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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 2888

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (12:32): I support the passage of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Television and Radio Licence Fees) Bill 2016 through the parliament. Finally, the government will give some much needed assistance to our Australian free-to-air broadcasters. They invest heavily in local Australian content, they provide Australian jobs and they serve as a training ground for Australian talent. As our world evolves, technology involves with it. The biggest competitors to our commercial broadcasters are now multinational content companies such as Netflix and Apple. These companies pay no licence fees. They do not invest in local content, and they produce little to no Australian jobs.

Even with this legislation, Australian licence fees will still be some of the highest in the world. In this new world, with the advancement of technology, licence fees are a thing of the past. This legislation is a step in the right direction, but it is a small step, and I think we should acknowledge that. While our free-to-air broadcasters bleed money, their biggest competitors internationally are profiting—companies like Google, Facebook and Netflix. They pay very little tax in Australia, and it is time this government got real about making these companies pay their fair share. A reasonable tax on these multinational corporations would go some way towards recouping the revenue cost from the abolition of licence fees.

Should the government decide to act on this issue, the revenue raised from making everyone play by the rules on a level playing field could be used to help the forgotten member of the broadcasting industry—community broadcasting. Community television and radio provide a valuable service to interest groups not catered to by commercial broadcasters. They contribute to the diversity of the broadcasting sector.

Adelaide Hills has a number of community broadcasters. I would just like to touch upon television before I talk about radio. Adelaide community television station Channel 44 has downsized significantly in recent years. The station not only provides colourful programming but it also fills a niche not served by mainstream television and is also a training ground for the aspiring television presenters of tomorrow. Where is the support of this valuable community resource?

In regional areas especially, community radio provides a colourful contrast to the major stations. Couple this with the fact that they are able to cater much more specifically to local areas, and you have a very valuable community resource that I believe is overlooked in urban areas. In my electorate alone we have a multitude of community radio stations: Hills Radio, in the Adelaide Hills; Happy FM, down Victor Harbour, in Fleurieu Peninsula; Fleurieu FM; Kix Radio, on Kangaroo Island; and Triple Z, in McLaren Vale. These are just some of the stations that entertain and inform in my region, and they are run by volunteers. I know of the value they bring to our community and, yet, in terms of content and community involvement, these community radio stations are still being ignored by government.

The cost of lost revenue in the legislation before us is $163 million over four years. Currently, community radio stations around Australia need just $8.8 million over the next four years to invest in infrastructure to help them to grow and adjust in the digital world—that is $2.2 million per year. That $2.2 million could continue to support over 1,000 fulltime jobs in Australia. That $2.2 million would allow 22,000 volunteers Australia-wide to provide worth in their communities. That $2.2 million could help students cut their teeth on community radio to gain valuable experience. I did that at 21 years of age. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in community radio and learnt so much. That $2.2 million could provide safety and security to our local communities, as community radio stations are often the first to broadcast emergency warnings. Also, they provide local sport content. Their range of programming is endless.

This is particularly relevant to my electorate of Mayo, which has been devastated by the recent storms in South Australia. Through community radio stations, SES warnings were broadcast out to people in my community. In regional areas, community radio provides such a valuable service that it cannot afford to be lost, especially when the cost required to support the industry is so little.

Community radio may be seen as the little brother to commercial stations. It is small but it is mighty. Over five million people in Australia listen to community radio each week. This number continues to grow. The services provided by community radio have their own distinct flavour, and this creates a great, diverse range of content for listeners. That diversity is at risk.

The government has shown willingness to help out our free-to-air broadcasters. It has shown no willingness to curtail the free ride of multinational online services and it has shown even less willingness to support our community based broadcasters. I support the legislation before the parliament, but my heart sinks when I think of the lack of commitment shown towards the community broadcasters, both television and radio. Community television and radio face the same challenges as the commercial stations, and they should be supported as we enter the digital age.