Second Reading – Broadcasting deregulation Bill

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Mr PITT (Hinkler) (17:48): I rise to speak on the Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014. I think it is important that we look back at the journey for communications and how we got to this point. Technology is evolving at an exponentially-increasing rate. I note the minister said in his contribution that legislation is playing catch-up with technology. It is not just the legislation; it is the infrastructure that delivers the ability to use these systems. There will be constant change and it is important that we look at things in a watershed position.

I clearly recall as a young child playing with one of my brothers at our grandmother’s house with two jam tins and a piece of string. If I were to suggest that to my children at the moment, the first thing they would ask me is, ‘What’s a jam tin?’ The second thing they might ask me is, ‘Why would you do that when you could just text one another?’ Quite simply, technology has moved rapidly and exponentially.

As a young student university I remember purchasing a computer, a 386SX. It cost me somewhere around $2,500, and the next level up would have cost some $4,000. We are now using devices which cost a few hundred dollars and are far better than the ones we used previously. It is important that we maintain our attachment to technology and it is important that we maintain technology so that people can access it—and not just in the cities. It is incredibly important that we provide facilities to people in regional and rural Australia because, quite simply, they have lost their other services. This is the only point of access for them for many things, including government-provided services, and they need continued access to it—never more so than in our current circumstances.

The natural events which have occurred in Queensland again this year have demonstrated just how important our communications network is. I would like to relay a couple of recollections which have been provided to me in recent weeks. In Rockhampton and Yeppoon they have an enormous amount of difficulty communicating at the moment because everyone is reliant on mobile technology. Centralised systems such as the old phone network are relatively easy to back up. It is quite easy to provide additional backup power with generators and batteries. When they do run down it is a single point to provide other emergency services to provide power to that system. In a distributed network such as the NBN, those things are individual per street and per house and it is far more difficult to look after them then. Quite simply, they have about an eight-hour run time on a loss of power. If you look at the situation in Rockhampton and Yeppoon at the moment, in most locations they will probably not have power before the end of the week and some will not have it for two, three or four weeks—which makes it incredibly difficult. As we move to digital systems through not only the Australian government but also business, you simply cannot operate without those facilities.

There has also been an exponential increase in growth around mobile devices. People simply are not tied to a desk and a PC anymore. They all have mobile devices, they like to be connected wirelessly, and you cannot do that with a cable that runs down the road for five kilometres while you drive your car.

The other thing I would like to point out—particularly as the minister is in the House—is the exceptional job that ABC regional radio did during the recent emergencies and of course during the ones in my home town of Bundaberg in 2013. Scott Lamond, Kallee Buchanan and the rest of the team at the ABC are responsible for the emergency broadcasts. They work incredibly long hours and they do a fabulous job, and we are very supportive of the work they do.

I note the bill looks at captioning reform. There have been many contributions on this through the debate and, given the time, I will keep this brief. The bill also looks at the New Eligible Drama Expenditure Scheme. But one thing I would like to discuss are the changes to ACMA. My predecessor, Mr Neville—the former member for Hinkler—has retired in the electorate, and he is a passionate advocate for communications. However, as a well-informed and retired MP, he is an incredibly noisy constituent when it comes to ACMA, in particular. With the digital changeover that occurred recently, one of our issues was unfortunately at Mr Neville’s home where he suggested the particular actions I should take as the local MP in order to fix the issue that was affecting his house and his family, and we did sort that out.

It is incredibly important that we roll the NBN infrastructure out and we roll it out successfully. It is one of the largest infrastructure projects this nation has ever undertaken. As an electrical engineer and as someone who has some project management experience, I know that it is incredibly complicated and incredibly expensive. I fully support the fibre-to-the-node network put forward by this government. It will be work; it will be far cheaper; and it will be far more successful. As we push forward in the next few years, if changes in technology continue to increase exponentially there will be other changes and other challenges. You only have to look at something like quantum computing, where Australia leads the world. It is something which could actually make this nation one of the richest in the world if they can successfully put together a quantum computing system. So it is very important that we get this right. From my point of view, rural and regional Australia is incredibly important. If we look at what the former Labor government did around satellites, we see that these systems were oversubscribed and they simply do not work. It has been of no benefit to people in my electorate.

There are further changes around media diversity and the digital switchover and restack, which of course is spectrum change. But, as was put forward by previous speakers in this debate, changing the spectrum may well not be necessary down the track because, quite simply, everything will be delivered through the NBN. We have incredibly large changes through our communications network. It is a very challenging period for our TV producers and for people who work with radio. As was stated, they are restricted by certain rules that were put in place in the nineties when the technology was incredibly different. I do not want to take up all of the time of the House, and I am sure the minister would like to get the bill on the table, so I commend the bill to the House.

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