LEON BYNER: … set top box, you’ve got all these extra channels like 7TWO/mate, GEM, GO!, ELEVEN. A lot of these shows [digital channels] have got repeats which sometimes rate better than the free-to-air ‘one’ service [primary channel]. The problem for those people outside Adelaide is that analogue television’s basically gone. That is, the traditional 2 [ABC], Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS, so unless you’ve got some sort of [digital] definition reception of ‘high’ or ‘standard’, you get nothin’ but, as I told you before, one of the technical realities of digital radio or TV is that you either get reception or you don’t. There’s no ‘fade’. You either get it or you don’t and the problem is that some people in country South Australia have had the analogue service turned off but there were supposed to be towers and repeaters to allow those in regional South Australia outside the big cities, and even those in the big cities, to get reception that works. Well, according to South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham, that’s not the way it’s crunched.
Hi, Simon. Thanks for joining us. I hope you’re keeping out of the heat.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes, indeed, Leon. It’s a pleasure to talk to you and I hope your listeners are all finding different ways to keep cool as well.
LEON BYNER: Okay. Now, what regions of South Australia, or even parts of Adelaide, are not getting proper digital coverage?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, the ‘switch off’ of the analogue signal occurred in much of regional SA just before Christmas and we had asked people to let us know if there were problems then and my office has followed up with all of those people during January to see whether they’ve managed to get their problems resolved and I’ve got a few dozen examples from around the place of people in areas like Moonta and Snowtown and Port Augusta, where people are still having…
LEON BYNER: But they’re cities!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s right… Port Augusta, in particular, you’re talking a very big locality. It’s obviously not the entire city that has a problem or we would be hearing howls of protest, but in isolated pockets, in particular streets, in particular suburbs, there seem to be these problems of prolonged ‘drop outs’ or reduced picture quality or certain problems with the sound and so on as well, so I’ve written now numerous letters to the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, detailing each person’s problem, their exact locality, so that he can get the experts on to try to work out what each of these problems are and get them fixed, because it’s unfortunate that people in regional South Australia are only the second group around the country to have this analogue signal switched off and so they’re a little bit like guinea pigs and we need to get this problem rectified before the rest of Australia, and ultimately Adelaide in 2013, face the same problem.
LEON BYNER: Have you had much feedback down south? Because I can tell you that places like Carrickalinga and others were also worried about this. Have you had any feedback that they’ve had a signal issue?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I certainly have had a few snippets of feedback. We haven’t had many concrete examples coming through to the office on that, but just, indeed, when I last tweeted and made some comments about this issue I got a couple of people come back and highlight problems around Normanville and Carrickalinga way and, look, what I would encourage anybody who has a problem following the ‘switch off’ of the analogue signal to do is, in the first instance, contact the Government’s Digital Switchover Taskforce, but if you’ve already done that, if you haven’t had success with these Government, then give my office a call. Most of these people are in regional SA, of course, so we’ve got a…
LEON BYNER: What’s your office number?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’ve got a toll free number for regional callers 1300 301 638 and we’ll be very happy to follow up in the same manner and make direct representations to the Communications Minister on behalf of people and if the answers to that aren’t satisfactory then I’ll certainly be pursuing it direct with the bureaucrats in question in Senate Estimates during the course of this year.
LEON BYNER: Alright. Can I get you to change hats now, because you are also the Coalition spokesperson on matters on the Murray-Darling Basin?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right.
LEON BYNER: Okay. What do you think… I had Tony Burke, the Federal Water Minister, on this morning and I have been going in to bat for some time, and I’ll continue to do it, for our growers in South Australia who are enduring a 67 per cent [allocation against] entitlement where people doing the same thing across the border are getting 100 and 120. Did we broker in this state a deal which was good, allowing for the fact that both … the State Government say ‘well, we can’t give you the extra water even though it’s there and going out to sea because if we do, the other states will cry, howl, and we’ll be in all sorts of trouble’. What do you say?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leon, I think it’s transparently obvious that we didn’t broker a deal that was good because we’re in this situation where our growers have got a 67 per cent allocation at a time when some of them are going to face water spilling over onto their floodplains that they’re unable to use. Now, the deal that was brokered was brokered in a time of drought. It was a special arrangement put in place that’s varied some of the water sharing agreements and principles that were there to start with. What I would say is that we’re now in a time of plenty, a time of flood, and just as we had special arrangements put in place for that time of drought, there should be a willingness of government to sit down and work out special, sensible arrangements for this time of plenty, this time of flood. So I would think that it defies logic to anybody in the system that irrigators should be being deprived water when there is more than anybody can comprehend what to do with. We should be able to work out some special arrangements. My understanding is the eastern states are sort of saying, ‘well, Mike Rann and Karlene Maywald have given us so much grief for so long that we’re not inclined to give South Australia a break’. Well, you know, that’s not the type of attitude we need and Tony Burke, as the Federal Water Minister, should be showing the leadership to try to get all of these Ministers around the table and get some agreement to have some common sense applied to this matter and that’s what it is it’s common sense to make sure that these irrigators get a fair go in times of flood, just as we try to work out special arrangements for them in times of drought.
LEON BYNER: Yeah. The other part to this is that because we are talking about a very serious food bowl supplier, we’re going to need more from this area because of the Queensland deficit created by the floods, and for that we need water which there’s plenty of.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That is a key point here, Leon. We keep banging on, from the Opposition’s perspective, about the fact that Australians are going to face higher food prices because of the Queensland floods. It’s going to put cost-of-living pressures on everybody. It’s one of the key reasons that we don’t think at the same time as those cost-of-living pressures we should be applying a new tax or levy onto Australians but equally the key way to reduce those pressures is to make sure that regions like the Riverland, who’ve got the capacity, can grow as much as they possible can.
LEON BYNER: What’s your mail on the three Independents in the Lower House as to whether they’ll pass this flood levy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, Leon, look, I would hope they’ll see some common sense to the arguments here that we should be able to find alternative savings in the budget. We’re working hard at present in the Opposition to look at some of those options and I think Tony [Abbott], as he’s flagged, will have a bit more to say on that in the next few days, but I would hope they’ll see there are alternatives to it and I would urge them to take heed of the fact that many Australians will be doing it tough, paying more and, indeed, of course, numerous people who were inadvertently affected by the floods will be ones also faced with paying this levy and that’s just not fair.
LEON BYNER: That’s Senator Simon Birmingham, talking about digital TV reception and also the 67 per cent allocations for growers.