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Tuesday, 18 May 1993
Page: 672

Senator BOURNE (10.31 a.m.) —The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment Bill 1992 [1993] does not present any real difficulties, except, as Senator Ferguson has said, in relation to the insertion of clause 12 and clause 13, regarding transmitters, and the amendment of section 25 of the Act, which allows the ABC to provide its own transmitters, including the purchase of satellite transponders and earth stations. The Australian Democrats are happy to support the amendments to section 25, which will expedite the involvement of the ABC in pay TV, if we ever come to it.

  The insertion of clauses 12 and clause 13, however, is not something we are prepared to support. Under the present legislation, the Minister has an obligation to give control of transmitters to the ABC at some stage and at no charge. The Government has not hitherto acted to fulfil this obligation. The claim that it is imperative to remove this obligation now, because it is immediately required to act, seems a little spurious, especially at this stage.

  The Government also claims that the purpose of these amendments is to prevent the pre-emption of the National Transmission Agency's 18-month review. Its proposed amendments do pre-empt the review by allowing the Government to renege on its legislated promise to the ABC and to hand the transmitters over to the NTA. These amendments pre-empt any recommendations that the review might make by effectively ensuring that the NTA will be formally enshrined as an autonomous government business enterprise with the possession of the transmitters. The ABC, the SBS and others would then be forced to seek commercial contracts for transmitter use, with no firm commitment from the Government to provide them with extra funding to meet those additional costs.

  The Democrats believe that, if the Government was seriously trying to avoid pre-empting the NTA review, the Senate would not be wasting its time on any amendments pertaining to transmitters until that review is tabled later this year. In any case, it is almost certain that the Parliament will be faced with further amendments after the review. The appropriate time to deal with consequential changes to the ABC Act, if they are required, would be after that review, not now. The Democrats will therefore not be supporting clauses 12 and 13, but will be supporting Senator Ferguson's very sensible amendment.