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Wednesday, 13 November 1985
Page: 2099

Senator PUPLICK(5.29) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This is the second report from the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal which deals with the granting of licences to broadcasters to use the facilities of the new Australian satellite, Aussat. Some time ago we had the very lengthy first report from the Tribunal dealing with the western footprint, as it is called, and the awarding of that licence. This second report indicates the granting of the licence for the north-eastern region, which is fundamentally the far north of Queensland, to a consortium entitled Queensland Satellite Television and made up of all the regional broadcasters currently operational in the north-eastern region.

Some dispute has arisen over the fact that one of those broadcasters is the Fairfax group which holds control of one of the regional television stations and the Brisbane television station BTQ7. This is a majority report by the Chairman, Mr Jones, and a member, Mr Perry, over the dissent of another Tribunal member, Miss Julie James-Bailey. Her dissent is based on the fact that this consortium includes the Fairfax broadcaster, the holder of the licence of BTQ7. She believes that this constitutes an undue and unnecessary concentration of broadcasting services in Australia. This matter is dealt with by the Tribunal at some length in paragraphs 2.24 and 2.25 and the Tribunal acknowledges that this is a problem. It says in 2.24:

The fundamental issue is whether the need to ensure the availability of at least one service outweights the need to avoid undue concentration of the ownership or control of the media.

It goes on to say that this is an inevitable tension which results from attempting to put into place more than one broadcasting policy at the one time.

I have spoken now several times in this chamber on the difficulty which the Government faces in balancing its commitment to equalisation and its commitment to localism. I have asked questions of the Ministers, and no replies have been forthcoming at any stage. Here we now have another example of attempting to put two contradictory government policies into the balance-one to provide the service of at least one braodcaster to remote areas by use of satellite and the other to avoid the increasing concentration of media ownership in Australia. Once again it points up the problem that is inherent because the Government is declining to undertake a comprehensive review of broadcasting policy and to undertake a comprehensive review of the Broadcasting and Television Act. Therefore, the Tribunal has come to this decision and says in its report:

Consequently, the Tribunal does not consider that the media interests of the consortium members, in the circumstances of this case, disqualify Queensland Satellite Television as an applicant for the remote community television service licence.

That is a fair enough judgment which can be made on the facts presented in this inquiry. The dissenting tribunal member said that the application should have been refused, that the remaining applicants should have been asked to restructure the consortium without the involvement of the Fairfax television company, as indeed it had indicated previously that it would have been prepared to do. I support the grant of the licence on this occasion because the Tribunal is correct in weighing up that there is a greater public interest and benefit in providing one service than there is in trying to adjust the question of media concentration within the framework of a licence decision related to satellite broadcasting. But once again it highlights the fact that in a number of sensitive broadcasting decisions the Government is attempting to balance essentially contradictory broadcasting policies to which it has committed itself.