Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:11): Today, the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia came to parliament to meet with MPs for the 2014 community broadcasting morning tea. The event was organised to increase understanding of the sector. I certainly learned a lot. It was very relevant for me as a senator in New South Wales, where we have some fantastic community television stations and community.
I was fortunate today to be interviewed by Eric Gyors on 89.7 Eastside Radio FM, which is owned and operated by Radio Eastern Sydney Co-operative Limited, a not-for-profit organisation. I had the opportunity to speak about the morning tea and some of the issues that were raised, which are very relevant to the future of community broadcasting in this country.
The figures for the interest, use, listening and watching audience of community radio and television are most impressive. Across Australia more than five million people listen to over 350 permanently licensed community radio stations, weekly, for an average of 14.5 hours each week. Five million people listening for 14.5 hours each week is very impressive.
When it comes to New South Wales, community radio is very much a part of our community and media reach in our capital city and regional and rural areas. There are 111 community radios in New South Wales. Fifteen are Christian, one is Muslim, three are Indigenous stations and, most interestingly, five of these are the only stations servicing their local areas. I acknowledge the extraordinary work these stations do, including the provision of information on critical weather events as well as entertainment and other information. It is a very rich part of our community.
I want to mention some of our radio stations that are doing fantastic work. We have two 2cuz FM, one of the Indigenous stations operating in Bourke, north-western New South Wales. It has been on the air since 1996. Then we have 2MFM in Bankstown. This is our Muslim community radio, which has been doing multicultural and multilingual work for many years now. During the recent Ramadan, it transmitted 24 hours a day during the whole month. They kicked that off in 1995.
When you talk about community radio in New South Wales you cannot go past 2SER-FM. I imagine many people in this place, not just the New South Wales senators, would have been interviewed on this community broadcaster, which has been doing this work since the 1970s. Many of the journalists who we are interviewed by on mainstream radio came through 2SER at some stage.
Community television was also represented today. Like community radio, they are going strong. Community interest in producing programs for television is particularly strong and is one of the great things that comes out of community television. Community television's main purpose, I learned today, is to engage with the community and provide access to free-to-air broadcasting. Understanding the significance and the reach of community television is very important. Other television services, particularly multichannel services, rely heavily on imported content, whereas community television is a valuable source of locally made programs. Data from OZTAM, which manages TV ratings data for total TV viewing, shows that the monthly cumulative reach of community television is only slightly lower than that of all Foxtel channels combined.
This is a bit of a summary of what we were told about community television today: they do not get government funding, they are self-sufficient, they are very much about social cohesion and they are excellent community engagers. Clearly, all of us should be encouraging community television. As I have mentioned, for those of us in New South Wales, it is big part of the fabric of our communities.
I was interested to hear about the future that community TV is facing. Often community broadcasting, particularly community television, gets no government funding at all, so it can face challenges. It is worth reminding ourselves, therefore, that community television does survive. Just in New South Wales, for example, we have Hunter Community Television coming out of Newcastle. While it is not on the air at the moment, it is trying to sort that out with ACMA. Then there is Illawarra Community Television. It has been doing an excellent job since 2005. There is also WARP Television in Bathurst, another non-profit community group, dedicated to promoting screen culture across the Central West. TVS Sydney is the only free-to-air not-for-profit community broadcast licence holder in Sydney. It is based in Western Sydney and broadcasts across Greater Sydney. I learned about TVS Sydney when I went doorknocking with somebody running for parliament who had it on and who told me all about it-what was on it and who they had seen. It is very popular, particularly in a lot of public housing areas in Sydney. We also have Snowy Mountains Television, who do an excellent job. Across the country, there are other excellent examples of community television. A couple we have to acknowledge are Aurora Community TV, who are doing a great job, and Indigenous Community Television, an Australia-wide free-to-view channel which broadcasts television programs produced by and for Indigenous people in remote communities.
What is the future for community television? It was interesting to hear the minister speak about it today. In his presentation he gave great emphasis to linking the future of broadcasting with the internet. These comments seemed unusual to me. In discussions with community broadcasting people afterwards, I realised why. The future of community television is under a cloud-and I urge the minister to reassess his position. The minister is considering the future of the sector as part of the government's policy of media deregulation. The apparatus licence for community television that gives access to the spectrum for TV broadcasting expires on 30 December this year. Renewal depends on the minister's decision. At this stage, the renewal has not been forthcoming and all stations face closure.
People from community television who I spoke to today recognise that a move to the internet is inevitable for all broadcasters. That is not in question. However, to force community television to move in the short term is wrong. Surely the minister does not want to be responsible for community television failing? Failure would clearly be bad for our communities-and I also suggest it would not be a good look for him, as the responsible minister, and his government. I urge the minister to work with the sector, allow time to resolve the shift to the internet and renew the apparatus licence for community television.
At times we hear comparisons made with the shift that BBC Three has made. The shift of BBC Three to the internet, however, is not comparable to the situation of community television in this country-in size, scale or how it is being undertaken. The British experience in fact demonstrates the opposite-Britain is actually moving towards community television, with a rollout of 28 local television licences, with largely the same aims as we see here, on their free-to-air spectrum. I urge the minister to work with community television so that it survives and has a healthy future. That would ensure a richer media mix for the whole country.