I rise this evening to discuss the important issue of the future of community television. We on this side of the House have a proud record of supporting community television. We believe community television has an important role to play in Australia's future and we recognise the benefits of a strong and sustainable sector.
It is well known that community TV serves three distinct but very important functions: as a platform for young talent to learn the skills needed in the media as both performers and crew; as a complementary platform to serve our diverse migrant communities; and as an important service in rural and regional communities. Community television has launched the careers and nurtured the talents of some of Australia's most popular media personalities and actors. For example, it is responsible for training and discovering such artists as Rove McManus, Hamish and Andy, and scores of very talented production workers whom we export both into other sectors of the industry and around the globe.
As well as this, community TV plays a vitally important role in our diverse migrant communities, both as an information and entertainment platform, and as a way to interact and create content. In our regions and towns around Australia, community TV continues to play a hugely important role, filling the gaps often left by commercial TV and public broadcasting. In places like Geelong, Broome, Ballarat and other regional centres around Australia, community TV is not only important but popular, and it can play a key role in a town's identity and development. This government, though, has decided to take community television off the air at the end of this year, switching it off on 31 December. I would like to point out two articles, the first by the Minister for Communications—an opinion piece from 23 September 2014 which broadly reflects the comments he made at a community broadcasting event in Parliament House on 3 September last year. I quote him, in part:
OzTam official ratings data shows that CTV has very small audiences … with an average annual daily audience in prime time … for all stations of about 6000 viewers
The point is a small audience figures suggest that CTV is not contributing significantly to the diversity of media services for local communities, one of the prime reasons for licensing community broadcasting services.
… … …
The internet provides the perfect opportunity for community television to continue its vital role …
He goes on to say:
Moving to the internet is not a new thing. In the UK, BBC Three … will stop transmitting as a linear channel in autumn 2015, and be replaced with a new online service.
The key point made by the minister is that community TV services should just be delivered over the internet. On the following day the Australian Community Television Alliance responded to the minister, and they noted in part:
Despite the claims of the minister, community TV is regularly watched by around three million viewers every month.
… … …
Turnbull continues to lecture community TV that the internet is not new—patronising the sector with the purpose of painting community TV as old and staid.
Community TV is an innovator and has been preparing itself to remain relevant as online viewing continues to evolve and develop.
C31 Melbourne was one of the first stations in Australia to offer a "catch-up TV" service online. Presently this offering attracts around 15,000 unique browsers per month, as opposed to one million viewers per month on our broadcast signal.
They go on to refute the notion about the BBC that the minister mentioned:
Minister Turnbull continues to cite the UK broadcast environment as being instructive, particularly referencing the decision of the BBC to move their youth focused BBC3 channel online.
There is more to this story that he does not refer to—the fact that spectrum has been made available for the roll-out of Local TV stations in the major cities.
Community TV does not demand government funding or excessive guarantees. All the sector is asking for is what it has not been granted to date—a consultation process involving all stakeholders seeking to find a pathway to preserving or perhaps enhancing this public resource on free-to-air television whilst still enabling efficient management of spectrum.
I do not believe that this is an unreasonable request, and it is reasonable today. We on this side of the House do support community television going over the top or using the internet as a distribution platform, but the sector needs to be given a reasonable amount of time and support to ensure the transition is successful. The minister has refused to grant the sector this very reasonable request. I call on the minister to work with the industry, to give them the help and the time that they need, and I also note that the sector is planning a week of action next week. I congratulate them on this initiative and I hope that they are successful. The only way they will be is if all of us in this chamber get behind the community television campaign. I urge all members of this House to do that.