Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (12:48): Communications technology has been changing and will continue to keep changing at an almost frightening pace. I hesitate to identify myself as one who in 1979, as a newly married, sat on the end of a party line that had four kilometres of private line leading into the house. It was in very poor repair, but we knew that the underground cable was coming. In fact we were shut off from the world for three months, but we lived with that. Then of course the new underground copper cable came through 40 years ago. Then in the 1990s we got computers. We hooked on to the dial-up internet, and that was a pretty good thing. It doesn’t seem that long ago, really, when internet speeds were measured in kilobits per second, not megabits per second. Then we had ADSL and ADSL2 wash across Australia. Then came the satellite system, which actually worked pretty well when it first went up, but became overloaded when a former government let out too many access points to it. We had the local internet service providers with fixed wireless networks which they set up around Australia.
Now, of course, we have the NBN. In Grey, I’m pleased to report that we are better than 99 per cent enabled, so virtually everybody in Grey can hook on to the NBN now. The Sky Muster satellites are performing well. And we’ve had a great expansion in mobile phone technology, courtesy of the Mobile Black Spot Program, and I thank the federal government for being the only side of politics that has ever put any money into mobile phone reach in regional areas. I always hark back to the fact that when the Labor government came to power in 2007 they immediately knocked off the $2 billion Communications Fund which was to roll out new technologies into regional Australia. We’ve gone from the analog mobile phone system to 2G, 3G, and 4G. Yet to come is 5G, and what will be after that, we don’t know.
The reason for bringing all this to the chamber’s attention is that this has completely changed the old lines of communications in our community. Newspapers have been seriously eroded. Their advertising streams have disappeared. The same has happened to our television networks, in particular the regional television networks. I must say, radio seems to be a bit of a survivor; it’s perhaps doing better than any of those other things. Those involved in the delivery of regional television—WIN, Prime and Southern Cross across Australia—are doing some lobbying about some changes to the way that they deliver programs. What’s at threat here, of course, is local news delivery. That’s how they reach their local content rules. The way they meet their compliance is actually to have a local newsroom. It is a very important part of country living. It’s an important part of politics, not just so people can get messages out there but so people can stay in touch with their communities.
As these technologies continue to evolve and change, I think we in this place will have to fight to make sure that we do have regional news services continue in Australia. It’s very important. It’s worth noting, of course, that the one provider we do all fund—the ABC—provides very little in this space. That’s a great disappointment to me. While they’ve got money to put into digital platforms and take shows like Q&A to India, they appear not to have the money to put into local television. But that said, we do have a good commercial sector out there. They are seeking, at the moment, to be able to bring the three channels together, Seven, Nine and Ten, and broadcast them off a single platform. I must say, where I come from, because of the low population base, this is called a monopoly broadcaster. That’s exactly what we already have. I see no great danger in that, but there are other issues that are associated with that, such as competitiveness in advertising. But, for my electorate, served by Southern Cross—and I thank them very much for maintaining their newsroom there; it’s a very important service—I don’t see any great detriment to them having the licence to broadcast three channels.
Something that I know the government will have to consider—and I think the whole parliament will have to consider over the near term—is how we let the modern world adapt to the pressures of the modern world. They’re important issues. There are no simple answers, but it’s in this space we will have to work in the near future.