May 24, 2012

Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2012 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:33):  I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2012 introduces amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to facilitate earlier access, in particular circumstances, to the Viewer Access Satellite Television service, or VAST.

The VAST service is a first-class, direct-to-home digital commercial satellite television service which covers all of Australia. For the first time, viewers not served by terrestrial transmitters have access to the full range of digital television services. Every Australian can now access the full range of commercial and national free-to-air digital TV services.

However, currently viewers in areas that will never receive reliable commercial digital television terrestrial reception cannot access VAST until six months before switchover in their licence area.

This bill will allow the conditional access scheme administrator to specify open access areas, where viewers residing in such areas will be automatically entitled to immediate access to VAST.

The bill will also amend the definition of applicable services used by the scheme administrator to assesses eligibility to access VAST.

Currently, an assessment of whether viewers have adequate reception of applicable services only considers those services provided by commercial television broadcasting licensees. The amendments in this bill will broaden the definition to also take account of services provided by organisations which represent commercial broadcasters, such as Regional Broadcasting Australia.

The bill also contains minor amendments to allow broadcasters operating in the Remote Central and Eastern Australia licence areas to use services from VAST as a source of programming for their terrestrial transmitters. It also contains amendments to authorise viewers in the Territory of Christmas Island and the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands Territory and Norfolk Island to access VAST if they choose.

Finally, the bill will provide greater flexibility to vary the timing of a simulcast period relating to a metropolitan or regional licence area.

While the timetable for the switch off to analog signals was announced in 2008, further consultation with broadcasters indicates that metropolitan switchover dates are likely to require variation. These changes will stagger the transition to digital television to ensure both government assistance schemes and broadcaster engineering resources are available and appropriately managed to achieve digital switchover by the end of 2013.

In some cases, these amended dates could fall outside the maximum variations currently permitted by the Broadcasting Services Act.

The Bill will allow the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to vary the date for a licence area’s digital switchover to any future date the minister specifies, provided that date is before 31 December, 2013. Similar amendments will be made in respect of digital-only local market area determinations.

The government is committed to working with local communities on the switchover to digital television, and will continue to set and publicise the dates well in advance of switchover.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.