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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3230

Senator Walsh —On 14 October 1985 (Hansard, page 1140) Senator Puplick asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Communications, the following question without notice:

Has the Minister seen the text of a major address given by the Minister, Mr Duffy, to the Public Conference on the future of Australian Commercial Television on 30 September 1985? I ask whether, in that address, Mr Duffy stated:

``. . . the Government supports networking. We not only accept the ABT observation that `networks and networking are the heart and arteries of the commercial TV system', but we wish to do everything possible to encourage broadcasters to utilise satellite networking techniques . . .''

I note that the word `encourage' is underlined in the Minister's text. Does the Minister accept that this policy is fundamentally incompatible with any policy of localism? Is the Government now formally abandoning the principles laid down in the Oswin Inquiry and its own previous commitment to support of localism in commercial broadcasting?

The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

I did use the words quoted by the honourable senator but he clearly has not understood them. The term `network' has a number of meanings. It can include any of:

Co-operation for promotional purposes to increase audience and revenue by joint advertising of stations.

Co-operation for acquisition of Australian and overseas programs.

Co-operation for program production or distribution.

Joint coverage of special events.

In like fashion, `localism' can refer to local production, programs of local interest, local ownership or access to stations by local advertisers.

In my speech I specifically mentioned `satellite networking techniques', that is, I was referring to co-operative distribution (or networking) of signals. There is no necessary adverse effect on local production, local content, local ownership, or local access, in distributing signals via a satellite. Adverse effects occur only if control of this satellite distribution system is used as a means of dominating receiving stations. As the Senator will be well aware, The Government which he supported was completely traumatised by the complexities of satellite distribution of signals and unable to come up with any policy at all. He will be pleased to learn that we have not been traumatised and that my previous statements on satellite-related matters-on Satellite Program Services (1983) and Remote Commercial Television Services (1984) will soon be followed by a comprehensive statement setting our policy on future developments for commercial television for the next ten years.

It should also be noted that the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 was recently amended specifically to allow insertion of local program material at individual transmitters, including translators. That is, we have in place a licensing and regulatory framework which both allows broadcasters to provide local programs or advertising and requires them to meet the obligations set by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to provide adequate and comprehensive programming.


Senator Walsh —On 11 September 1985 (Hansard, page 444) Senator McIntosh asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Communications, the following question without notice:

(1) Arising out of the decision by the Minister for Communications to refuse an application by the Australian Coalition of East Timor for a licence to maintain two-way radio contact with Fretilin in East Timor, is the Minister aware of a report in the National Times of 23-29 August and a letter in the Age of 2 September, claiming that while facilities may exist, it is practically impossible for members of the Australian public, including East Timorese here with relatives in Timor, to ring East Timor?

(2) Can the Minister confirm that there are difficulties in making ordinary telephone communication with East Timor?

(3) If the Indonesian Government is restricting international access to Timor via telecommunications facilities, would this be inconsistent with international practice under the International Telecommunications Union Convention?

(4) Will the Government seek from Indonesia an explanation for these restrictions and consider urging Indonesia to open up telecommunications with East Timor?

The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes.

(2) Yes. At the time of my decision in July not to grant a licence to the Australian Coalition for East Timor, testing confirmed the availability of the automatic telex service, and the Indonesian manual assistance operators did not indicate any embargo on telephone connections. The precise date of cessation of telephone services to East Timor has not been able to be determined. Following OTC's enquiries in response to customer complaints, however, the Indonesian authorities advised on 19 August 1985 that, `. . . for the time being, communications from/to Dilli/East Timor is not permitted.' Recent enquiries by OTC to the Indonesian telecommunications administration have confirmed that the telephone communications with East Timor continue to be unavailable.

(3) No. Although Article 23 of the International Telecommuncations Convention states that `Members shall take such steps as may be necessary to ensure the establishment . . . of international telecommunications,' the Preamble to the Convention also recognises `the sovereign right of each country to regulate its telecommunications.'

(4) The Government's support for greater international access to East Timor has been made known directly to the Indonesian authorities on a number of occasions. As telecommunications are a potentially important means of improving access, the Government would hope that such facilities could be made available to the population of the province without undue restriction.