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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 438

Senator CALVERT (7.32 p.m.) —I rise on the adjournment debate tonight to bring to the attention of the Senate a matter that has been of some concern to many Tasmanians for a considerable time. I refer to the practical application of aggregation as it has happened against what was supposed to happen in Tasmania. In setting the scene, I refer to a question asked by Senator Harradine of Senator Gareth Evans back in May 1989. He asked about the effect of aggregation on Tasmania in changing some areas from VHF to UHF. Senator Evans's supplementary answer provided on 23 May states:

The Government has no intention of backing away from its commitment to not only increase the number of services but to extend services to all who should be able to receive them.

  The Government's program is to provide additional services without disrupting reception of existing services, and that's exactly what will happen.

Most of Australia this week has been revelling in the success of Australia at the Commonwealth Games and has had the pleasure of watching our athletes perform so well. Other people around Australia have enjoyed watching AFL football, as they certainly do in Tasmania. I would like to read two short letters that I received from the Orford Primary School, which I might say until aggregation received very good television reception. The first letter is from Fiona Lyne `and the rest of Orford grades 3 and 4'. She said:

I'm writing to you because I think it is not fair that I can't see the Commonwealth Games and I can't see my favourite runner Cathy Freeman or gymnastics.

When the new channel came we were promised we would get it on. The Games only comes every 4 years. I'm disappointed in this. Any way my name is Fiona Lyne from Orford Tasmania. Just because I live in the country it doesn't mean we should be forgotten about. Please try to do something about it.

  The second letter that I received was from Leigh Peak, who is in the same class. She wrote:

I am writing because most of my school can't watch Southern Cross—

which is the new channel. She continued:

I think it's not fair not watching Australia competing against other countries. If Hobart didn't have Southern Cross I bet it would be done before you could say Southern Cross two times. Please could you pass on how I feel and how other people on the East Coast feel about missing out on such an important event as the Commonwealth Games.

Just this evening I had a phone call from a constituent from the west coast of Tasmania who alerted me—as I had already been alerted by quite a few other complainants over the last month or so—to the fact that their television reception had deteriorated and was non-existent at times. Radio transmission from the ABC had ceased to exist for 10 days. Some people were receiving radio signals through their television sets; I do not know how that occurred, but it did. It all gets back to what is happening in Tasmania with aggregation.

  As I was receiving a lot of complaints, I conducted a survey in southern Tasmania, the results of which I have passed to the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Mr Lee. I sent out something like 12,000 letters and received nearly 2,000 replies, which I believe is a very good response rate for a survey, particularly when it is conducted by a politician—an opposition politician at that. Apart from the written replies I received, I have had many dozens of phone calls from viewers and listeners and, in particular, I have had quite a fair amount of anecdotal evidence from people who work in the television industry and from people who are involved with the radio industry.

  I received strong anecdotal evidence from past and present employees of the ABC and Telecom that the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the National Transmitter Agency have been totally misleading Tasmanians. Comments were made to my office expressing the view that the Australian Broadcasting Authority in particular has been disorganised and downright negligent. It has been found that the ABA has allocated wrong frequencies to Tasmania and has failed to supply spectrum management. As recently as only a week or so ago when I made this matter public in Hobart, I had the support of David Hill himself, who was very critical of the fact that the National Transmitter Agency did not seem to have done any forward planning for the work it is doing on radio transmission, particularly around Hobart. I might add that we were promised a full coverage of the national radio in Tasmania and that still has not happened, although I am led to believe that it may happen in the reasonably near future.

  It gets back to the point that promises were made to Senator Harradine and others back in 1989—five years ago—that these problems would not arise. Yet here we are in 1994 not only with problems but with many thousands of people being disadvantaged in Tasmania. I know that Tasmania is a long way away from the bureaucrats in Canberra, but what about the people who have been complaining—those whom I have represented here and whose comments I have made known to the minister? I am not the only one who has done that. I know that Sylvia Smith from the north of Tasmania has done so, as has my colleague Senator Chris Miles, the honourable member for Braddon. I believe that Senator Newman is still waiting for responses from the minister to complaints she has made on behalf of many hundreds of viewers in northern Tasmania about the inadequacy of television reception.

  As Deputy Chairman of the Public Works Committee, I am well aware that a new transmitter is being constructed on Mount Wellington which will house most of the television transmission in southern Tasmania. Nevertheless, I am also aware that the UHF signal is not as far reaching as the VHF signal that is currently being used in Tasmania. It does not seem to have the power to reach out to those areas that have trouble—

Senator Panizza —That is UHF, is it not?

Senator CALVERT —The aggregation has meant that more UHF stations are coming into Tasmania. That is what has happened on the mainland with aggregation, and they tried to apply the same rules to Tasmania. They believed we needed all these extra channels, but our bands in Tasmania are not crammed as has been the case on the mainland. These matters were all raised with Senator Evans back in 1989 by Senator Harradine, and the exports pooh-poohed him. Nevertheless, the situation now is that many hundreds, if not thousands, of southern Tasmanians on the east and west coasts do not have the pleasure of viewing the Commonwealth Games. They will not have the pleasure of viewing the Grand Final of Australian Rules Football.

  The National Transmission Agency, which promised all Tasmanian politicians a briefing this week but cancelled it with no explanation, told us that down the track something like 20 translators will be provided in Tasmania. The agency has provided some material to people showing the areas it will cover. Taking even all that into account, the survey that I carried out and anecdotal evidence that I have received from other people, there will still be many areas of Tasmania, particularly southern Tasmania, the east coast and the Derwent Valley, that will have little or no television service. I believe in 1994 that is totally unacceptable, given the promises made and given that other people right across Australia receive very good television reception and telecommunications. Why is it that the people of Tasmania have suffered once again from decisions made in Canberra that work against them?