Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 211


Senator VIGOR(8.06) —I would like to agree with Senator Puplick on this matter. I think it is extremely important to realise that we are moving towards a situation of total dominance of our media by networks. The Forward Development Unit of the Departments of Communications has presented a report which is moving us definitely in this direction. The Forward Development Unit was supposed to concentrate on two time frames when it was set up by the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) in February-the medium term future, which was 1988 to 1997, and the long term future, from 1997 onwards. In May the Minister issued a Press release indicating that the way was now open for three commercial television services to operate in regional Australia. Extra resources were to be made available to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and to the Department of Communications in order to assist the acceleration of new services. It was the Government's hope that the majority of regional areas would have three commercial television services in three years time. This is another example of Hawke trilogies. This particular trilogy was to come about before 1990. The buzz words at that stage were `equalisation' and `as soon as possible'. As a result, the Forward Development Unit looked only at the short term options and this has been a disaster.

It is important to recognise that vast developments are taking place in the area of communications. One example of this is optical fibre technology. Australian researchers are difinitely in the forefront in this area. Optical fibre technology will make it possible to obtain greater diversity of programming in metropolitan and near regional areas. Cable subscription services and public television will be readily possible. Innovative programming options such as those used by Britain's Independent Broadcasting Authority should not be ruled out because of a lack of infrastructure and broadcasting facilities. I believe that while Telecom Australia is putting in new fibre optic cables it should be required to install broad-band cables capable of diversified television transmission. I note that the European Commission has a research and development program that it hopes will create by 1992 an integrated wide band communications network. This will replace the radio frequency type of network. Glass and optical fibre links which transmit voice and image at the speed of light will replace copper wires. We must be careful to look far enough ahead to ensure proper planning. A satellite is about to go up and fundamental decissions are only just at the public discussion stage.

At page 22 of the Forward Development Unit's report it is suggested that it may eventually prove to be necessary to treat the supplementary licence approach as an interim step towards aggregation. Senator Puplick covered this area quite effectively. There is also the question of the way in which supplementary licences are granted and the opportunities, if any, for independent licensees to enter the field. Some of the statements contained in the current report, I feel, will make this more and more difficult. A striking feature of the report is the absence of detailed work on the impact that various options can be expected to have on the quality of Australian programming. Clearly, if enormous capital costs are required for capital equipment and overseas programs, that will make Australian content much less. This is already happening with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I believe that in the current situation more effort must be placed on examining what we will do in the medium and distant future. I wrote a letter to the Minister asking him a few questions on this matter. I seek leave to have the letter incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA

THE SENATE

Senator David Vigor

10 Pitt Street,

Adelaide

South Australia 5000

Telephone (08) 211 7656

30 May 1985

Parliament House

Canberra

Australian Capital Territory 2600

Telephone (062) 72 6595

Dear Michael,

I was interested to read the speech that Bob Lansdown gave on your behalf on Tuesday, and in particular, the pivotal role of the Forward Development Unit in adumbrating future broadcasting system blueprints prompted me to seek some further information about the operation of the FDU. I believe that it is crucial for the general public to learn more about the work of the Forward Development Unit, including the extent to which it is pursuing various issues, well before the release of its report.

Consequently I raise with you some questions about economic implications and the degree to which these have been rigorously analysed, and other questions relating to the amount of choice and sources of diversity to be sought in future arrangements. I hope that a speedy response will be forthcoming in each case.

1. What work is the Forward Development Unit doing to examine opportunities for increasing the diversity of media ownership sources and the consequent better media access available to community groups, through disentangling and making more competitive each of the areas of programme production, programme distribution and purchasing of programmes overseas?

2. To what extent is the Forward Development Unit analysing options in which there are more than three major commercial networks in Australia?

3. Is the Forward Development Unit addressing the question of how independent film producers may be better able to sell their product in the television market-place under the various schemes being studied?

4. What note is being taken of the effect that the burden of financing new technology will have on the capacity of licensees to support Australian-produced drama and other feature programming of high quality?

5. Among the officers attached to the Forward Development Unit, how many have advanced qualifications or substantial expertise in economic analysis, and to what extent have they been called on to analyse various proposals for their economic implications?

6. What is the professional background of all the paid or honorary consultants to the Forward Development Unit, and in each case, on what basis and after what degree of advertising was it decided to engage or utilise the services of the particular consultant?

7. Is a public record being kept of the representations, especially those in written form, from the various interest groups that have been consulted, and is each major meeting with such groups being documented in some detail?

Apart from written answers to these questions, I would be grateful for the opportunity to be briefed again before the Forward Development Unit releases its report, to be given some notice of the seminar which the Department of Communications intends to hold in relation to all this work, and to obtain a copy of the report, under appropriate confidentiality conditions, at the earliest possible time.

Yours sincerely,


Senator VIGOR —I also seek leave to incorporate in Hansard that part of the written reply which dealt with those questions.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Mr Duffy's answer to specific points

In particular you will note that I have called for submissions from interested parties by 11 October 1985. The Government will not make decisions on the various issues raised in the report until after that date. This should provide ample opportunity for public and industry comment.

I should add that it was always my intention that the FDU's report should serve as a basis for further discussion. This is why the FDU's terms of reference required it to consult with interested organisations but not to recommend options or to argue for particular policies, nor to operate as an inquiry or seek submissions from interested parties. Rather the FDU was required to identify options and their implications for Government policy.

The Department engaged the following consultants to assist the FDU's study:

(i) Nigel Dick and Associates Pty Ltd-to examine the viability of various options for equalisation in selected markets (see Appendix D in Volume 2).

(ii) Hart, Frankel and Company-to examine the likely impact of equalisation and program distribution options on Australian production and employment (see Appendix H).

(iii) Mr Michael Thompson-to provide general input to the development of policy options, with particular reference to services for remote areas (see Appendix J).

Shortage of time did not allow for the advertising of these consultancies. The consultants were selected on the basis of their particular expertise. You would be aware that Volume 2 of the FDU's report also includes financial studies by Coopers and Lybrand and BT Australia Limited commissioned by industry groups.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Debate (on motion by Senator Macklin) adjourned.