Monday, 9 November 2020
Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
Mr Deputy Speaker, as you have heard, the Labor Party will be supporting the passage of this bill. It makes only relatively minor amendments to local content obligations and the Australian content transmission quota. But, as you will know from the debate we've had previously, Labor is very concerned, as am I, that regional Australians are missing out as a result of this government's ongoing failure to support regional media and, in particular, its cuts to the ABC. You will have known, I'm sure, that for some time we have seen in my electorate of Lingiari, affecting all of remote northern Australia, the loss of public broadcasting reach, with the decision by this government, by the ABC, to cease its shortwave transmission service in the Northern Territory in January 2017.
I'll just remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this was a decision taken by the board after it had its budget cut by this government. But, sadly, the board did not undertake any informed community consultation around the impact of this decision to cut this short-wave service. The decision and its impact are still being felt across northern Australia. Short-wave radio provided vital news and information services, including local radio and emergency services, that are, as you would understand, Mr Deputy Speaker, crucial to those of us who live in remote areas—particularly in times of natural disaster.
The ABC's claim that the majority of listeners would be able to access ABC services via AM and FM radio, digital radio and online streaming, or via the VAST platform, does not account for the reality of service availability in the bush. Even now, in 2020, former listeners and users of the ABC's short-wave service in the Northern Territory have been unequivocal in voicing their concern about the coalition's failure to intervene in this matter back in 2017. I think that this was to save something around $5 million and it had an impact beyond Australia into the South Pacific. It was a foolish decision; a stupid decision—a decision which ought to be reversed—and this government stands condemned for not making sure it was. Ask any truck driver up and down the Stuart Highway and they will tell you how much they miss the currency and quality of the short-wave service compared to online streaming and the VAST platform.
We have seen a hollowing out of regional media across this country. As we know, we've had over 200 titles close since January 2019. One of those was in Alice Springs: The Centralian Advocate. It was closed earlier this year, in June. It was our twice-weekly newspaper—sadly, a News Limited paper, but, nevertheless, it closed. The last edition came after 73 years of reporting local news; arts and entertainment; local council matters; births, deaths and marriages; local sporting events; and pictures of local kids doing things in their community, and with a sense of progressing and providing a local identity for Alice Springs and the wider Centralian community. It was, actually, a very effective local voice, despite the fact that it was owned by News Limited. Their decision to close it, however, has left a huge void—a huge void in the media of Central Australia. There is an online newspaper, the Alice Springs News, but it does not have the sort of reach that we had with The Centralian Advocate.
We rely on the ABC and yet we're seeing decisions taken by the ABC in terms of broadcasting which have had a really negative impact on the people of the bush. As a result, we're looking at other sources. There are other sources, but none as reliable or as important as the ABC. In Alice Springs, we have CAAMA, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association; 8CCC, a community radio station; and Sun FM, the local commercial radio station. We have access to NITV and ICTV. Yolngu Radio operates in north-east Arnhem Land and there are community radio stations, apart from in Alice Springs, in Katherine and Nhulunbuy. And then there are the RIBS, the remote Indigenous radio services, working in places such as Nauiyu, Yarralin, Kalkarindji and many other places across remote Australia. These RIBS communities have a small transmitter, able to cut into radio and TV services and to put in locally produced materials. They are, like a lot of things from this government, severely underfunded.
We have an obligation to try to ensure that people who live in remote parts of the country and in regional parts of Australia have access to decent media. As you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance states, referring to decisions taken:
In recent months we have seen more than 150 regional and community newspapers cease printing. This is on top of the 106 local and regional papers that closed over the previous decade.
Many of those papers are more than a century old. Many may never reopen.
It shouldn't be this way. The stories of regional and rural Australia are important: our stories matter.
… … …
the local paper is the heartbeat of the community. It provides local news that the big cities can't and/or won't provide.
It also quotes the UTS Centre for Media Transition as saying that regional media is 'a focal point for community connection, cohesion and education'. The MEAA speaks to the issues around media diversity and the concentration of media in this country, issues which should be high on the agenda of this parliament. We need to make sure that we get as much access to new media as we possibly can, but there's no substitute for the quality of local and regional media, local and regional newspapers, local and regional radio, and other services such as those. I commend the bill to the House.