House debates

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television Switch-over) Bill 2008

Consideration in Detail

10:32 pm

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development and Cities) Share this | Hansard source

The opposition opposes these amendments. These amendments are to create a veneer of accountability around decisions that would affect everybody who watches television around this continent from the Yankalilla district, which I know the member for Mayo is very concerned about, to communities right across the country that rely on 1,100 retransmission devices, who have not had the opportunity to be heard tonight when the government gagged its own speaker on this bill. These amendments deserve to be opposed. They do nothing more than shift the burden for digital transmission away from the government and away from the minister and put it fairly and squarely in the lap of the national broadcasters. We have heard a lot tonight about this being a collaborative exercise. These amendments do nothing of the kind. In fact, they free the minister. This is free Stephen, not free Willy, from any accountability to do with the very significant decision of saying there is no more analog television available to communities across Australia.

The coalition’s amendments are thoughtful and principled, and they have been developed in full consultation with the stakeholders. They are inspired by the national interest and, once again, the Liberal and the National parties in this parliament are the voice for the ordinary people who want to make sure they have got television. It seems as though all the government is interested in is grabbing hold of the spectrum and flogging it—maybe to sell the spectrum and the people of Mildura, the guinea pigs for this exercise. The member for Forrest has been denied the opportunity to speak. An opportunity for him and all the other members in this place to represent their communities has been denied by the government. This is about ensuring that Australian viewers are not disenfranchised, not left in the dark and not left with an analog television that serves no purpose other than ornamental value in their lounge rooms. They want to know that they can keep watching television, and they want to know what the government is doing to replace those 1,100 retransmission devices. We consulted up until the last moment to make sure that this amendment has the support of industry and is something that provides safeguards to all TV viewers across the country.

For those people in this House who want to know what the opposition’s amendments were, let me run through them again. There were some amendments relating to the need to set readiness benchmarks so that everyone knew upfront where communities needed to be before their analog televisions were shut off. They wanted some benchmarks, some objective criteria. What could possibly be the public policy argument against that? Is there anyone in this place who could argue—knowing what the state is of the conversion to digital and where that is at—that it could possibly be a bad thing to have objective criteria to make that decision?

The other part of the amendments that the opposition introduced is to actually have a reporting arrangement where, six months prior to analog television being cut off, a report is prepared, with the minister having the responsibility to know what the situation is on the ground—whether people had taken up the opportunities to convert and whether there are going to be tens and thousands of people who will not have any television. Let us remember that, if there are only a couple of per cent who are not ready to make the conversion when the analog signal is cut off, there will be tens of thousands of people with no television.

Let me also refer to one of the other criteria. The third provision that we argued for was that if there was clear evidence that a community was not ready to have analog television services in their community finish—with the guinea pig being Mildura—then there would be an open public process to establish the degree of readiness. It cannot be a bad thing—can it?—to know whether a community is ready to have the information available and to make the minister accountable for such a big decision affecting the lives of many in our community.

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