Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Television and Radio Licence Fees) Bill 2016; Second Reading

12:21 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Television and Radio Licence Fees) Bill 2016, and to make a contribution in one rather specific area—that is, around accessibility for people with hearing and vision impairments. More specifically, I want to address the issues around audio description for those with vision loss or vision impairment. While I think there is room for improvement on captioning, particularly for some of the additional programming and multichannels which some of the free-to-air channels have, at least we have a level of captioning on free-to-air TV. At this stage, however, there are no requirements for audio description to be included on free-to-air television, and currently none of the free-to-air networks provide this service.

For those who do not know what audio description is, it is delivered as a narration on a separate track to describe visual elements of a television program during natural pauses in the dialogue. A number of senators in this place in fact will have experienced audio description when various organisations, such as Vision Australia, who have been campaigning very hard on this issue, have been in Parliament House and run demonstrations. I encourage people, if they ever get an opportunity, to experience a show without audio description and then experience one with audio description. You get a sense of how important audio description is for someone with vision loss or vision impairment.

My colleague Senator Hanson-Young moved a second reading amendment in her contribution to the debate. I will not go over the issue she raised about investment in local programming, but part of that second reading amendment was about using some of the money that the free-to-air stations will save as a result of this legislation to invest in ensuring audio description is part of the service they deliver, including trialling of the program. There has been a trial of audio description through the ABC, and I have talked about that in this place previously.

Australia is behind many other developed and developing nations in providing this service on free-to-air television. Vision Australia have done research that indicates up to two-thirds of their clients do not have access to the internet and just 17 per cent use a smart phone. They say that relying on online streaming to deliver audio-description content in Australia is a second-class service and burdens pensioners with the cost of accessing programs that anybody else can enjoy for free and in real time. There is very strong concern that people with vision loss and vision impairment are missing out on being able to access free-to-air TV, and I would say that that is discrimination against people with vision loss and vision impairment. There has been a very strong campaign to get audio description on all our TV channels but in particular free-to-air TV, which, as I said, does not occur at the moment.

ACCAN, which is the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, is calling for the free-to-air networks to commit to extra funding for these accessibility features on their TV channels so that all consumers can have equal access to content in news and current affairs programs. ACCAN would like to see audio description introduced on the free-to-air primary channels so that consumers who are not online and who actually do not find the online service effective can get access to audio-description content. This should be happening. I agree with Vision Australia, who say it is embarrassing that we are behind so many other countries. That is why the Greens are moving a second reading amendment: to get some of the money that will be saved in this process invested in audio description so that people with vision loss and vision impairment are no longer being discriminated against and can access the same programs, the same current affairs and news content, as everybody else—that is, equal access. I encourage the Senate to support our second reading amendment to ensure there is investment from free-to-air TV in audio description.


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