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Senate passes National Transmission network sale bill

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Senator the Hon Richard Alston The Hon John Fahey MP

Minister for Communications, Minister for Finance and

Information Technology and the Arts Administration


The Government today welcomed the Senate’s approval o f the National Transmission Network Sale Bill 1998, and vowed to quickly progress the transfer o f the network to the private sector.

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, and the Minister for Finance and Administration, M r John Fahey, said the passage o f the legislation ends a period o f uncertainty for the short-listed bidders, the staff o f the National Transmission Agency (NTA), the national broadcasters and other users ofN T A facilities.

The Ministers said the sale o f the network will provide the nation with significant benefits. These include:

• Giving the ABC and SBS direct responsibility for their transmission activities - an outcome both organisations have sought for many years; • Transferring the risk in capital funding o f the digital conversion o f the network from the public sector to the private sector - with a significant benefit to taxpayers; • Removing government from an activity which the private sector has a far greater capacity

to undertake; and • Providing $80,000 to the community broadcasting sector to ensure continuing access to transmission facilities, and guaranteeing access to existing network sites and towers for

community broadcasters.

The Ministers said the sale legislation provides comprehensive public interest safeguards. Existing ABC and SBS coverage and service quality will be maintained, particularly for regional and remote areas. The national broadcasters’ access to existing transmission services will be protected and they will be funded directly for the purchase o f their analog and digital transmission requirements.

The legislative scheme and related contractual obligations will also ensure that Community Service Obligations are preserved for network users such as Radio for the Print Handicapped, remote commercial satellite broadcasting services, self-help retransmission groups and emergency service operators.

The Government will also increase, from $30,000 to $80,000, the amount o f its proposed annual grant to the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF). This funding, which will be allocated by the CBF in accordance with normal grant procedures, will offset increases in transmission costs for community broadcasters who have been charged commercial rates by the National Transmission Agency (NTA).

In particular, it is the Government’s intention that the increased funding will supplement the costs of community broadcasters who have been seeking to relocate to an NTA site in order to obtain better coverage within their licence area.

The implementation timetable in the Digital Television Conversion Act has reinforced the need to complete the sale of the national transmission network as soon as possible. The NTN Sale Bills will allow the sale process to be completed and the new owner to make a significant contribution to the roll out o f digital broadcasting services across Australia.

The Ministers said the introduction of digital broadcasting will require major capital investment decisions by the network owner. The Government is firmly o f the view that the private sector is best placed to make those commercial decisions.

The sale was originally intended to be completed by June 1998, and the delay in passage o f the sale legislation through the Senate forced an extension o f the tender period. The Government now anticipates completing the sale early in the second quarter o f next year.

Passage o f the legislation removes the potential exposure to additional costs that may have arisen from pursuit o f the sale by administrative means. The legislation provides greater legal certainty in relation to the quality of assets and therefore avoids the possibility that the offered price would be discounted.

The Ministers thanked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Ian Campbell, for his excellent work in steering the Bill through the Senate debate to its successful conclusion.

Media Contacts: David McLachlan, Mr Fahey’s office 02 6277 7400 Terry O ’Connor, Senator Alston’s office 02 6277 7480 Websites: www. richardalston. au www. dofa. gov. au 218/98 9 December 1998