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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4250

Senator LUDLAM (10:25 AM) —I rise to speak very briefly on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010 and to thank the clerks for keeping us on track this morning. The bill is largely positive. It seeks to ensure that some quarter of a million households in some of Australia’s more remote areas that currently cannot receive digital television terrestrially will receive substantially the same content via satellite.

However, as mentioned in our additional comments in the committee report on the bill, the Greens were quite concerned that open narrowcasters, such as the publicly funded National Indigenous Television, and other community broadcasters may find themselves unable to get access to the new satellite platform despite the fact that it is being funded by the public purse to the tune of $40 million per year. The government have assured us that they have done everything they can to address this issue, including an amendment that ensures that open narrowcasters and community broadcasters will be able to be received on the same reception equipment as the commercial and national broadcasters rather than being condemned to obscurity on disused equipment. However, the government have advised us that there is a legal impediment to giving open narrowcasters and community broadcasters the kind of legislated guarantee that they are looking for that they will not be excluded from the new platform by the joint-venture company that will be running it—as I remind the chamber—at taxpayers’ expense. Nevertheless, the government have given us some assurances that go some way towards addressing our concern for these very important and very independent players in the Australian media landscape.

To put it on the formal record, once other senators have spoken, I ask the minister to confirm for us the following four things: firstly, that there is a legal impediment to providing a legislated guarantee that all open narrowcasters and community broadcasters will be able to access the new platform on fair and non-discriminatory commercial terms and, secondly, that the government’s amendment will mean that open narrowcasters and community broadcasters will be able to be received by the same reception equipment as the commercial and national broadcasters, including by the smartcard and subscriber management system, by dealing solely with the satellite owner, Optus. This is quite important. They will not need to deal with VAST at all, although that is up to them if they so choose. I ask the minister to confirm, thirdly, that the funding agreements prevent VAST from discriminating against access seekers or blocking their access and, fourthly, that, if ACMA does not voluntarily take action, the minister intends to use his powers under the government’s amendment and under the existing part 9B of the Broadcasting Services Act to ensure that ACMA does in fact ensure that the domestic reception equipment cannot exclude narrowcasters and community broadcasters, nor can the electronic program guide subscriber management system or smartcard.

In closing, I thank the minister for bringing this legislation forward—I think it is important and timely—and I thank his staff for the constructive way in which they engaged with the Australian Greens in negotiating this bill through the Senate.