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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1095


Mr McGAURAN(10.48) —It is true to say that there is no more complex or difficult portfolio to master than that of Communications, particularly at this time when there is such a rapid development in technological change. To that extent at least, the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy), who is at the table, has the understanding, if not the sympathy, of the Opposition, as does the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), who has mastered this very complex and difficult portfolio without the assistance of a department and with restricted resources. They have the respect of the Opposition. That leads me to say, however, that I have a number of reservations about some of the policies which the Minister has adopted or appears to be adopting. The two matters I wish to deal with in the brief time allocated to me this morning are, firstly, the policy of the Minister which requires all new translators to be of ultra high frequency rather than very high frequency, and, secondly, supplementary licences as they affect the electorate of Gippsland.

I well understand the Minister's desire to require that new translators be of ultra high frequency. It is a long overdue measure which would greatly free the very high frequency band so that further licences on that frequency could be issued. I have met with the Minister and he has patiently, and at some length, explained to me his thoughts on these matters. However, I point out to the Minister that the cost of purchase and installation, as well as the ongoing power and maintenance costs associated with ultra high frequency translators, is far in excess of that required by very high frequency translators. This has the effect in remote country areas of making it an uncommercial proposition for commercial television stations to install ultra high frequency translators.

I refer specifically to an area in my electorate, far east Gippsland, which encompasses the areas of Cann River, Genoa and Mallacoota about which I have spoken to the Minister. I have further spoken in this Parliament on two occasions about these areas and presented petitions containing several hundred signatures. The problem here, I think, exemplifies the problem that the Minister will encounter in a number of different parts of Australia. It is simply that the commercial television station in Gippsland-GLV8, owned and operated by Southern Cross Communications-has a VHF translator sitting in a crate all set to be installed in Cann River so that the signal can be beamed into these otherwise remote areas of Gippsland. However, the Minister or his Department has not yet given approval to it because of the requirement that it be an ultra high frequency translator. That is simply unrealistic and the people of east Gippsland are becoming more and more frustrated and disillusioned that the Minister would adhere so strongly to his policy, particularly as I understand that he has waived that requirement in other parts of Australia. I again ask the Minister-I have asked him on two previous occasions in this Parliament-to consider this problem more carefully and to have his Department act more quickly to examine the proposal put forward by Southern Cross Communications.

The second matter I wish to raise with the Minister relates to supplementary licences. I am sure the Minister has been bombarded by an avalanche of submissions and representations concerning supplementary licences and he has my sympathy. Nonetheless, I ask him to consider the effect of granting supplementary licences to existing regional television broadcasters on existing frequencies. The Shire of Maffra for one, and other shires within the electorate of Gippsland, have expressed concern that if Southern Cross Communications receives a supplementary licence that licence, when it is transformed into a frequency, will interfere with their reception of Melbourne television stations. I have pointed out to the shire that the granting of a licence is the responsibility of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and the allocation of a frequency is the responsibility of the Department of Communications. In both instances I trust that both those decision-making bodies will take into account the fact that residents in the region receive Melbourne television stations and that they ought not be interfered with.

I ask the Minister to take it a step further and state clearly that in his view only exceptional circumstances-in my view there are no exceptional circumstances in the electorate of Gippsland-would allow the granting of a licence which would interfere with metropolitan television reception. That matter is obviously of real concern to a number of people throughout Australia, particularly those in Gippsland.


Mr Braithwaite —In Mackay we cannot get FM radio.


Mr McGAURAN —It has been pointed out by the very energetic honourable member for Dawson that he has problems in Mackay receiving FM radio. With respect to the honourable member, that point is somewhat removed from the matter I was addressing but I take the opportunity to make that representation on behalf of the honourable member for Dawson.

There is a further problem in the far east region of Gippsland in dealing with VHF and UHF translators and that is in the area of Ensay. Ensay, the Minister may be aware, being a well-travelled Victorian, is close to Omeo. The problem with Ensay is that it is a very hilly region. The 50 families in that region who cannot receive any television have banded together, under the previous Government's self-help program, and installed a major translator. But the complicating fact in that part of Gippsland is that it is so hilly that one needs several translators feeding off the main translator.

The people of Ensay have each contributed a substantial amount of money and installed a number of smaller receiving translators. However, they have now come to the end of their tether. As I pointed out in this House only last week, they require a further $3,000 to complete the project so that they will be able to receive, as I believe is their right, communications. I shall make a further representation to the Minister in the near future. I ask him to consider it favourably at that time. The Ensay television committee's actions represent the initiative of people in isolated areas who are somewhat removed from major metropolitan areas. The people in that area deserve every bit of assistance that the Government can give. In this case, they are asking for an amount that is negligible, given the amount that they have already contributed.

I thank the Chair for permitting me to participate in this debate when time is so limited. I have outlined two matters of concern to the people of Gippsland, including the problems associated with implementing the Minister's policy which requires UHF translators rather than VHF translators. I ask for exceptions to be made for people in remote areas so that they can receive television transmissions-in many cases, for the first time. I ask the Minister to note also the concern of the Shire of Maffra and other shires in the Gippsland electorate about the granting of a supplementary licence to Southern Cross Communications Ltd.