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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 4107

Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (11:45): I am pleased to speak to the Broadcasting Service Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio) Bill 2011. This is a bill that goes some way to amending the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. It is of particular interest to me coming from a part of regional Australia—although for many I suspect Gold Coast would not be considered to be regional Australia, but we are certainly not a capital city although we are the sixth largest centre in the country. That said, I am pleased to report that the Gold Coast has a very strong and very vibrant radio industry.

We have a number of stations in the form of Hot Tomato—and these are commercial stations—Sea and Gold FM, which are owned by Southern Cross. In addition to that there is of course the local ABC radio station, community radio stations and a number of radio stations that encroach on the Gold Coast and around the Gold Coast in what is probably one of the most heavily contested radio markets in the country. There is spillover, for lack of a better term, from Brisbane radio stations, from radio stations to the west of the Gold Coast and from radio stations along the Tweed northern New South Wales coast.

The result of all these media influences is that the Gold Coast media market is a very heavily serviced market with a great number of operators and stakeholders that participate in it. I think, ultimately, that it is for the benefit of all Gold Coasters. There can be no doubt that in a city of 600,000 the opportunity to be able to listen to such a vast array of radio stations is in the interest of consumers. There is no doubt that the ensuing competition that arises as a consequence of the vigorous desire by each of these broadcasters to attract local Gold Coast advertisers is also in the interest of advertisers. These all work in unison to ensure that Gold Coast listeners are very well serviced.

The flip side of that coin would be that those that are the stakeholders—those that hold the radio licenses—may prefer that it was not quite as vigorous as it is. There can be no doubt that there are very slim margins associated with the radio business on the Gold Coast, especially when you take into account a lot of the sunk costs built around, for example, the spectrum that they use. That notwithstanding the Gold Coast is perhaps uniquely placed with respect to other regional centres for which these amendments will have a much greater impact than they would specifically on the Gold Coast. We have seen a continued level of investment into the Gold Coast market by those that have radio licences and, as I said, that is in the interests of Gold Coast consumers and radio listeners.

I look forward to the coming advent of digital radio on the Gold Coast. I think there are many people who take the view that this could not happen soon enough. We wait as the progressive rollout takes place across the country.

I particularly want to acknowledge the good work that is done, especially with respect to local content, which I would like to touch upon in more detail—and I am talking predominantly here about the commercial radio stations being Hot Tomato, Gold and Sea FM. That said, ABC should not be discounted because they too also have very strong local programming content and it is excellent. It is often and regularly shared with the Sunshine Coast, but Gold Coast radio listeners, together with Sunshine Coast radio listeners, could not complain about that quality of local content that is received, again, within the Gold Coast radio market.

Having put all that on the table, with respect to the operation of the amendments contained within this bill, it does a number of key things but specifically with respect to local content requirements. Other speakers in this debate before me have touched upon where local content came from and the reason local content is a requirement on local radio stations. It is one of those things, again, which perhaps is not resonating as strongly on the Gold Coast as it would in other regional markets because we have a population that can service and sustain a number of commercial radio licences on the Gold Coast. Local content serves to ensure that, with syndication across radio markets, there is some degree of local content to service local communities. As I said, in a city of 500,000 people that is not as much of an issue and I recognise that. I recognise and respect that, in many ways, in smaller regional radio markets the need to have local content is an important consideration to ensure that you do not get blanket syndication, which would effectively result in the local media market being fed a diet of news and information from other places not located in the geographic vicinity of that market. That is the rationale for local content.

That said, it is not an issue on the Gold Coast and not a consequence of the operation of local content requirements. Rather, it is a commercial decision that is taken by those operators in the market and a commercial decision built around the fact that there is clearly a desire and an appetite in the Gold Coast regional radio market for there to be a very strong level of local content. We are well serviced by morning crews—that is the commonly used term—on Sea FM, Gold FM, Hot Tomato and local ABC radio as well as community radio stations, which also have local, morning based presenters. All of this, as I said, services the Gold Coast community exceptionally well.

However, broader than that, I have had concerns raised with me—and this bill does address some of those—specifically around the operation of a trigger event. Again, speakers prior to me have touched upon some of the reasons concerns exist with respect to trigger events, what causes a trigger event as well as the application of the trigger event from the time of the event.

Mr Albanese: Didn't you listen to my speech? I went through all the triggering.

Mr CIOBO: I say to the minister at the table that others have raised these concerns. On that basis, clarification around what is a trigger event and the way in which a trigger event would maintain existing levels for a period of 24 months provides clarity and certainty to the industry, which I think is a positive thing.

Again, notwithstanding that this is not particularly germane to the Gold Coast, concerns have been raised by commercial radio licence holders with me about the impact of trigger events. This would have particular relevance in my city because of the fact that the radio market on the Gold Coast, being as strongly serviced as it is for the reasons I outlined earlier, has wafer-thin margins. That is also a consequence of the economic downturn that my city is experiencing. There is no doubt that the decline in tourism and construction activity across the Gold Coast means that the local radio licence holders are finding it particularly difficult to maintain a profitable business. They are finding it particularly difficult to attract new investment in radio advertising at a time when so many businesses are being forced to tighten their belts, reduce their budgets and limit the amount of marketing that they undertake.

In that context, it is obvious that, were a trigger event to occur which required a radio station to have a higher level of staffing than it otherwise would have under a new owner—which could in fact be all the difference in whether that particular radio station was profitable or not—the certainty that it is afforded by this bill is a positive step forward. That is why the coalition is very pleased to support the bill together with the government. The coalition is also pleased that the minister was willing to listen to the points that were made by coalition members and to remove from the bill certain items that dealt with the interaction between the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement and the specific operation of the bill.

Having covered all of that territory, this bill is a step in the right direction. It builds upon the Productivity Commission's finding that there was a high compliance cost associated with local content requirements and dealing with the legislation. In my view, any reduction in compliance requirements—any reduction in red tape—is generally a good thing, and I am pleased that the bill addresses that. In addition, I take this opportunity to congratulate the licence holders and the staff and stakeholders associated with the Gold Coast regional radio market. It is a vibrant market that is well serviced by people with a strong connection to the Gold Coast who understand the significance of local content for the Gold Coast. I am pleased that my listeners, meaning my constituents, have the chance to be so well serviced by such a vibrant market, and I look forward to continuing in the future, ideally at a lower cost as a consequence of the operation of this bill and the support of the coalition.