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Tuesday, 3 April 1984
Page: 1127

Senator TEAGUE(6.10) —The Satellite Communications Bill lays the foundation for an exciting development in Australia's life. The satellite will bring communications systems to those people who live in the remote areas of our vast country. Although I join Senator Baume in congratulating the present Government and its predecessor on bringing this legislation to finality, there are a number of aspects in this Bill that will involve problems for us all, and particularly for Australians in remote areas. I concur with Senator Baume's remarks about the structure of Aussat, its relation to Telecom and the Opposition's stance on these matters. I also concur with Senator Reynolds, who rightly reflected the interests of the people of north Queensland. I shall endeavour to do the same in regard to the interests of the people in South Australia in the vast northern areas of my State.

About a year ago, after the election of the present Government, the future of Aussat was in some doubt. There were pressures on the Government to delay or seriously change the pattern of developments set in train by the former Government. I am happy to see that, despite those pressures, the present Government has endorsed the initiatives set in place and that Aussat will be on time. The satellite should be operating towards the end of 1985. I warmly congratulate the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) and the other Ministers for the continuing progress in the achievement of the satellite. Some 300,000 people in remote parts of Australia do not have the usual access to telephones, radio and television. They represent some four or five electorates in terms of the House of Representatives and should have some political clout within Parliament. They and others in remote areas of the country are somewhat dispersed over 10 electorates. Fortunately, the Opposition parties represent most of them and one hopes that we shall one day represent them all. We must take up the interests of Australians in remote areas and ensure that the facilities afforded by the satellite will be used to the best effect in improving the quality of their lives.

One hears a great deal, not least from those of us in the Senate who are concerned about education policies, about equality of opportunity. We talk about equality of opportunity between government and non-government schools. In regard to the sex discrimination legislation, we talk of equality of opportunity betwen men and women to ensure that there is similar access to jobs or accommodation. We talk about equality of opportunity in the work force when we consider the tragic situation faced by the unemployed. We talk of young Australians having equality of opportunity in finding their share of the jobs that are available. But what about equality of opportunity for Australians in remote areas? Only infrequently does one hear about their needs, and even less frequently does one hear those needs put in terms of equality of opportunity. Honourable senators in all parties often consider the goals of equality of opportunity for black Australians, white Australians, women, men, the young and the old. We should think in similar terms of the needs of those who live in remote Australia.

Those needs lead me to outline two problems related to the satellite development. The first is the educational needs of isolated children. In the second reading speech on the Satellite Communications Bill the Minister spoke of the great boon provided by the satellite to communications. He said that it would bring 'news, information and entertainment to all Australians, wherever they may live'. Unfortunately, in those happy phrases the Minister did not mention education. He went on to say:

Clearly, the satellite will be a boon to those living in the more remote and outback regions of Australia. It will bring to those Australians the benefit of ABC radio and television services, through the Homestead and Community Broadcasting Satellite Service.

However, the Minister did not mention education services or the educational gains from such a satellite. In the discussion in the last few years the public has become excited at the hope of a boon not only in the area of news, information and entertainment communication but also in education. As the dimensions of the practical outworking of the satellite become clearer and clearer as this country approaches 1985, there is fear and concern throughout remote areas of Australia that little indeed will be made available in terms of educational services.

Let us consider some of the reasons for this state of affairs. I understand that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television service will be provided through four footprints-four regional ABC television programs. There will be one station for Western Australia, a second involving the Northern Territory and South Australia, a third for Queensland and northern New South Wales and a fourth for New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Those four footprints receiving ABC television will have some ability to program educational material, whether for children or for adults, at appropriate times as a part of the overall programs throughout the week. There will be some regional diversity since at least there are four footprints, but I understand that the commercial television provided by the satellite will in every instance be national-in other words, one footprint for the whole of Australia. There will not be scope for regional diversity; it will be one national program. If a commercial television station were to program some educational material, all well and good, but it will not have the flexibility which Australians have become used to in the School of the Air programs. They are highly localised and geared to particular educational needs and there is a great deal of feedback from local regions.

As I have outlined, the television services from the satellite will have this four-pronged ABC approach and one, two or three national commercial broadcasting approaches. But even if that range of television gives a one-way communication of some useful educational program-especially for children but also for adults, and not least paying regard to the particular needs of Aboriginal communities- there will not be very ready access to a two-way communication process. It will cost any isolated homestead or dwelling an estimated $1,500 to install the meter diameter dish that will be able to receive these programs. That is fine. Most families can save $1,500 over a few years even if they have limited means. In some areas where there is a concentration of 10 or 100 families access to receiving that one-way communication will be even cheaper. Some material will come down from the satellite but there will not be the ability to transmit back up. The cost of the facility for two-way traffic will be 10 times the outlay of $1,500. It is estimated that it will cost $15,000 for any isolated family to be able to broadcast back up. I understand that the transponders and other electronic equipment in the satellite will not have the capacity to receive a response from a whole range of individual families involved in, say, a two-way idealised television communication in an educational mode.

I think the people in remote areas of Australia need to understand that it is no accident that the Minister has not referred to education as one of the great boons, as he put it, to come from the satellite. This is a real disappointment because in the last several years the expectation has been excited that there might be. It has also, to some extent, been excited by the presence of that excellent Australian, Mr Rory Treweeke, as one of the directors of Aussat. Mr Treweeke from northern New South Wales is the President of the Isolated Children 's Parents Association, that altogether responsible and exciting association Australia. It has been formed now for 13 years. It was initiated by the remote families of Australia in themselves to do something about the needs, especially education needs, of children on remote homesteads involved in correspondence schools and schools of the air and children taught next door to the kitchens of their mothers and fathers.

These marvellous people, working in difficult and remote areas, are amongst those Australians to be included as the salt of the earth. I noted the references of my colleague Senator Peter Baume to the ICPA earlier. I have been proud to be associated with the ICPA throughout the whole of my time in this place. A week ago my wife and I went to Port Augusta to the annual meeting of the ICPA. It was attended by representatives of families in the whole electorate of Grey, in the area from the Peterborough-Broken Hill road, east of Burra, around to Ceduna and to the places between, the Gawler Ranges and Coober Pedy. Unfortunately, some of the most remote communities such as the Pitjantjatjara communities around Marla were sufficiently remote that it was difficult for them to be represented at that annual conference.

At that conference I was again reminded that these families are the salt of the earth. They are marvellous people and they are responsible in what they are seeking. One of their highest priorities is the educational needs of their children. It is dawning upon family by family as these meetings see the fuller picture of what Aussat can provide that the educational opportunities will be very limited. There will be some indirect gains, such as the fact that there will be access to entertainment and television and radio voices in addition to the immediate surroundings of an isolated homestead. But if we are to speak about educational programming as part of a curriculum for year 3 or year 7 children, for an adult Aboriginal education program or for any other directly programmed educational objective, unless we see some breakthrough or hear some news beyond that which has been available to date the high expectations that have been excited in recent years will not be lived up to. I therefore make no apology in drawing attention to the fact that the Government, through the Minister's introduction of these Bills, has not referred to educational opportunities from the satellite. I make the point and underline it that we ought not to delude ourselves that some of the present programs of educational benefit to isolated families ought to be denied just because a satellite is coming.

Let me refer to the correspondence schools, the schools of the air and the educational video loan scheme. These are now well established facilities assisting families in remote areas but there is some assumption that because the satellite is coming in we may not need these programs and that the satellite will provide for all the remote communication needs. That is not true. Happily, Senator Button is in the Senate. I make a personal appeal to him that in the coming Budget there be confirmation of the moneys available for the home loan video scheme which assists children in remote families.

Senator Peter Baume —Also within the satellite you would like to see some of that dedicated to education, still, would you not?

Senator TEAGUE —I would still like to see that. Senator Peter Baume knows as does Senator Reynolds that the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts has considered my suggestion that we have a Senate inquiry into the educational opportunities made available by the satellite to see what can be achieved and how we can go about making sure that opportunities for educational programming through the satellite are achieved. Certainly we have not seen it yet from Aussat. We have not seen it in terms of the public inputs to the various inquiries that have been conducted by the Department or by Aussat itself . All the hopes that Senator Reynolds has expressed in broader terms about localised communication and the sorts of things I have been speaking about still want to be achieved by very many people in remote areas. Yet we have not got the mechanism or information to give assurance that they can be achieved.

As I said, Senator Button is in the chamber. I appeal to him as he is a senior Minister in the Budget process to ensure that there is confirmation of the moneys available for the home loan video scheme. At the moment an isolated child receives two video cassettes each fortnight from a production and distribution centre within the Education Department in each State. A team of people put together appropriate material, some of which includes the child's teacher communicating not only with the voice but, as it were, in person with a picture on the video cassette. They are specially prepared programs that are of interest and are more durable as part of a curriculum appropriate to each level of education. There is no assurance that money will be available for this scheme in any State of Australia after 30 June this year. The program is living on a year- by-year gasp. We need, particularly in the coming financial year, to see the continuation of this program and some statement of policy with regard to the relationship with Aussat and the satellite.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator TEAGUE —Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, in the debate on the Satellite Communications Bill and the Satellite Communications ( Consequential Amendments) Bill I was referring to the educational needs of isolated children in remote areas of Australia and the lack of any direct reference in the Government's support of these Bills to any educational programming or indeed any educational advantage that will be specifically provided through the satellite.

In the minutes that remain I want to go on to a second large problem area which a number of people in the community have referred to already but which I do not think has been directly referred to in the debate in the House of Representatives or here in regard to these Bills, and that is, the detrimental impact that Aussat communications are likely to have on remote Aboriginal communities. Inevitably, from the end of 1985 the blanketing of Australian Broadcasting Corporation television and subsequently commercial television and radio programs will have a direct, visual and audible impact upon all of the Aboriginal communities in remote areas. In the last 200 years the more than 200 languages indigenous to Australia have been reduced to about 150. Of those 150 there are only 50 Aboriginal languages which can be called viable; that is, they have a community of at least 100 speakers. About only 10 have a community of speakers of more than 1,000 and some of those range up to 10,000. But of the 30, 000 Aboriginal people in remote communities speaking these 50 to 150 languages we now see the inescapable intrusion of mostly what we can predict will be English language problems compatible with all other Australian listeners, and that continuous blast of the language acceptable to the majority of us in Australia will have a detrimental effect upon the retention and maintenance of those remaining indigenous languages. Whilst this factor has been discussed in some parts of Australia it has not been discussed in the Parliament. I believe that even in Aussat there ought to be a realisation of the impact that television especially will have on these remote communities.

I do not wish to be entirely pessimistic because we ought to be looking to the advantages that any good new development in Australia will bring. I will certainly not deny that the Aboriginal communities of Australia will find advantages in information and in widened horizons and a greater understanding of the unity of Australia through the television programming. But let us see that Aboriginal education programs and processes are hit not only by the detrimental effects of television. In these last 200 years we have had the impact upon those communities of the diseases introduced by settlers in Australia that have decimated the population, and then the terror of alcohol and the detrimental effects it has had upon the Aboriginal people. I fear that the third big wave that will undermine the culture and integrity of the Aboriginal people will be this pervasive television.

One submission to an inquiry about satellite television which was put in by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association-CAAMA-which is based in Alice Springs, put it in these terms:

. . . the introduction of television to remote communities will have profound effects on the social, linguistic and cultural structures of traditional Aboriginal life.

We also believe that the satellite can either be a force for destruction or a powerful tool in the development of Aboriginal people.

Consequently, CAAMA feels that remote Aboriginal communities should have complete control over the introduction of any broadcasting services into their communities.

Now that plea at the end is just unrealistic. Given that as I pointed out before the dinner break there will be only four ABC footprints in terms of the target areas for the ABC broadcasts, it is totally beyond reality for one regional media association in Alice Springs to have some control. Maybe there will be a public broadcasting approach to the ABC programming that will allow public participation, including CAAMA, and including the Aboriginal communities direct. I put that to the Government and to Aussat.

Senator Peter Baume —Has there been any consultation with the communities?

Senator TEAGUE —There has been consultation with the communities but it has not reached any real threshold of awareness in the remote areas. I think there have been only small groups that have raised these social and educational questions. So I think that the hope expressed by CAAMA is unrealistic. But let us respond to the fears expressed and to the expression that there be more local involvement so that there can be programming that is responsive to the leadership of local communities themselves and a context of educational and social understanding of how to receive the new medium of English language television amongst these remote communities. I would also like to encourage the greater giving of resources to bilingual education schools in Aboriginal communities and, indeed, to adult educational programs that are bilingual because we will lose a great deal in Australia and in particular the Aboriginal communities will feel a great loss, if a pervasive English television saturation from 1985 denies the maintenance of local languages.

The two matters that I have especially tried to raise in my contribution to this debate are the two matters that have been totally omitted in the Government 's own statements in support of this legislation. Both of the matters are of an educational and social nature and deal with isolated children's educational needs and the context of Aboriginal communities and how they may be able, with encouragement, to gain positively rather than be devastated by this new medium that will be upon them. I genuinely urge the Government to make sure that resources are available for compensating measures, complementary to the advances that we will see through this new communications system.