Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Primary Television Broadcasting Service) Bill 2015

I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Primary Television Broadcasting Service) Bill 2015. I am glad to inform the House that the opposition supports this bill. Its clear purpose is to amend the Broadcasting Services Act so that commercial broadcasters Seven, Nine and Ten as well as national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, can broadcast their primary television channel in either standard definition or in high definition. Currently, these broadcasters are restricted to broadcasting their primary channel in standard definition. This restriction now seems old and anachronistic but it was not always. It was introduced at the beginning of the digital switch-over process to ensure that all Australians could access the television content that they love at a time when only a small but growing proportion of us had access to HD-enabled televisions or set-top boxes. In 2015, this law, enacted to protect consumers, is no longer required.

In February last year, more than 96 per cent of Australian households had access to an HD-enabled television or set-top box. Today it is reasonable to assume that number is now even higher than 96 per cent. Access to high definition television is now nearly universal. Today Australians have access to a range of entertainment options, from SVOD services like Netflix, Presto and Stan to Apple TV and the humble DVD or pay-television services like Foxtel. But the principle of free and ubiquitous access to free-to-air television is still extremely important, particularly for those Australians who cannot afford the luxury of these pay services.

Our free-to-air networks are the home of our big events, and in particular our big sporting events. You can see that by looking at the top five rating shows since 2001 based on the OzTam ratings. At No. 1 is the royal wedding of William and Kate, which attracted an audience of six million; No. 2 is the 2005 Australian Open Tennis final, which attracted an audience of four million; No. 3 is the 2010 Masterchef finale, with four million viewers; No. 4 is the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, with an audience of four million Australians; and No. 5 is the 2009 Masterchef finale, with 3.74 million people watching that program. Another way to look at this is the top five rating programs of 2014. They were, in first place, the AFL Grand Final; in second place, the My Kitchen Rules finale; in third place, The Block Glasshouse finale in fourth place, NRL Grand Final; and, in fifth place, State of Origin Game 2. So you can see that big sporting events like the AFL and the NRL grand finals and State of Origin games are amongst the most popular programs on free-to-air television.

Australians justifiably expect that the shows and events they want to watch will be broadcast using the best technology available, and that means removing this restriction that currently exits and allowing broadcasters to broadcast in HD on their primary channel. Many free-to-air broadcasters already offer high-definition content on their secondary channels. We have seen examples of this. The Ashes as well as round games of the NRL and AFL can already been seen on secondary channels in HD. However, anti-siphoning legislation prevents the major sporting events from being premiered on a secondary channel. So events like the AFL or the NRL grand finals or, for that matter, the Melbourne Cup can at the only be shown in standard definition. This needs to change.

The rapid passage of this legislation through this House and through the Senate will provide the potential for broadcasters this year to show the grand finals in the two major football codes in high definition if they wish. That may not be possible, though. I understand from the briefings we have received that a number of technical upgrades and changes are required. To be fair, this legislation could have and should have been introduced a couple of months ago to enable that to happen. I know that my colleague the member for Chifley, Ed Husic, has been lobbying for this legislation for many months. But this where it is and I am glad that the legislation is finally here.

Whilst once upon a time this regulation was essential to protect the interests of Australian consumers, it has now served its purpose and is no longer required. So I am very glad to commend this bill to the House and, in doing that, I congratulate the member for Chifley, Ed Husic, for his work in pressuring the government to accelerate the introduction of this legislation. I look forward to watching the mighty Parramatta Eels in high definition with him in 2016.