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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 308

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (15:13): The responses to my questions to Senator Fifield as Minister for Communications in relation to the ABC's removal of its short-wave radio services across northern Australia and indeed the Pacific confirm what a total disaster and disgrace this decision has been. The minister admits that consultation has been totally inadequate. The next question is: what are you going to do about it?

The removal of short-wave services to the people of the remote regions of northern Australia is a life-and-death issue. It matters. It matters to the people on the ground, from our communities, our cattle stations and along the coastlines to our fishing communities and the truckies who travel the roads in those most remote regions. If ever there was a case that showed the huge city-country divide, this decision certainly wins the gold medal.

In terms of short-wave radio, in the responses by the minister, he said the ABC made this decision and that it is in no way related to funding—that the ABC has base funding confirmed for the next three years. However, in the discussions I, along with our shadow communications minister, Mark Dreyfus, had with the managing director of the ABC, Michelle Guthrie, she said that it was related to funding and that, as a result of contractual relationships and discussions with Broadcast Australia, this was a decision the ABC had to make.

I say to the Senate that the decision to remove a very vital service to the people of northern Australia and giving only seven weeks notice—in the first week of December, going into Christmas and New Year, when people could not give their full attention to responding urgently to this issue in an adequate way—that on 31 January this service would be turned off is totally appalling. Having the Minister for Communications confirm that the consultation which the ABC says it took was not adequate means that there must be movement now to look into this and to reinstate the service to the people of northern Australia and all those in the Pacific who rely on this very critical service.

I acknowledge also the work of my colleagues Warren Snowdon MP, Luke Gosling MP, Mark Dreyfus MP, Stephen Jones MP and even the Leader of the Opposition in writing to the Prime Minister, urging him to act, saying that we need this service. We are not there yet.

Now, Minister Fifield said in his response that the ABC has relented slightly by donating certain equipment. Well, hello, that equipment will not work. We do not have the technology in the Northern Territory, compared to our brothers and sisters in the cities of Australia. We want to have that technology, but we are not there yet. We rely solely on the short-wave radio service beyond so many kilometres of the main cities of Darwin and Alice Springs. This is a completely disastrous decision. The VAST services which the ABC says is what the digital move is towards will not work for us—not yet. We want to be there, but we are not there yet.

The best thing that this government can do is provide the moneys necessary to get short-wave radio back up and running in northern Australia and in the Pacific so that these people in remote and regional parts of Australia do not lose the communication that they so very much deserve.