewers need to wait six months for the analog signal to be switched off in their area before they can access VAST. In other words, they have to wait six months before they can apply.

Clarifying arrangements for determining whether a resident is eligible for the VAST service is also a key component of this bill. For example, areas that have a self-help transmission tower are being asked to give the government sufficient notice of any decision to switch off the tower or convert it to digital.

These towers are sometimes owned and maintained by the local government authority—in this case, the Boddington ShireCouncil—so you can imagine the cost of converting them to digital. It is a cost that a small council the size of Boddington just cannot afford.

For that reason you can imagine that most local government authorities with these towers will just turn them off. Yet the federal government is sitting back, saying: 'You tell us what you are doing'—which is just an easy way to put the blame back on the council when the rollout is late. The onus should not be on the council; it should be on the government which is switching off this service to liaise properly with them so that they can coordinate the switch-off and the rollout of the digital signal.

The government's rollout of digital TV must be closely monitored. I wish to provide this feedback from Canning constituents who are having some issues with the digital service. For example, Colin Lankford, from Kelmscott, recently switched to digital TV. Since then he has only been able to access two channels, despite being able to access all other channels when he had analog TV. He has had aerial technicians come to his house to check the issue, but they have said that the location of the house means that there is very poor reception throughout the region, which has also been confirmed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. He inquired about getting the VAST service and accessing the Satellite Subsidy Scheme, but he is not eligible as he is living in a metropolitan area. He is still in my electorate and, dare I say, on the south-east corner of the metropolitan area and only a kilometre or so from the bush. That is how close he is to being out of the metropolitan area. He has no other options available to him.

Pam Herbert, also from Kelmscott, said that she has the same issues as Mr Lankford—in other words, once she switched to digital, not getting the channels she should. Graeme Leach and Ken Lee, who both live in Erskine, which is further south towards Mandurah, have the same issues as I have listed regarding the signal. They are also not eligible for the subsidy. That is the trouble with outer metropolitan electorates. The metropolitan arbitrary line is drawn such that, when it suits government and government agencies, these areas are deemed as metropolitan and if they are a bit further out they are still deemed to be metropolitan, if it suits them—for example, in terms of the provision of aged care. But in this case, because they are after proper treatment through this digital rollout, they can be considered to be not within a rural or regional area but metropolitan. They are in a very grey area.

The key point that I am making is that there are clearly ongoing issues with the digital TV rollout, which are going to be exacerbated once the complete switch-over takes place next year. The federal government and ACMA, seemingly, are unwilling to provide any assistance, only offering the VAST Satellite Subsidy Scheme to those in rural or remote regions. As I said, this offer is clouded in uncertainty and fraught with technical difficulties, which many of my constituents are extremely frustrated about. The minister has only answered these concerns with four suggestions—can you believe this? The response from the minister was: 'How about telling them to turn their aerials in a different direction,' or, 'Ask an aerial technician to assess the problem,' which they have already done. These people have already tried these options, but it is becoming a growing inconvenience and expense when they have to call out the TV repairman.

When you put this together with the government's initiative two budgets ago on set-top boxes, it just makes you realise how shambolic and symptomatic this is of a government handling an issue like this TV switch-over. The set-top box situation is just ludicrous. In fact, I have a number of set-top boxes that I cannot even give away to constituents because they do not want them. Attaching a set-top box to an analog TV for a pensioner is not the cheap, $350 option, because you then have to get out a technician to connect it and do something with the aerial. They would be far better off getting the same amount of money to allow them to go to JB Hi-Fi or Harvey Norman and just buy a proper digital TV for probably less money. You can get a good 32-inch digital TV at any of these places for about $350. This thinking is about as clever as some of the other brain snaps like pink batts, green loans and cash for clunkers that this government has come up with, and it does not solve the problem. The government needs a more orderly and structured process when people like those I have mentioned in my electorate are having extreme difficulty with this signal, whether it be for terrestrial reasons or due to the location of the tower—in his speech the member for Makin mentioned the shadow of the signal. All those sorts of issues need to be dealt with because people in outer urban electorates are just as important and just as equal as those in metropolitan areas. They deserve better.