On the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:10): At the outset, I want to make the comment that the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2012 is a very important bill. There are seven speakers listed as wanting to have a say on matters relating to this bill, yet, because of the way the government organised the guillotine, rather than having 50 minutes for seven speakers we now have 40 minutes because we have spent 10 minutes of the time allotted by the Greens and the Labor Party to address this bill having divisions on a previous bill. If anyone wants to know why Australia is in such an economic mess at the moment, they just have to look at this. The government cannot even run this chamber of parliament; no wonder they cannot run the country. I repeat: seven speakers want to speak on this very important bill and we now have 40 minutes to do that. That is about five and a bit minutes each.

The people who are listening to this broadcast today expect this parliament to fully investigate and assess every aspect of this bill. That is what this parliament is all about; it is about accountability. Indeed, our Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, told the National Press Club on 31 August 2010: 'People do want to see us more open, more accountable, more transparent. I am going to be held to higher standards of accountability than any other Prime Minister in the modern age.' These days nobody believes anything Ms Gillard says, after her 'there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead' promise just before the last election, but, if you did, how could you correlate that promise of higher standards of accountability when we have this farce before us this afternoon This important bill has seven speakers wanting to look at every aspect of the bill and we are going to get less than five minutes each to do that.

You cannot run a parliament, particularly a house of review like the Senate, when the Greens and the Labor Party continue to curtail and constrain proper debate. This is a bill which does require some close examination. Many areas of Australia have made the switch to digital television, including regional areas in my home state of Queensland as well as parts of South Australia, Victoria and, more recently, New South Wales. To date the analog signal has been switched off in some regional areas and towns. Digital TV has been available in our capital cities for a decade, and those Australians who are lucky enough to have digital TV now enjoy far more free-to-air channels than ever before. While the coalition will be supporting the general thrust of the bill, there are issues about this bill, and about the whole switch-over, which need to be debated. Indeed, I have a list of issues I would like to address today, perhaps in the committee stage of this bill, where people who have been impacted upon by the switch-over from analog to digital have had real problems. I would like to ask the minister: 'Why did this happen What can you do about it How can you help constituent A What about constituent B's problem which needs to be addressed' I would also like to raise with the government the issue of pensioners receiving complex and outdated set-top boxesat no cost to the pensioner but at a huge cost to the taxpayerwith contractors making a killing from providing these products, some of which have been described as cheap Chinese junk in press reports.

I wanted to raise the issue of small businesses such as caravan parks and motels. This switch-over involves them having to acquire dozens of different pieces of equipment, particularly in areas where terrestrial coverage is being replaced by satellite coverage. They will have to get dozens of satellite dishes. For any business, this means tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs at a time when, thanks to the Labor Party and the Greens, electricity prices are soaring because of the carbon tax and consumer confidence is low. It is small business that is again getting it in the neck.

Those issues should be fully addressed in discussing this bill. But am I going to get the opportunity to do that now I am not, because my five minutes has now expired. I am going to cheat a bit on my colleagues and go beyond my five minutes. I apologise for that, but there are issues I want to raise. I assume Senator Ludlam, who is listed to speak on this bill, will forfeit his right to speak, given his party's collaboration with the Labor Party. Those seven of us who wanted to speak are now going to have hardly any time and the decent thing for Senator Ludlam to do would be to take himself off the speakers list

Senator Bilyk: No, because we would only have to listen to you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you for that interjection, Senator Bilyk. You and your friends in the Greens curtail the debate and then, when others want to speak on it, you and your mates in the Greens get up and take the relevant speaking time. How is that the more open, accountable and transparent approach Ms Gillard said she wanted I well understand that Ms Gillard will not be Prime Minister when parliament resumes in August, but she did commit, on behalf of the Australian Labor Party and the Greens, to more accountable and transparent government. Yet here we arewe want to speak, we want to have that transparency, we want you to be accountable for this bill and we have lots of questions we want to ask on this bill, but are we going to have a chance to ask them We now have about 20 minutes left for seven speakers to hold the government to account. What a farce.

It is because of the scant regard the Greens and the Australian Labor Party have for democracy and the responsibility of this parliamentparticularly this chamberto thoroughly scrutinise legislation that we are in this situation. As I said, the Greens and the Labor Party have put themselves on the speakers list merely so they can get up and laud the government, thus denying those who are here to keep the government accountable any opportunity of holding this rabble, which is called a government, to account.

As I say, few people believe Ms Gillard after her no carbon tax promise. We all understand that Mr Rudd's forces are now circling. We well understand that, when the parliament comes back in August, Ms Gillard will no longer be Prime Minister. We understand the speech from the former Attorney-General just yesterday in this parliament was the start of that process. Nevertheless, Ms Gillard, on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, promised that accountability. It is now not going to happen.

Before I conclude my remarks to try to give my colleagues some opportunity to address the issues, I raise the issue of caravan parks and motels up in the north-west of my state of Queensland. There is a huge grey nomad tourist industry going into places like Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria. But this particular way that the Labor Party have managed the transition from analog to digital means that small businesses in those areas will really get it in the neck. It is going to cost them a hell of a lot to provide television services because they are, by and large, getting their signals through satellites. The government should have done something to ameliorate the cost. Not only do the businesses suffer but they now have to, in an attempt to recover some of these additional costs, put up prices for the grey nomads, who are principally pensioners or people on fixed retirement incomes. I would have liked the government to address that in the committee stage. They are the issues that we really wanted to pursue here. I am very conscious that my colleagues want to have some say on this, so I will curtail my remarks. But I lament the fact that we cannot properly look into this bill.

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