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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1867

Mr MILTON(9.12) —In speaking in support of the radio communications Bills which are before the House and, in particular, the Radio Communications Bill 1983, I am pleased to note that the primary objective of the Bills is to provide the legal framework for effective management of the radio frequency spectrum in accordance with appropriate engineering principles. The present legislation controlling the use of the spectrum is inadequate to manage the spectrum for interference-free communications. Nowhere is this more evident than in my electorate of La Trobe.

Although, once again, I am speaking in this House on the problem of the very poor television reception in the Dandenong Ranges of Victoria, I feel confident that at last something is being done. Last month, the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy), in reply to a letter I sent to him, said:

The Department of Communications has recently conducted field surveys in the area to determine technical operating conditions for both commercial and Australian Broadcasting Corporation television. The Department is currently working with commercial licensees and the industry body, the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, to reach agreement on outstanding details. The problem at the moment is that a major planning decision will have to be made regarding the spacing between television channels in the Ultra High Frequency or UHF band. It will have to be determined whether that spacing will be seven or eight megaHertz.

The problem is a widespread one. It affects particularly the suburbs of Belgrave , Boronia, Clematis, Ferntree Gully, Upper Ferntree Gully, Ferny Creek, Monbulk, Olinda, Sassafras, Selby, Tecoma, the Basin, the Patch and Upwey. With the growth of population over the years the population affected is about 25,000 people, but the problem has been there since the commencement of television services in Melbourne in 1956.

I quote from the report of the draft planning proposal by the Department of Communications in September 1980, over three years ago. It states:

To provide an adequate television coverage to the greater part of this area, it will be necessary to establish three separate translator sites. Propagation tests indicate that translator station sites at Bruce Crescent (Ferntree Gully), Belmont Av (Upwey) and the Belgrave Swimming Pool should provide optimum coverage of the area . . . Siting the translators as recommended would provide for a certain degree of overlap of the coverage areas of adjacent translators. This would minimise the number of pockets of inadequate service within the total area under consideration.

The environmental impact of establishing the translators will have to be taken into account. In this respect the Sherbrooke Shire, the City of Knox and the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges Authority will, of course, be consulted to ensure that there is no detrimental effect to the natural environment of the area. I estimate that the population of the areas which will receive an improved service on the basis of the draft planning proposal will be 7,000 in Ferntree Gully, 10,500 in Upwey and 4,000 in Belgrave. Because of the shortage of VHF frequencies available for use in the Melbourne area, the proposed translators will all operate in the UHF band as the Minister has indicated.

As it is over three years since the Department commenced its planning work on the proposal I imagine it is possible that there will be some variation and improvement in the draft plan. I should mention at this stage that amongst the many hundreds of my constituents who have complained about the poor television reception in the Dandenongs are a number of people technically qualified in the sphere of radio and telecommunications. These people have told me that the Department has considerably underestimated the number of people affected by poor television reception in my electorate. I can vouch for that fact at a personal level because the television reception is not good at my home in Montrose. The quality of my picture from channels 7 and 9 and, occasionally, channel 2 leaves a lot to be desired. Only channel 10 is satisfactory. I have also received complaints from people in Emerald and Monbulk, which are outside the areas mentioned in the draft planning proposal.

However, I do have some sympathy with the difficulties under which the Department of Communications has operated in respect of the necessary planning for the installation of the translators. The planning section has been considerably understaffed for many years but I understand that the Department has now received an increase in staff in this vital planning section. I am quite confident therefore that this will be the last occasion on which it will be necessary for me to bring this matter to the attention of the House. The Minister, on behalf of the Government, has indicated that the matter is receiving urgent attention by the Department. I know that the Department officials concerned will not let either me or the Minister down.

One problem will remain for some small pockets of people totalling an estimated 2,000 who, even when the translators are installed, will not be able to enjoy an acceptable reception. Once the translators have been installed it will be possible to ascertain, from the experience of the improved reception, exactly where those pockets of people are located and advice will be able to be given regarding methods of improving television reception in those small pockets. I commend the Bills to the House.