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Wednesday, 27 June 2001
Page: 28659

Dr NELSON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (11:23 AM) —On behalf of the government, I thank the speakers who have contributed to this debate on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2001. I also note the comments and contribution made by the shadow minister for communications, the member for Perth. The bill proposes a number of relatively minor but important amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992. The bill provides for enhancements to the simulcast regime for HDTV in Australia in the light of experience, improvements to the arrangements for the provision of a third commercial television licence in currently underserved regional and remote areas, and the introduction of more streamlined delisting procedures under the antisiphoning regime.

The bill, with the amendments that have been proposed by the government, will enable the Australian Broadcasting Authority—the ABA—to grant an exemption authorising broadcasters to transmit HDTV demonstration programs which are different from the programs on SDTV and/or the analog versions of these services. These demonstration programs are to be tightly defined. They must be for the sole purpose of allowing the benefits of HDTV to be demonstrated on the HDTV version of the television service and can be no longer than 60 minutes. The ABA can specify specific conditions under which these exemptions can be granted, and that will enable high definition television material to be demonstrated during the day. Retailers can use this material to show consumers the benefits of HDTV receivers at point of purchase. While some remarks were made about Harvey Norman, for example, I do not think anyone should lose sight of the needs and concerns of everyday Australians in this regard.

The bill will also allow broadcasters to provide different advertising in the HDTV version of the television service in the first two years of digital television broadcasting. Broadcasters need this time to make sure that the necessary investment can be put in place and also to put in place the necessary equipment that provides the same range of high definition television local advertising as they provide on standard definition television.

The bill also makes amendments to provide for the introduction of automatic six-week delisting of events under the antisiphoning regime. The implementation of automatic delisting of events six weeks before they are to occur will streamline the administration of the antisiphoning regime. It also directly addresses problems that are identified by pay TV operators with the current delisting scheme, while protecting access by free-to-air broadcasters to broadcasting rights for listed events. It therefore certainly does not diminish the opportunity for the public to enjoy free-to-air coverage of listed events.

In May this year, having assessed the state of the market, the government decided to cancel the datacasting option and, because of the limited number of bidders, the government concluded that only a limited number of new service providers could emerge. There was weak competitive tension which was unlikely to maximise returns to the Commonwealth and allocation of licences at prices substantially below their longer term value would certainly not be in the public interest. Given the longer term potential for the spectrum to increase in value, it would have been irresponsible for the government to sell it at a bargain basement price.

The government has indicated that it will consider a range of options in relation to the timing of any future option. The government also remains committed to ensuring that the transition from analog to digital television broadcasting is as smooth as is possible for Australian viewers. This bill maintains the approach of enhancing consumer choice in the transition to digital television. The bill also allow broadcasters sufficient scope to demonstrate the appeal of high definition television and allows viewers to make informed choices about digital television products during the simulcast period. The bill facilitates the introduction of further services in underserved areas, which presumably would be supported by everybody in the House. The bill also provides for the introduction of automatic six-week delisting of events under the antisiphoning regime. This will improve efficiency of the operation of the regime, allowing the pay TV broadcasters more time to schedule and publicise events for which the free-to-air sector has chosen not to acquire broadcast rights.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Stephen Smith's amendment) stand part of the question.