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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15634

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (10:38 PM) —I wish to refer to the recent broadcasting legislation that received bipartisan support in this parliament and enables the Australian Broadcasting Authority to regulate to provide direct to home reception of remote area satellite broadcasting services in areas with inadequate reception. This measure is a practical means for residents and communities to receive free-to-air broadcasting services in lieu of further roll out of terrestrial services and/or a fill-in for deficient terrestrial broadcast reception. Realistically, the chance of improving the situation in my topographically diverse area is fairly remote when we talk of terrestrial transmission.

I believe the imperative for out of area reception because of black spot status is not merely an issue of equity of access to current commercial and public broadcasting services enjoyed by the majority of Australians. It is my understanding that inferior reception areas will not—I repeat: will not—receive standard or high definition digital TV signals in the future, as a certain threshold of signal reception quality is a technical necessity for this to occur.

The satellite option will facilitate this without recourse to rolling out further terrestrial services. I would ask this government then to consider limited and appropriate assistance for successful applicants for direct to home reception of remote area satellite services in areas with inadequate to very poor terrestrial reception. Clearly, most black spot areas exist in rural, remote and regional Australia.

I am not sure whether members are aware of this, but people must apply through the ABA to access this service. Fundamentally, the process clearly identifies and verifies legitimate applicants from black spot areas. Requests are approved for the nominated receiver equipment at the stated location. The decoder box and the enabling smart card cannot be transferred to another location. If sold to another person, a new application will be necessary for the new location. However, there is a considerable financial cost involved for each applicant which can vary between $1,200 and $2,000 per application. The report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services entitled Time running out: Shaping regional Australia's future cited a precedent for government assistance to overcome communication deficiencies—namely, the 50 per cent discount off the purchase price for broadband satellite Internet service delivery.

Mr Speaker, you would be aware of the Commonwealth's $120 million to establish a television fund to extend SBS television to transmission areas with more than 10,000 people and to eradicate up to 250 television black spots. While this may assist some communities in receiving more equitable services, it will not help communities that fall below the population threshold, it will not help those who do not currently operate self-help retransmission facilities and it will not help those who will not benefit from the future rollout of terrestrial TV services to overcome black spots.

Satellite reception is almost certainly the most practical way to assist these people, but for many the costs are prohibitive. Commonwealth assistance perhaps in the form of tax relief would greatly reduce this disincentive. I therefore put it to the Treasurer and the relevant minister: given that the recent legislation will greatly extend the eligibility criteria to householders wishing or needing to access satellite broadcasting services, will the Commonwealth consider assisting householders to purchase the relevant reception equipment as it has with access to broadband services? For example, a tax deduction for eligible households for verifiable expenditure on equipment and installation costs for satellite receivers may be one approach to this. The legislation is a practical way to assist people to access TV services, while financial assistance as I have outlined is a practical way to help overcome the inequities involved.