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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1869

Mr CLEELAND —My question is addressed to the Minister for Communications. In view of a Press statement made on 31 March 1987 by the honourable member for Goldstein criticising the ultimatum by Aussat Pty Ltd and its timing relative to the Government's aggregation proposals, how does the Government intend remote commercial television services-RCTS-to be provided if the eastern zone licensees do not meet the deadline of 31 March 1987, which has been imposed by Aussat?

Mr DUFFY —I thank the honourable member for McEwen for his question. I am advised that Aussat has been negotiating with the eastern zone RCTS licensee for some time, apparently without reaching agreement. I can understand the concerns which have led Aussat to take the action that it has. It may be of interest to the honourable member to know that I have met also with Satellite South East to discuss the matter. At the time of that discussion it was quite clear that there was some doubt whether the consortium of regional stations considered itself capable at that stage of delivering the RCTS service, and it was a matter that it was going to consider.

The steps that the Government may take to ensure that the eastern zone services are established will obviously depend on the response of the licensees to the recent proposals by Aussat. It will also depend on steps which might be taken by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal which is responsible for the implementation of the licensing procedures. I have written to Aussat on this matter and Aussat has agreed that no decision will be taken until the Government has had an opportunity to consider it. The honourable member for Goldstein, the shadow spokesman on communications, in his Press statement yesterday--

Mr John Brown —Not a bad bloke.

Mr DUFFY —He is not a bad bloke, as the honourable member for Parramatta interjected. But one wonders on whose behalf he is speaking in his Press statement-whether it is on his own behalf, whether it is on behalf of the Liberal Party and the National Party or on behalf of the Liberal Party and the National Party with the Queensland branch of the National Party speaking separately. I think that what he attempted to do was to create concern in the minds of people in remote areas by suggesting that the major television networks may provide the remote area television service via a 30-watt transponder in a national beam. This matter of the capability of the current licensees to provide the service is being considered and is something that we will address if they do not decide to go ahead with it. I do not know how the honour- able member for Goldstein, in his Press statement, came to the extraordinary view that somehow or other, if there was an a alternative method, it would be a national beam which would result in additional costs for larger dishes. The standard for direct home-to-home satellite services requires delivery in a spot beam. That standard will continue to apply. Where the honourable member dreamt up that national beam concept at this stage is something that I have no idea about. The Government believes that those people who established reception facilities on the basis of the Homestead and Community Broadcasting Satellite Service-HACBSS-signal should not be asked to accept a lower power commercial television signal.

Another interesting point raised by the honourable member for Goldstein was his suggestion that maybe the Commonwealth Government would fund the Remote Commercial Television Services. That is another little figure that can be added to the $16 billion credibility gap that is already there because this Government does not intend to fund it. It has never said that it would fund it. The satellite is there. There are licensees to provide the service and if they decide that they cannot provide the service, this Government will be forced to make other arrangements.