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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2422

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(10.36) —I want briefly to raise the matter of ultra-high frequency and very high frequency transmissions by television stations, following some remarks made earlier today by another senator. The concern I have relates to regional television stations, in particular WIN4 operating out of Wollongong, which has been required to vacate the VHF band and to move totally to UHF. This will involve not only converting the station, which is a modest cost as I understand it, but also many of the people who receive WIN4 on the South Coast and Illawarra region will be obliged to have their receivers converted and to make different arrangements for their aerials, which will involve considerable expense in some cases.

The response we heard earlier today was that it had been established that the great bulk of television sets in use could receive UHF. I must say that that is supported by the evidence I have in the Wollongong region, where a survey has shown that something like 80 per cent of television sets in homes have the capacity to receive UHF without converting the set. To that extent, that 80 per cent will not be inconvenienced by the Government's requirement that WIN4 convert to UHF. Nonetheless, it means that 20 per cent of the viewers will be disadvantaged and will need conversions costing approximately $150, or will be obliged to purchase a new set. That is not an inconsequential amount in an area of about a quarter of a million viewers.

I take the Government's point that it is by far the small minority of people who will be so affected. Nevertheless, we have to recognise that about 90 per cent of the people in the region will be obliged to get a different aerial, costing approximately $110. Clearly this will cost viewers a considerable amount of money, particularly in an area of the greatest unemployment in Australia, despite promises given to that area before the 1983 election by the present incumbents in office. It is unreasonable to put that burden on those people unnecessarily, particularly in the context of a decision that is discriminatory and unfair. It is discriminatory because the obligation to leave the VHF band is not being imposed on the metropolitan networks of Sydney, which can be picked up in Wollongong as rivals to WIN4. They can be picked up by people who have the appropriate receiving capacities or, who are lucky enough to be on a hill so that with normal aerials they receive Sydney stations.

The fact is that WIN4 is to be specifically disadvantaged by a discriminatory decision by the Government forcing it out of the VHF band into the UHF band, whereas the same requirement is not being imposed on Channel 7, Channel 9, Channel 10 or Channel 2 out of Sydney. The immediate consequence of that is that many people in the Wollongong area who may well decide not to purchase a new aerial at $110-90 per cent of people would be in that situation-or the 20 per cent of people who choose not to alter their sets to receive UHF, will significantly diminish the market available to WIN4. The only way WIN4 can survive is if it has a viable market.

By this discriminatory, unfair and unjustifiable act, the Government is benefiting the metropolitan networks to the disadvantage of the only locally operating commercial television station on the south coast of New South Wales, which extends from Wollongong to the Victorian border. It seems to me extraordinary that this Government would seek to discriminate against a regional television station to the benefit of the metropolitan networks. It seems to me to fly in the face of at least the rhetoric of this Government about adopting a fair approach to the smaller local organisations which are tying to do a decent job.

I certainly urge the Federal Government and the Minister involved to recognise that they have a responsibility to avoid undertaking discriminatory action which removes the viability of a station on which the local people in that region depend. WIN4 is the only station-I stress that-on the south coast which can provide the local service that the local people demand, going down as far as the Victorian border. I urge the Government to reconsider its unfair and discriminatory decision.