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Tuesday, 31 August 1993
Page: 634

Senator BOURNE —My question is addressed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. I refer to last year's 9 December submission by the minister's department to caucus which predicted that the local manufacturing content of satellite pay TV reception equipment would be only 43 per cent, that imports of reception equipment would exceed $100 million per year and that printed circuit boards would be manufactured offshore. I ask the minister: has he yet been persuaded by industry representatives that pay TV printed circuit boards can be manufactured competitively in Australia along with all the components of reception equipment other than integrated circuit chips? Will the minister use the industry plan provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act to ensure that printed circuit boards for all pay TV reception equipment are manufactured here in Australia?

Senator COLLINS —The answer to the first part of Senator Bourne's question is that there is no question that Australian companies are perfectly capable of manufacturing this equipment, and to a very high standard. In fact, in just the last six months, we have seen some spectacular examples of Australian technology companies substantially and dramatically increasing their exports of this electronic equipment from Australia to overseas markets.

  Australian companies are certainly able to do it, but the key question is whether they can do it at competitive prices. The reason I make that point is that Australian companies will certainly have to do that so that the Australian consumer is not unreasonably slugged with equipment which is dramatically more expensive. I reiterate that Australian companies have demonstrated that they can do this effectively.

  The Broadcasting Services Act provides for industry conditions to be set as a licence condition. As Senator Bourne knows, those arrangements were agreed to in the Senate and put into the legislation. But that can be done only in a generic sense.

  As I know Senator Bourne is also aware, because the Senate debated this matter at length, the digital standard can be set only after the allocation of the A and B licences. The conditions that apply to that, which were amended by the Democrats in the Senate, have brought the date forward by which that had to be done to a point where, if the A and B licensees do not agree to a standard by March next year, the minister can then set the standard. Once the A and B licensees have agreed on a digital standard—which is important in terms of the consumer protection involved in that measure to ensure that people are not having to choose between more than one set of technology—the specific industry conditions can then be set, because the manufacturers will then know precisely what type of equipment it is that they have to manufacture.