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Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Page: 4901


Mr CONROY (Shortland) (11:13): I am pleased to make a contribution on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill. My colleague the member for Greenway has outlined why Labor supports the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule, why we oppose the abolition of the two out of three rule, and why Labor is seeking to separate this provision from the bill.

The way we access media is changing rapidly. Over the last fifteen years the internet has revolutionised the way we access news and entertainment. It is right that the parliament considers ways to reform and enhance our media in this rapidly changing context. However, this bill, and the attitude of the government that introduced this bill, demonstrates that they are completely out of touch with the challenges that face Australians who live outside the major capital cities. That is what I want to address in my remarks today, following on from the excellent contribution from the previous speaker. They do not understand what is going in our regional cities and in our rural and regional areas or why this bill, in its current form, is inadequate for dealing with those challenges.

Firstly, I want to draw to the attention of the House the significant problems that many of my constituents have in accessing free-to-air television, and the need for media companies to invest in and improve services in regional Australia. Over one-quarter of the people in the electorate I represent, Shortland, are over the age of 60. This group overwhelmingly relies on traditional mediums of communication such as television, radio and newspapers, for its information. It is relevant to highlight that many of my constituents, particularly in that age bracket, but also young families and singles, have serious issues with their television reception. This is regularly raised with me when I talk to my constituents.

Since the transfer from the analogue to the digital system, many constituents have received even poorer service. For many constituents, particularly seniors in my community, the television is a fundamentally important part of their lives. It is how they access news and entertainment and know what is happening in our community. Poor television reception has a significant impact on their daily lives. Many of my constituents have told me that they have problems with particular stations cutting out regularly or not working at all. In fact, many people have told me that they have completely given up on accessing free-to-air television. Yet, they cannot afford pay TV or other measures like that. They have invested thousands of dollars in new aerials, in rewiring their antennas and in all sorts of methods of trying to fix the television reception, but, for many parts of my electorate, they still cannot get free-to-air television. In the year 2016, that is simply not good enough.

My electorate is not in an isolated part of rural and remote Australia. The southern part of Shortland is just a bit over an hour's drive from the Sydney CBD. I cannot reinforce this point enough. We have a situation where people living just one hour's drive from Australia's pre-eminent major international city are having significant problems watching television. I want to emphasise that this is not a 'first world problem'. Whether they are pensioners or young families, watching television is an important part of the daily lives of my constituents. It is important from a democratic point of view. For many families in my area, and, in fact, all of Australia, the way they access their news remains free-to-air television. The nightly news, whether it be five o'clock, six o'clock or seven o'clock, is the way they understand what is happening in our country and what is happening in this place. It is an essential part of gathering the information they need to make democratic decisions in this country. This is an issue of fundamental importance to how our democracy operates.

The bill we are discussing now will have significant impact on the profitability of media companies. Changing the system around the reach rule and, if the government is successful, the two-out-of-three rule, will impact our media industry structure and will impact on their profitability. I will repeat my very firm view that media companies have an obligation to invest in regional communities like the one I represent—to invest in the infrastructure and the broadcast towers—so that my constituents, and constituents like them around the country, can access their television services. Government also has a role. Government should be co-investing with these media companies to make sure that my constituents have access to free-to-air television.

Secondly, in discussing broadcast and media reform, it is very much in the context of the internet revolution we have seen over the last 20 years. This highlights the importance of the internet, and the National Broadband Network in particular, to how my constituents access news, education and entertainment. The thesis behind this bill is that the current media landscape—the current media companies—are under significant threat from the rise of the internet. That is true to some extent although many of my colleagues, in particular, the member for Whitlam, have pointed out that the old, traditional media companies still dominate the most visited websites in this country for people accessing news. So, it is not quite the one-sided story that people hear. Nevertheless, it is true that this bill is constructed in the framework that the rise of internet access is undermining the business model of traditional media.

Yet this is not particularly relevant to parts of my electorate because the rollout of the NBN by the Abbot-Turnbull government has been such an absolute farce. For example, the suburb of Belmont in my electorate had the second-highest level of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman regarding the NBN over the last year, and five of top ten suburbs for complaints were in the Central Coast or Lake Macquarie regions. Let me repeat that: a suburb I represent had the second-highest number of complaints regarding the NBN and five of top ten suburbs listed by complaints in the entire nation are in the Central Coast or Lake Macquarie regions, which are areas that I represent or are very close to my constituency. Over the past year, my office has been contacted on an almost daily basis by constituents complaining about the transition to the NBN. Many of those people have been left without a telephone connection for weeks at a time. Many have had alarms, both health alarms and security alarms, cut off for considerable amounts of time. One constituent who owned a boat business slept in his office for a month because his back-to-base alarm was cut off and he was worried about the potential theft of millions of dollars of stock.

It is important to note that the architect of this farce is the Prime Minister. His expensive, second-rate, fibre-to-the-node network is having a huge impact on my community. In fact, many of my constituents are finding that, even when they finally get their connection to the fibre-to-the-node NBN, their speed is as slow as they were experiencing on ADSL and, in some cases, even slower. The Prime Minister and his colleagues consistently and arrogantly boast about the success of the NBN rollout. I would invite him to visit Belmont and meet with my constituents who would tell him how terrible their experience has been.

This is at the heart of this bill. We cannot talk about increasing the profitability of traditional media companies to make sure that they survive the onslaught of the internet-based competition they are facing if the constituents of my electorate and many regional parts of the country do not have adequate NBN services. If we are reducing the diversity of traditional media landscape—which is what this bill effectively seeks to do through the reach rule and, if the government is successful, the two-out-of-three rule—on the basis that Australians can access other diverse sources of news online, they need access to online services. They need access to high-speed internet to access those news services. This is the lie that is at the heart of this bill and is one of my many concerns about this whole debate around telecommunications in this country.

Nevertheless, if the government agrees to our sensible amendment, Labor will support this bill. This point was made by the member for Greenway. Broadcasting reform is important, and accessing free-to-air television is fundamentally important. Nevertheless, it is a disgrace that so many of my constituents are unable to access quality free-to-air television in their homes or access decent internet speeds. I will continue to campaign on behalf of my constituents.