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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2178

Senator PUPLICK(3.38) —The Aussat Pty Ltd report raises two issues which I would like to examine. One relates to the matter that I was discussing yesterday, the report on remote commercial television services, and deals with the problem of the equalisation of television services. The other deals with the matter of space technology. I am pleased that the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button), who is responsible for this area, is in the chamber at the moment.

Senator Button —I am not if I have to listen to you for half an hour.

Senator PUPLICK —The Minister does not know how lucky he is to be getting a little information for a change. The question which arises firstly is the reference on page 10 of the report, which reads as follows:

The Minister for Communications also announced during the year the policy intention that there would be a further expansion of commercial television broadcasting throughout Australia through the concept of equalization of services. This will provide further potential for the use of AUSSAT facilities for the relaying of commercial broadcasting programs throughout Australia.

As I said in discussing the report yesterday, the Government appears to have induced a great deal of confusion into the future of the broadcasting industry by pursuing policies such as equalisation of services at the same time as it is claiming that it has maintained a commitment to localism in broadcasting. Clearly, that is an area which needs to be sorted out fairly promptly by the Government. The Government needs to come down on one side or the other on two policies which are, I believe, mutually exclusive.

The second point which arises in this comment about Aussat is that I am glad to see that the Channel 7 network has now decided to join the 9 and 10 networks to take up some transponder capacity although, for various strategic reasons which I do not think it appropriate to go into in this debate, they have decided to take out a lease on a 12-watt transponder on the existing facility rather than the 30-watt transponders which have been taken by Channel 9 and Channel 10. I think that Channel 9 and Channel 10 are likely to come to the conclusion that, financially, Channel 7 has been a great deal wiser in this matter and they will come to regret having succumbed to the pressures that were put upon them to get into the 30-watt transponder. I believe the 12-watt transponder arrangement that Channel 7 has taken will give it, firstly, access before the others and, secondly, access to more lucrative regional markets to which they are aiming.

Senator Button —Senator, I want to withdraw what I said earlier. What you are saying is very interesting and I agree with a lot of it. I apologise.

Senator PUPLICK —Thank you, Senator. The second general point I want to make concerns page 4 of the report, which states:

Operational decisions of the year included the selection of the ARIANE rocket to launch the third satellite . . .

Mr Acting Deputy President, as you know, the previous satellites have used the American space shuttle facility. The decision to use the Ariane facility, which was developed through fundamentally French technology but was supported by other countries in the Common Market, I think, again, is an indication of something which the Minister will have immediately before him; that is, the recommendations of the Madigan report and the very strong support that has been given to that by Dr Ken McCracken of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and others in terms of the development of an indigenous space industry. I know that Senator Button and his Department have been keen to promote this and have already indicated that money will be made available at an initial stage for the first series of proposals arising from the Madigan report.

I think that that report and the influence which it is likely to have on government will be quite significant. I have no doubt that this Government is likely to view that with a considerable degree of enthusiasm. I think that in terms of developing one of the potential areas of high technology benefit for Australia, both financially and in scientific, technical and other services, Senator Button has a most exciting prospect within his ministerial capacity to respond to the Madigan report. Hopefully, we will reach the stage where, with an indigenous Australian space industry, we will be able not only to build but also to launch, monitor and make use of our own satellite resources throughout Australia, which will be of benefit to the whole community, to the electronics industry and to technological development in Australia as a whole.