Second Reading: Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

August 19, 2015

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Minister for Communications) (09:02):  I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Mr Speaker, as this is my first occasion of speaking in the House since your elevation to the Speaker's chair, I convey my congratulations to you on your elevation to the office of Speaker and note that you have already distinguished yourself in this very important role.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Primary Television Broadcasting Service) Bill 2015 provides the national and commercial free-to-air broadcasters with the flexibility to deliver programming on their primary television services in either standard definition or high-definition formats. Broadcasters' primary television services include ABC1, SBS ONE, 7, Prime7, Nine, WIN, Ten and Southern Cross. These services are subject to particular obligations regarding Australian content, captioning and antisiphoning.

At present, free-to-air broadcasters are required to provide their primary television service in standard definition. This is a relic of the analog era, introduced at the start of the digital television switchover process to ensure that viewers would have access to at least one digital channel per broadcaster. At the time not all televisions and set-top boxes were capable of receiving high-definition content.

Importantly for Australians who watch television on satellite, this bill makes minor technical amendments to ensure the transmission of primary services by free-to-air satellite broadcasters such as VAST receive the same flexibility to transmit in either standard or high definition.

This government is committed to removing unnecessary and outdated regulations that hamper industry from providing services that respond to audience preferences.

The government has implemented a range of initiatives to remove red tape through its deregulation work program, which was initiated in the Communications portfolio with the release of the Deregulation Roadmap in May 2014.

This roadmap committed the government to undertake a review of the free-to-air digital television regulatory framework to ensure it is fit-for-purpose for the next wave of innovation in the media sector.

The first stage of that review involved the identification of provisions that were redundant or spent following the completion of Australia's switch to digital-only television.

The second stage began in January this year, when the Department of Communications released a consultation paper seeking the views of the public and the industry on future arrangements for digital television regulation.

The proposal to allow broadcasters to provide their primary service in either standard or high definition received strong very support from the public and free-to-air broadcasters.

High-definition television equipment is now virtually ubiquitous in Australian homes. A Newspoll survey conducted in February 2014, after the completion of the digital switch-over process, found that 96 per cent of all households had a main television set or set-top box that was capable of receiving high-definition content. It is expected that this figure has grown, with high-definition capability standard in televisions and set-top boxes currently on the market.

With the completion of digital switch-over and the availability of a range of new television services, many Australians now expect premium free-to-air programming to be provided in high definition—especially events such as live sports.

The bill responds to these developments and amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, giving TV networks the flexibility to broadcast the primary service in either in either standard or high definition. It does not change any other existing arrangements regarding the primary service such as captioning, Australian content or anti-siphoning requirements.

Australians enjoy a wide range of free-to-air television services, particularly following the switch to digital television. Anti-siphoning rules ensure that our most important and iconic sporting events are free for anyone to watch, not just those who can afford a pay TV subscription. This is one of the great things about living in Australia: it is available to everyone. We have, in my submission, the best free-to-air television services in the world, and it is important that the government does everything it can to ensure that the broadcasters are able to be as flexible and innovative in the way they use their spectrum so as to improve the quality of the service they are delivering to the Australian people for free.

The anti-siphoning scheme requires any listed events to be televised first on a broadcaster's primary service. The bill will allow broadcasters to meet this obligation while also having the option of providing events on the anti-siphoning list in high definition.

The bill is being introduced now to provide broadcasters with the flexibility to broadcast upcoming events, such as this year's AFL and NRL grand finals, in high definition, should they chose to do so.

Mr Speaker, as you know as a distinguished Victorian, Australians, particularly the citizens of your state, love their football. Just this week, we have seen both the AFL and the NRL negotiate new rights deals with broadcasters. For NRL fans, many of them in my state of New South Wales, the four-year deal with Nine for 2018 is worth $185 million a year for four games per week plus the State of Origin. The NRL still has pay TV, digital and international rights to sell, and there are reports that NRL officials are optimistic of achieving more than $2 billion in total over five years.

For the AFL, the deal announced yesterday is the biggest sports rights deal in Australia's history, at a reported figure of $2½ billion over six years. From 2017 until 2022, AFL fans will be able to watch live on the Seven Network three matches per round in every state and territory, as well as the grand final and Brownlow Medal. Fox Sports will broadcast every match of the round live and Telstra will hold the rights for all hand-held mobile devices, the AFL website and IPTV.

Live sport is a huge part and a growing part of free-to-air television. As so much more of the program video content is going over the top—that is to say, it is being provided over streamed internet services like Presto, like Netflix, like Stan—and as viewers want to be able to watch episode drama programs, for example, at their convenience, the value of live events, particularly live sport, is of greater and greater importance.

There is no form of television programming where high-definition transmission is more important than live sports. It does make a very big difference, as honourable members would understand.

While we have no doubt that in due course the networks will take advantage of this change to be able to show live sports, particularly football in HD, the government is not directing them to do that. Our view is that the restriction on the primary channel that it had to be broadcast or transmitted in standard definition is now clearly out of date. It is an anachronistic regulation. It served its purpose. It was important in its time. The government's approach to regulation is that we should look at every single regulation, whether it is in communications or anywhere else, and ask ourselves: what is the policy objective? If the policy objective is no longer necessary or no longer appropriate then the regulation should go. If the policy objective is still appropriate and relevant we have to ask ourselves: is there a more effective or efficient way to deliver that objective by an improved form of regulation? That is the approach we take right across the board, and the statutory rules here that we are seeking to repeal are an absolutely classic case of the deregulatory agenda of the Abbott government.

We look forward to further transforming the future arrangements of digital television regulation during our fourth regulation repeal day in November. We have brought this bill forward so that it does provide an opportunity, if the broadcasters wish, to show the grand finals in high definition on their primary channels. We are committed to reducing the regulatory burden for all businesses, including the very regulated businesses in my portfolio of communications. The bill will provide free-to-air broadcasters with greater flexibility to innovate and to evolve, to incorporate new technologies, ensuring that they continue to remain relevant in a rapidly changing media environment. I commend the built the House.

Debate adjourned. 

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