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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4199

Mr BIDGOOD (5:46 PM) —I rise to speak on the  Social Security Legislation Amendment (Digital Television Switch-over) Bill 2009. The government has announced that all free-to-air television broadcasters in Australia will complete the switch from analog transmission to digital-only transmission by the end of 2013. Television will change from analog to digital, and digital television will provide the benefits of improved picture and sound quality and greater program choice. Digital switch-over is important for all Australians as it will not only provide access to a better picture and sound quality and to additional channels but will also free up spectrum which can be used for the delivery of new and improved broadcast and communications services. It is our commitment through this bill and through its service and funding commitments that no-one be left behind in the changeover. It is the aim of this bill that the changeover will occur with as little disruption to free-to-air television services as possible and to those who are most vulnerable to the potential cost of change.

Television is a common part of most of our lives. It informs and entertains. We watch news and current affairs, sports programs, movies, children’s programming, gameshows and sitcoms—a bit of everything really. Most channels go 24 hours a day. We have a range of channels to choose from on our commercial networks and the promise of more to come with digital technology is something that I believe many constituents await with anticipation. The technology in which television will be delivered is changing and digital broadcasting will be universal to all TVs by 2012, or in three years time.

The bill amends the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to enable the implementation of the Digital Switch-over Household Assistance Program as part of the government’s commitment to deliver an assistance program to households in regions due to make the switch from analog to digital television between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2011. A household will qualify for the program where one or more residents are in receipt of the maximum rate of any of the following payments: age pension, disability support pension, carer payment, Department of Veterans’ Affairs service pension and the income support supplement.

The government understands that switching to digital television will be a straightforward and inexpensive task for the vast majority of Australians—however, not for all. Most new TVs are digital ready, and set-top boxes to decode the digital signals are often inexpensive and are getting cheaper as more come onto the market and competition kicks in. However, some viewers will need practical, in-home assistance to make the switch to digital, and the government wants to help.

We will aim to have no-one left behind by this technological scheme. The digital switch-over household assistance package will involve the provision and/or installation of any or all of the following: first, set-top boxes; second, cables; and, third, antennas. Legislative authority is required to enable Centrelink to use protected information to identify and contact people qualified for the Digital Switch-over Household Assistance Program. This is essential to ensure we give everyone the opportunity to switch over. In addition, Centrelink needs to be able to provide information about recipients of those payments, with their consent, to the contractors engaged to supply the Digital Switch-over Household Assistance Program. We are a government that understands the need for safeguarding personal, confidential information disclosed to contractors, and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will be limited to that strictly necessary for the implementation of the Digital Switch-over Household Assistance Program. Contractors will not receive specific information about the customer’s age, payment type, disability or marital status.

This program is funded appropriately, with $11.3 million in 2009-10, $31.1 million in 2010-11 and $29.8 million in 2011-12. With the Queensland switch-over rolling out between 1 July 2011 and 31 December 2011, that means over $30 million will be available to assist Queenslanders with the changeover. This is good news—good news for the communities in my seat of Dawson, from Mackay, Proserpine, the Whitsundays, Bowen, Ayr, and the Burdekin to Oonoonba and south Townsville. I commend the bill to the House.