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Wednesday, 23 August 1972
Page: 623

Mr COLLARD (Kalgoorlie) - The matter I wish to raise tonight is one which falls within the responsibility of the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme). It is one which also is causing considerable concern and hostility throughout the Shire of Esperance and within a substantial area of the Shire of Dundas. Both of these shires are situated in the southern portion of my electorate. At the latter end of last week I received by courtesy of the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) advice that a tender had been let for the construction of a building in Esperance itself to house equipment for the television station which is to be established at that centre. This has disturbed me very much because the letting of such a contract at this stage suggests to me that despite very strong protests the Commonwealth is persisting with its decision to provide only a second rate service; that is, simply a low powered station, which will mean that a considerable number of people resident within the shires to which I have referred will be denied any television reception at all from this particular station, with no assurance or even suggestion that other means will be used for the purpose.

What is really required for the area is a station of sufficient power as will provide a satisfactory reception over a distance of some 60 to 70 miles. There is very good reason why this should be done. Tn support of our argument for the establishment of a high powered station I wish to point out that Esperance is a growing district both in population and production. It has developed very considerably over the past few years and now has a very substantial farming community. The growth in the farming interest has extended into part of the Shire of Dundas, a part which cannot possibly obtain any television reception from the station at Esperance which is the main centre of the shire. The station at Norseman is also of very low power. So if the Government persists with its decision to set up only a low-powered station at Esperance also, it will mean that the people resident beyond a few miles from both Norseman and Esperance will be in no man's land with no prospect of receiving a television service for many years to come. In other words, almost the entire farming community of the Dundas and Esperance district will be denied at least for several years the benefit and enjoyment of a facility which has now been available to city people for quite a long time.

This disregard for country requirements is not good enough, particularly when people in those areas make such a valuable contribution to the nation's requirements. I am not in a position to give any accurate figure of the amount of capital which has been invested in the Esperance district over the past few years, but it would be considerable and certainly would amount to several million dollars. Much more will be invested in the future. There can be no doubt that the population of the Esperance hinterland and of Esperance itself will continue to increase and will in turn continue to make an ever increasing return to general revenue. In asking for a television station with a wide coverage we are not asking for something which will not have much value in relation to the numbers of people concerned. Actually the opposite will apply. In fact we are asking for something which will increase in its service value and will prove, in the not too distant future, to be money well spent.

According to the Broadcasting Control Board there would be no technical difficulties in establishing a high-powered station. The only argument the Board and the Postmaster-General raise against this is one of finance. The Postmaster-General informed me by way of an answer to a question on notice that his Department estimates that 6,000 people are resident in the area which would be served by a lowpowered station and that only another 1,000 would be included as the result of the installation of a high-powered station. Those figures are disputed by people in the area who claim that figures of 5,500 and 1,500 respectively would be more correct. Of course, the latter number would increase significantly. But irrespective of whose figures are correct, the fact remains that the Government apparently believes that $600,000 to provide a powerful station in the areas to which I have referred is apparently unwarranted. That is the message we have received. In the next breath the Postmaster-General tells the nation that his Government, within the next couple of years, will establish colour television in Australia at a cost of $43m. This will be provided for people who have now not only the benefit of television but also a choice of several stations.

The Government apparently believes that providing 38 stations in country areas at a total cost of $5m is a magnificent gesture for which the people should be eternally grateful. Indeed, I was told by the Board that to provide a high-powered station in each instance would increase the total cost to an astronomical figure. So it would seem that $20m to provide a proper service in 38 different country areas is absolutely unthinkable while to provide colour television at a cost of $43m to areas already enjoying a good service is just a natural process. However I was not satisfied that each of the 38 stations in the 7th stage would necessarily require a high cost station. I did not know the present situation or the future prospects of the hinterland of each main centre so on 12th April this year, over 4 months ago, I placed a question on notice to try to obtain the information so as to be able to compare their various present and future requirements with those of Esperance. 1 asked the following question:

(1)   What is the proposed or actual power of each of the television stations in the 7th stage of television development?

(2)   What is the expected radius of satisfactory reception for each station?

(3)   What population is expected to receive a satisfactory reception from each station?

(4)   What approximate population would receive a satisfactory reception if each station was of high rather than low power?

Up to now I have received no reply. The question remains on the notice paper. This can mean only that very little investigation was carried out in the first place in those several areas to determine their future requirements or even the present population service situation; because if investigations had been carried out properly before deciding that only a low-powered station was necessary to service the areas my question could have been answered within a few days. The only other conclusion one can come to is that in relation to population outside the radius of a low-powered station Esperance is in a different position from other places or that just a few are in a similar position to Esperance and that the cost of providing high-powered stations where actually warranted in the 7th stage would he nowhere near the amount suggested by the Board and the Postmaster-General. But if on the other hand I am wrong in my conclusions in that respect - 1 hope I am - and if those other areas are in a similar situation to Esperance then they also are entitled to a high-powered station.

If the cost is such as would mean that colour television had to be delayed for a few more years - actually I do not think it would - no great harm would be done. In any case I understand that television receivers for colour television will cost about $1,000 each so thousands of people will not be able to alford them anyway. People in country areas, including children - or, perhaps in relation to education, particularly children have the same right to a television service as people in the cities. We must expect that to provide that service it will cost more per head of population. While 1 have no desire to deny to people who already have television the enjoyment of colour television, 1 believe that we are getting our priorities mixed if we come down on the side of high expenditure for colour television rather than the provision of normal black and white in the first place for those areas of reasonable population where at present no service at all is provided. I suggest that the hinterland of Esperance is one of those areas.

In conclusion, I again ask the PostmasterGeneral to reconsider his earlier decision in relation to Esperance and I trust that having done so he will appreciate that a highpowered station is warranted for the district and will take the necessary action before it is too late. I hope that he will now take the opportunity to tell us whether he will or whether he will not. We are not being unreasonable in our request. We are not asking for something which is not available to the majority of the people. We are not asking for something which in a few years will have no value or even depreciate in value in relation to a service to the people. We are not asking for a luxury item. People in country areas have very few amenities and there is very little in that respect and several other respects to encourage or attract people to the country districts. But television is popular and will help to retain and to build up population and development in outer areas. So. again, f ask the PostmasterGeneral to give this particular request his favourable consideration. Earlier I indicated to the Postmaster- General that .1 intended to raise this matter tonight but I understand that unavoidably he is unable to be in the House so I ask the Minister for National Development (Sir Reginald Swartz) to pass on to him the remarks I have made for his consideration.

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