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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4251

Senator CORMANN (10:28 AM) —The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010 is yet another case study of what an incompetent government the Rudd-Gillard Labor government have been over the last three years. They promise the world and deliver next to nothing. They do not think things through. They have to organise things at the last minute. There is mismanagement, failure and incompetence wherever you look. This legislation, which of course follows a grandiose promise made by Senator Conroy in January this year that the government would fund a new satellite service to bring digital television to all Australians who cannot adequately receive terrestrial digital television services, was introduced by the government only in March. And here we are, with less than one week to go before the digital switch-over in Mildura, on the last day in parliament, and the government have to fix up the stuff-ups in their original legislation, which was introduced less than three months ago.

Now we understand that perhaps members, senators and ministers of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government have been somewhat distracted. But even this week the government has been all over the place. On late Tuesday afternoon we were asked if we could deal with this the next morning. When we turned up in the Senate this urgent, important legislation that desperately needed to be passed had been prioritised way down at No.9 on the legislative agenda that day, which meant that there was absolutely no chance that we were ever going to deal with this legislation.

The government has now put forward nearly 40 pages of amendments to a piece of legislation they introduced only in the middle of March. We will support most of those amendments. We have had discussions with the government and it has conceded that some of the amendments are not as time critical as might have been initially claimed and those amendments have been removed.

I will pick up on one area of amendments: the captioning and content requirements on digital multichannels. Under the Broadcast Services Act broadcasters are currently required to apply the full captioning and content requirements to all of the digital multichannels after switchover has occurred in their licensed area. However, because regional broadcasters switch over earlier than metropolitan broadcasters, the obligation will be imposed on regional broadcasters before those metropolitan broadcasters, which will have major consequences for regional broadcasters as they source their programs from metropolitan markets.

Why didn’t anybody think of that before they introduced the original legislation? If this is a problem which pops up at the last minute—with one day to go and less than a week to go before the switchover in Mildura—how many other problems will be discovered on 1 July when Senator Conroy is going to be in Mildura pressing the button, as he has been telling us so frequently here in this chamber?

This is non-controversial legislation and we have been facilitating along every step of the way to get this legislation passed very quickly. It passed very quickly though the House of Representatives. It took the government a very long time to bring it to the Senate for us to deal with it. Clearly, Senator Conroy was struggling in his negotiations with his own colleagues to get appropriate priority for this particular bill, which is why we are dealing with this bill so late in the piece.

I want to draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the amendments that were originally circulated—which related to the restack of digital channels to achieve the so-called digital dividend—have been withdrawn by the government, so we are led to believe, as will amendments 58 and 59 relating to an exemption for broadcasters from converting certain terrestrial sites to digital.

We are not making a judgment or a comment on the merits or otherwise of those amendments, but our view is that, given the rushed process that we are forced to go through on this occasion, those amendments warrant some further scrutiny and exposure to proper process—something that this bad and incompetent Rudd-Gillard Labor government does not know much about.

In concluding my contribution to this bill, there are examples of failure, incompetence and mismanagement right across the Rudd-Gillard Labor government. This is just one small example of how a lack of proper process and thinking things through leads to you dealing with things at the last minute and trying to fix things up at five minutes to midnight. We are helping to facilitate this process here today because we do not want the good people of Mildura to be caught up in the middle of the incompetence and the mess generated by Senator Conroy on this occasion.

My message to the people across Australia is this: if you want a return to good government then vote for the coalition at the next election. Only the coalition will deliver good government after the next election. If you want the continuation of the bad government that you have had over the last three years, you might want to consider supporting a Gillard Labor government at the next election. Of course, I hope the people of Australia have the good sense to vote for good government at the next election.