House debates

Thursday, 15 February 2024


Broadcasting Services Amendment (Community Television) Bill 2024; Second Reading

9:20 am

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will extend community television licences beyond the currently legislated 30 June 2024 expiry date and provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with instrument-making powers for when an alternative use for the spectrum is identified in the future.

Community television adds crucial diversity to the Australian media environment. It provides local news and content, supports local businesses and serves as a platform for fostering the next generation of industry talent. With the help of around 4,000 volunteers, the two remaining terrestrial community television channels, Channel 31 in Melbourne and Channel 44 in Adelaide, create content that entertains and informs their communities each week.

The Albanese government is committed to keeping these community television stations in Melbourne and Adelaide on air until an alternative use for the radiofrequency spectrum they currently use is realised. This bill will legislate to achieve this outcome by removing the current expiry date of 30 June 2024. It will create a new framework that reasserts the objectives of broadcasting and radiocommunications policy and the role industry and its regulator, the ACMA, have to play in assessing the possible uses of the last available high-power television channel—the so-called 'sixth channel'.

In 1992, an inquiry into possible uses of that channel received more than 70 submissions supporting the introduction of community-owned and operated television. The Labor government of the day accepted a recommendation to allow community television services to use the sixth channel until the spectrum was required for other uses, and asked the ACMA, or the Australian Broadcasting Authority as it was then known, to facilitate community television trials. Trial broadcasts began in 1994.

Since then, community television has become a vibrant part of Australia's media ecosystem. And, since then, the sector's existence has been subject to debate and uncertainty. This government is determined to realign the legislation with the original intent of the Radiocommunications Act 1992—to promote the long-term public interest derived from the use of the spectrum by providing for efficient planning, allocation and use of the spectrum. This bill achieves this outcome by ensuring that Channel 31 and Channel 44 can continue to use the sixth channel to provide content that serves community interests.

The first measure is simple. It repeals the 30 June 2024 expiry date for Channel 31 and Channel 44's apparatus licences.

Channel 31 operates under a community broadcasting television licence under part 6 of Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and Channel 44 operates under an open narrowcasting television licence under a part 8 class licence.

This dual licensing arrangement makes it more sensible to use the apparatus licences which both hold under the Radiocommunications Act 1992.

This means the ACMA may continue to consider renewing these licences, allowing the channels to access spectrum and provide content via terrestrial broadcasts.

The second measure introduces two instrument-making powers for the ACMA instead of using a future date.

We consider that the ACMA is best placed to make these decisions both through its role as regulator and due to its expertise in and consultation with the broadcasting industry.

The first instrument will allow the regulator to declare, via notifiable instrument, when an alternative use for the spectrum has been identified.

This will provide the first notice to the community television sector that it will need to commence action to cease terrestrial broadcasting in the near future.

The government has made a clear decision not to be too prescriptive on what the alternative use may be given that this will occur in the future and we want to give the ACMA flexibility to make the best decisions in this matter. There will be a condition that there be a period of at least six months from when this declaration is registered on the Federal Register of Legislation and when the second instrument can be made.

The second instrument allows the ACMA to issue a determination that confirms a specified date which will be the day that Channel 31 and Channel 44 will have to switch off their terrestrial broadcasts. It is a legislated condition that this specified day will be at least six months from the date that the determination is registered.

This two-tiered approach is the most effective way to ensure the two licensees can continue offering terrestrial community television services into the future until there is a decision about the use of the spectrum. It offers certainty to stakeholders—licensees and viewers alike—by providing a minimum of 12 months' notice to Channel 31 and Channel 44 to transition away from terrestrial broadcasting when an alternative use for the spectrum has been declared. Furthermore, industry will be consulted during this decision-making process. The government recognises there should be a well-managed transition, and the legislated minimum 12 month notice period combined with industry consultation acknowledges this.

Finally, the bill will amend the Broadcasting Services Act code-making provisions to enable Channel 44 (which is the open narrowcaster) to be considered as a community broadcaster (like Channel 31) for the purposes of code making only. This is to make both licensees part of the same "section of industry" so that the Australian Community Television Alliance (ACTA) can make and register a single Code of Practice for both. This harmonises and simplifies the existing arrangement where the two licensees are regulated under separate codes of practice.

The two licensees (Channel 31 and Channel 44), the community broadcasting peak body (CBAA) and the ACMA were consulted and are supportive of these amendments, as they recognise this is a good outcome for all. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.