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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 2373

Mr MacKELLAR(6.20) —In examining the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1985-86, I had cause to reflect that the rapid technological advances of the last decade and the launching of Australia's national communication satellite system will bring almost all Australians within reach of a wide range of national and international television transmissions. Yet at the very time these impressive advances are being made, the standard of service for many thousands of television users is quite unsatisfactory. As the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) will know, my particular concern is the lack of effective television reception for thousands of people who reside in the Balmoral, Mosman and Manly area of Sydney and the eastern suburbs area of Sydney. This poor television reception is not imagined. The people of these areas, having lived for many years with daily evidence of unsatisfactory reception are really fed up, and the reason is equally clear. The nature of the topography in the North Sydney and Sydney Harbour foreshore areas is such that existing transmissions cannot be effectively received in the many thousands of residences that do not have line of sight reception. It is also well known and acknowledged that this problem can be rectified at very little cost by the installation of a suitably located television translator tower in the North Head area. The people of these suburbs are not asking for multi-million dollar national satellites or a piece of computerised electronic wizardry. They simply want an inexpensive translator tower to given them the quality of reception which other Sydney residents have enjoyed for many years.

I have a file on this subject which, in itself, would go a long way to providing the necessary height for the required tower. I first made representations on this matter in 1976 and I am still doing so today, and I will keep making representations on the matter until we get a translator tower. The facts appear to me to be particularly uncomplicated and I shall summarise them briefly for the benefit particularly of the Minister. A consortium of commercial television stations is willing to install a television translator to improve television reception in the North Sydney and eastern suburbs areas. A suitable site has been identified at North Head. This site, most importantly, is not within the Sydney Harbour National Park, as has been claimed by some of the tower's opponents. It would in fact be located next to the North Head sewerage works, and this in no way would interfere with the environment of the national park or, in my opinion, with the general environment at the sewerage works site. I am not aware that a sewerage works site has a particularly salubrious record as a desirable environment and the tower in no way, in my view, would interfere with the environment that is already there.

Because this is a State matter, it is necessary for approval to be given by the appropriate State Minister. The Federal Government has supported the proposition that a television translator be located on North Head, and I express my appreciation to the Minister for Communications for that support. However, the matter does not finish there. The New South Wales Government has rejected this application and the appeals of the Federal Government on the grounds that it does not meet the provisions of its environmental impact legislation. How a modest and unobtrusive tower, located next to a sewerage works, can be regarded as environmentally unacceptable is beyond my understanding. I can only draw the conclusion that this legislation is being used to hide other and so far unstated reasons for the New South Wales Government to refuse this application.

On the question of environmental impact, Madam Chair, you would no doubt be aware that in areas with poor television reception the only remedy residents can seek is to erect unsightly television antennae or aerials on very long poles. These are not only incredibly unsightly but also very dangerous. How we can equate that unsightly proliferation of television antennae with the building of a simple single tower is beyond my comprehension.

On 22 July 1985 the Minister for Communications wrote to me advising that the North Head site did not appear to be suitable to the New South Wales Government and that, as a result, he had requested the Federal Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen), to approach the New South Wales Government with a view to considering a number of alternative sites. Yet, on 10 October this year, an article appeared in my local paper, the Manly Daily, reporting that Mr Bob Carr, the State Minister for Planning and Environment--

Mr Leo McLeay —A good Minister.

Mr MacKELLAR —Somebody said that he is a good Minister. Let us hear what he said. He said that he was willing to consider alternative sites but had not yet received any approach from the Federal Government. I am not sure why he had not received any approach from the Federal Government, given the fact that on 22 July the Minister for Communications had said that he had asked his colleague the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment to get in touch with Mr Carr. We all know that the Minister for Communications has a few problems with the postal system, particularly in New South Wales and even more particularly in Sydney. It could be that this matter has been held up in the post; but surely not since 22 July? Somebody has not done his work properly. I do not know who it is, but I do know that the problem has not been addressed and certainly has not been solved. If the Minister for Communications has asked his colleague to get in touch with the New South Wales Minister-I am sure I can rely on his assurance that he has-has his colleague followed it through, because the New South Wales Minister says he has not received any communication and he has certainly not done anything?

As I have said, we all know that the Minister is having difficulty in providing a satisfactory postal service, but to wait three months for a letter to be forwarded by a Federal Minister to his State colleague is particularly unacceptable. Has the letter been sent? If so, why has it not been acted upon by that good Minister, as someone from the Government benches called him, in New South Wales? Or is this simply another chapter in the almost 10 years of procrastination and delaying tactics by the present New South Wales Government on this matter? A television translator tower is needed to improve reception for thousands of North Shore residents. It is not an expensive project and it can be located by negotiation at a site suitable to meet both environmental and technical requirements. I therefore plead with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment not to wait for the letter to be answered but to have prompt discussions with his New South Wales colleague, Mr Carr, to bring this matter to a speedy and satisfactory solution.

We are living at a time of revolution in the electronic and communications industries, with daily advances which are beyond the understanding of the ordinary person. But that person has an expectation, an expectation often fuelled by generous, and even exaggerated, public relations claims that these advances will bring and are bringing improvements in our quality of life. Whether it be at home or business or in the wider community, we are persuaded that this or that will be better, cheaper, faster, more reliable or more efficient. Many of my constituents will tell the Minister that this is not occurring. Certainly, it is very satisfying to watch the Los Angeles Olympic Games on television as it is actually taking place, but it is not much good when it cannot be viewed on a screen without ghosting, distortions and other reception difficulties. In short, the expectations of my constituents are not being realised because this Government has not followed through its request to the New South Wales Government-a fellow Labor government-to do something about this very simple proposition. It has been going on for far too long and it would do great credit to the Minister for Communications if he would follow this matter through to a satisfactory resolution.

Progress reported.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.