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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3853

Senator TROETH (2:38 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Was the minister aware of the concerns of the community television about allocation of digital spectrum before the budget and before he set the firm time lines for the switchover to digital television? If so, why didn’t he consider these valid concerns and allocate funding in the budget for the sector to broadcast in digital in line with his public and private assurances?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Troeth for that question. I know that she has a long and ongoing interest in community television. As she has correctly identified, the government did not resolve the issue and that challenge community television has to move from the analog era to the digital era. It is 18 months since we came to government. The previous government first announced that it was going to move from analog to digital in 2001. By 2007, when they lost the election, seven long years later, they had done absolutely nothing to identify a pathway for community television to survive the analog to digital switch. So it has always been a little rich for those opposite to cry crocodile tears when it was in their hands to solve this dilemma and give them the spectrum and give them the funds to build a multiplex. All of these issues were in the former government’s hands.

This government has been engaged in extensive consultations. We have met many times with the representatives of community TV. We have considered a range of issues. There have been proposals put forward by community TV which they themselves have subsequently withdrawn to try and find this pathway. We continue to be committed to delivering an outcome and a pathway for community television to move from the analog world to the digital world. We will be having further meetings with them in coming months to work through these issues with them.

If it were as simple as Senator Troeth implied in her question, why didn’t you fix it when you were in government? Why were you unable to resolve this? There have been a whole range of spectrum issues— (Time expired)

Senator TROETH —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you for the history lesson, Senator Conroy. I am asking you, the responsible minister, about this: isn’t it true that spectrum is available that could be allocated to the community television sector today? If that is the case, why won’t you act to give community television and viewers certainty?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —It is again a little disingenuous of those opposite to suggest that there is suddenly spectrum available today that was not available previously—because the previous government’s policy was to introduce what were referred to as channel A and channel B, and that took all the spectrum. We have been considering all of these issues: whether to proceed with a channel A and channel B option or to allocate spectrum to community television. There are a range of choices in the mess that this government inherited from those opposite, and we are going to give careful consideration to them. What we have committed to and what we will ensure is that community television will have a pathway to the digital future—unlike those opposite, who were considering taking spectrum away from community television to boost channel A and channel B. (Time expired)

Senator TROETH —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Again, I appreciate the historical perspective but, Minister, we are talking about here and now. When the window is closing, why—

The PRESIDENT —You should not be making a statement at the start of a question, Senator Troeth.

Senator TROETH —Why won’t the minister acknowledge that funding for community television to broadcast in digital will actually assist his goal of driving take-up? When will you provide the urgently needed funding and spectrum to support our very important community sector?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Can I again indicate that I know Senator Troeth has a long and abiding interest in the future of digital television. It is a pity that most of those opposite, when they had their chance in government, did not have the same abiding interest. We are committed to delivering a future. We will be engaging the community TV sector in further discussions over the next few months to ensure that they do have a pathway, to ensure that they do have the capacity to deliver on the government’s ambition to drive digital uptake. Senator Troeth is absolutely correct: this pathway and this transition will assist with the take-up—because, as those hundreds of thousands of Australians who currently support and watch community TV will attest, they will go out and join the push for digital set-top boxes and the like if there is a future for digital television. (Time expired)