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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 210

Senator PUPLICK(8.01) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The two-volume report entitled `Future Directions for Commercial Television' produced by the Forward Development Unit of the Department of Communications represents one of the most significant reports in the communications area to come before the Parliament and, indeed, to potentially shape the broadcasting sector in Australia. The report deals with a series of significant policy determinations to be made by this Government as far as the future development of commercial television in Australia is concerned, particularly given the impact of the domestic satellite which is to be launched on Saturday and which hopefully will usher in an entirely new era in broadcasting in Australia.

The report identifies two basic approaches to the question of equalisation. The Government has made equalisation the prime goal of its communications policy. In a statement issued on 30 April, Mr Duffy, the Minister for Communications, indicated that the equalisation of services is the most significant long term goal which this Government has in mind. The report of the Forward Development Unit of the Department of Communications indicated that there were two approaches that could be taken. It describes the first approach as aggregation, which essentially is to allow a linking of the broadcast areas of particular commercial television stations. The second, which it calls approach B, involves multi-channel services-that is to say, to allow an existing broadcaster to provide three services, or certainly that sort of number of services, within the area in which he already has a monopoly position. The report comes down very clearly in favour of the process of aggregation-that is to say, to aggregate existing television markets with their different ownerships in order to create markets which are big enough to support three competitive television services, thereby equalising for non-metropolitan Australia the services which are available to metropolitan viewers.

An important number of considerations arise from this. The first and most important is that a process of equalisation on the basis of aggregation means the death knell for the philosophy of localism in television broadcasting. The enthusiastic adoption of the recommendations of the Oswin report a couple of years ago, which dealt with the preservation of localism in broadcasting, will have to be set to one side if the process of equalisation by aggregation continues. Equalisation by aggregation will mean the development of local super networks. In my view, the economics of regional networking are such-I think this is clearly shown in the two reports themselves-that there seems to be no doubt it will only be a prelude to the introduction of a system of national networking whereby the principal networks already existing in Australia, which are at the moment confined primarily to the metropolitan areas, will be allowed to extend their influence into the non-metropolitan areas. In fact, the Government has now clearly signalled its approval of the fact that Australian commercial television will inevitably become a system of national networking.

Time does not permit me to indicate the extent to which the whole philosophy of supplementary licences has now collapsed with these changes in new broadcasting technology. The workload of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, which has been allocated only an extra $160,000 in this year's Budget to discharge all of its additional responsibilities, is such that it is heading for a situation in which it will be unable to control, monitor and to direct television services in Australia in the way in which it has in the past and as its set requires. The adoption of the aggregation recommendations of this very significant report, together with the Government's commitment to the philosophy of equalisation of television services, means that this country is now headed in the direction of super-networking and thence national networking as far as commercial television in Australia is concerned. That will require some very sensitive policy adjustments by any government and some very sensitive supervision of those policy and legislative initiatives by this Parliament.