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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 562

Mr EWEN CAMERON(12.17) —The Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1983 and the Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1983 amend the 1981 legislation to increase revenue for the Government by lifting the ceilings of fees payable from 7.5 per cent to 8 per cent of annual gross earnings of television stations and from 5 per cent to 5.5 per cent for radio stations. These increases will apply to radio and television stations grossing more than $ 9m per annum. Admittedly, the amendments will affect only 16 out of 50 television stations and one out of 34 radio stations. But I would like to support very much the amendment moved by the Opposition, which reads:

Whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House deplores the action of the Government in extending the use of fees in the broadcasting area beyond cost recovery to a new source of taxation revenue.

I would like to base my remarks on that revenue over and above the cost of recovery. In my opinion this revenue, which will go back into Consolidated Revenue, should be directed towards improving television and radio communications, particularly in rural areas.

I have a great sympathy indeed for the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron), the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil) and other rural members of electorates which have very poor television and radio communications. I feel that the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) also has sympathy for them. I have found him to be very receptive in any discussions I have had with him, even to the extent of being quite generous in the Budget to the electorate of Indi. I must say how pleased we are to receive some $70,000 for a television translator in the Mansfield-Bonnie Doon area and $70,000 for a translator in the Yea area. These two heavily populated areas in my electorate in Victoria have lived with poor television reception and have been very upset about it for a great many years. Radio communication in quite a considerable area in the electorate of Indi-a heavily populated rural area, relatively speaking-has been particularly poor. The Minister has seen fit to make $100,000 available for a new national station to be constructed at Boorhaman near Wangaratta as well as another national station at Albury-Wodonga at a cost of $80,000.

These stations will project a signal into very poor radio reception areas in the hilly and even mountainous terrain of which a great deal of my electorate is composed-Mount Beauty, Falls Creek and the Buffalo River valley; it is quite a large area. That is an injection of a considerable amount of money into one disadvantaged area. My point is that the moneys that are to be collected-even though I disagree with the principle of using communications as a source of revenue raising-could well be directed into these disadvantaged areas. Revenue from television licences has been increased from approximately $36m to $47m this year. An additional $2.4m will be raised from television stations and $40,000 from radio stations. I know that the Minister is very conscientous and keen to use this money to improve those areas to which I have just referred.

One scheme is available to communities in areas which are experiencing poor television reception. I refer to the self-help television reception scheme. Mr Deputy Speaker, whilst I do not want to speak at any length on this subject, because I take heed of your desire that we keep as close as possible to the subject of the Bills, I feel that a great many people do not know that the scheme exists. The self-help television reception scheme is aimed at small communities in isolated rural areas of Australia which are too remote to receive television broadcasts or which receive very poor reception. I urge any small community in those circumstances to make contact with the Department of Communications. I suggest such communities would be advised to talk to their district radio inspector who will arrange for a State broadcasting engineer to contact them, discuss the scheme and give them some idea whether it would be practical and whether they should go ahead. Honourable members can picture a group of some 20 or 30 families in an isolated valley who do not receive television or receive a very poor signal. If they each put in a couple of hundred dollars-I am only floating a figure-they might be able to enter the scheme and put in a self-help translator with the assistance of the Department. They could get a perfect signal and their worries would be over.

It is not fair for people who live in country areas to be disadvantaged when it is possible to give them the advantages enjoyed by their city cousins. That applies also to radio reception, but particularly to television reception. I do not think any government, whether it be a socialist or a non-socialist government, can use the argument: 'Well, you have a great way of life in the bush, so you have to take the disadvantages with the advantages'. That is just not good enough. When these facilities can be made available, it is very important that they should be made available.

These Bills set a precedent in collecting revenue outside cost recovery. If the Minister, the Government and any future government use that technique to fund improvement in communications systems, I will not be nearly as critical as if that money were merely put into Consolidated Revenue.