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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 553

Mr WHITE(11.24) —I enter the debate briefly not so much on the question of licence fees but to raise another matter which is very important in broadcasting in this country, and that is the present very restrictive nature of the granting of licences for television and radio broadcasting. Historically, there have been some very good reasons why we have our present system. We have geographical reasons. We have economic reasons-not the least of which is that there has been a problem with frequencies throughout Australia, and that problem still exists, with some 700 stations operating. It is also clear-and I think that the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) would be the first to acknowledge this-that there is a growing and unsatisfied need for the granting of more licences in this country.

In a Press release by the Minister recently, on 23 August, he states that the Government has allocated over half a million dollars to help it to reduce a backlog in planning proposals for broadcasting services. The Press release says:

The Minister said that at present his Department had 550 expressions of interest in the provision of broadcasting services on its books.

Expressions of interest totalling 550 is one hell of a backlog. This unsatisfied need, large as it is now, will continue to grow unless a new and radical approach is taken to the provision of services. In short, the system as we have known it, and as we know it now, must be freed up. Many of these requests should be granted, frequencies being available. The fact is that there are thousands of communities throughout Australia which want their own local facility to get their own advertising and local news across. As these communities grow and as new communities grow, this demand will increase. The other point that is well worth making is that where free enterprise can operate, it should be encouraged to do so, where there is no overriding reason why it should not operate.

I can well understand the objections of those who do not want the present system changed at all, because there are many stations throughout Australia which are making a very considerable amount of money and they have their own businesses to protect. That is fair enough. But they are trade objections, and those objections are not the ones which should be paramount. I find it somewhat ironical that many of the people who object to a freeing up of the system in Australia are the very people who, in public, are the staunchest supporters of the free enterprise system-except when it comes to their own interests. We could look at the system operated in the United States. There would be people who would say that that is not a satisfactory system because it is a much freer system than ours. But, generally speaking, I believe that there are lessons that we should be learning from the United States in attempting to overcome our problems.

I have no doubt that any change of approach or any expansion of broadcasting facilities in this country will require some painful adjustment on the part of some operators. But I have no doubt in my mind, from speaking to a wide range of people in the industry, that this adjustment must be undertaken; otherwise, very simply, the problem will get worse. There are some broad solutions which I should like to put to the Minister-I am sure that he is aware of them-such as the clearing of existing frequency bands, having a good look at low power stations operating in various communities where their range is restricted to a particular community, the sharing of frequencies, restricted hours of operation of some new stations, and, in some cases, perhaps the increased use of cable.

The point I make is that we must help those smaller towns and communities which have no local communications facilities-radio or television-to acquire them if they wish. It just does not make sense that if a group in the community were to form a company, put up money and take a chance-all the other things having been taken into account, particularly frequencies-they should not be allowed to provide extra facilities in that area.

I turn to a matter which affects my own area in particular, that is, the local television station on the Gold Coast. I refer to a letter which I recently received from the Minister. That letter states:

The Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 prevents the grant or renewal of translator station licences where the area concerned is receiving satisfactory reception of programs from a local commercial television station . . .

The letter goes on:

I am sure you will agree that Gold Coast residents, who are within the Brisbane Metropolitan Television Area, would be strongly opposed to any suggestion that they be deprived of Brisbane television services.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I put it to the Minister that the situation on the Gold Coast is a reversal of the situation to which this letter applies. We have translator services, as the Minister knows, but because those translator services are in place is the Gold Coast to be denied forever the facility of a local television station? It is the reverse of what might be considered the normal situation. We cannot leave forever more a city which now has some 200,000 people-the seventh largest city in Australia-in limbo without its own local television facilities. I would hate to think that this letter in any way poses a threat to the people of the Gold Coast by suggesting that they should not press for a local television station because it might put the renewal of translator licences in jeopardy.

Mr Deputy Speaker, the problems require a new look. I know the Minister is aware of some of the problems, and I very much hope that he and the Government will address themselves to these problems for all those people in smaller communities throughout Australia who wish to be granted their own facilities as soon as possible.