I wrote yesterday that Tony Abbott’s position on set-top boxes for pensioners was a tad confused – totally against it as wasteful, but not prepared to say he’ll vote against it.
Perhaps the answer lies in what was mentioned this morning on AM:
SABRA LANE: The Government says no complaints have been received in the year and a half that the scheme's been running.
It also says Liberal Senator, Nick Minchin wrote an article about it two years ago. Back then he urged the Government to give disadvantaged people assistance to upgrade their TVs for digital reception, as well as technical help to ensure the boxes were properly installed.
Now usually if you find a member of a party has previously supported a position that its party now opposes, journalists are usually all over it. I can’t see it on any media website, but courtesy of @Spacekidette on Twitter who found the afore mentioned media article in The Advertiser by Nick Minchin on the topic, it is here for you edification:
Monday, 19 January 2009
Source: Adelaide Advertiser
TELEVISION viewers must not be left in the dark.
If the Rudd Government botches the switch-over from analogue to digital television, viewers of rural and regional South Australia will be among the first in the nation to be left with blank screens.
Television plays an important part in the lives of most Australians, particularly during the holiday season and if the Government messes this up the outrage will be quite rightly palpable.
Imagine during an exciting moment in an Adelaide Test match, one-dayer or Twenty20, or during the Australian Open, the news or a movie, your picture drops out, not to return.
This type of scenario is a possibility if the Government turns off the analog signal before communities and, most importantly, viewers are ready for digital-only transmission.
Setting the timetable is the easy part; the hard part is providing communities and viewers with the levels of support they need to ensure potentially thousands of Australians are not disenfranchised by this decision.
Senator Conroy himself concedes that if he gets this wrong it will represent a "significant miscalculation and stuff up".
As its stands much needs to be done to ensure Australia is ready. Infrastructure, including more than 1000 transmission sites across the country, needs to be upgraded, many of which are owned by communities who are wondering just who will foot the bill.
Blackspots have to be identified and eliminated and the public needs to be properly informed about what they will need to do to ensure they can watch digital television.
Good points, Sen Nick. But now he really gets down to it:
One gentleman who recently contacted me outlined that despite his best endeavours and considerable expense, he is still unable to watch the ABC on free-to-air digital.
He spent $1000 on a digital set-top box and to upgrade his external aerial, yet is unable to get a picture despite living just 5km from a transmission site. At least now he has the fall-back of watching the ABC in analog, but he won't have that option after switch-over and I am certain countless others would be in a similar situation.
$1,000? Geez, that ain’t good, poor Gerry Harvey would be having heart palpitations reading that! So what to do? Tell us Nick:
The Government also needs to finalise a strategy to assist the economically disadvantaged to upgrade their analog equipment to digital. The elderly and others may also require technical assistance and support to ensure their digital equipment is properly installed and working.
After conducting his own test, Senator Conroy concluded that installing a set-top box "is not that easy". It has been suggested that free set-top boxes might be provided to pensioners and low income earners, with in-home installation assistance offered, as has occurred in the UK.
But Australia is a huge country and getting us ready for switch-over requires a lot more than just talk. It requires specific, practical action backed by appropriate levels of additional funding, which will have to be allocated in or before the next Budget if Senator Conroy's deadlines are to be met.
Spot on Senator! You do need to put in appropriate levels of funding. Say this from this year’s Budget papers:
The Government will provide $376.5 million over four years to facilitate switchover from analog to digital television in regional areas of New South Wales and Western Australia, remote areas in Central, Eastern and Western Australia, and in metropolitan areas. This is consistent with the Government's switchover timetable announced on 19 October 2008 and the Government's commitment to complete digital television switchover by the end of 2013.
This funding includes an assistance program to provide in‑home assistance for eligible households and a program to work with industry to drive digital take‑up by consumers and an information and communications campaign.
This measure includes funding of $2.4 million over four years to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to identify areas without access to digital television services and funding of $42.2 million over four years for the Department of Human Services to provide support for the delivery of assistance for eligible households.
In other words the Government is doing pretty everything Minchin had suggested – infrastructure upgrades, identifying of blackspots, and providing free set-top boxes to pensioners and low income earners – with in-home installation required.
Senator Minchin ends with this:
The Coalition fully recognises the undeniable benefits that digital television brings, including better picture and sound quality and extra free-to-air channels to watch, and that is why in government it laid a solid foundation for Australia's digital future.
We are also aware that if the Government fails to do the remaining hard work that is required to ensure Australia is switch-over ready, it will be viewers in areas like rural South Australia who will suffer as a result.
But there’s more. Nick Minchin in the Senate in 18 June 2009, spoke on the SOCIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (DIGITAL TELEVISION SWITCH-OVER) BILL 2009. This was a Bill which gave Parliament the Legislative authority “required to enable Centrelink to use protected information to identify and contact people qualified for the Digital Switch-over Household Assistance Program.”
In other words to allow Centrelink to contact them to tell them they are eligible for their free set-top boxes. Here’s Minchin on the Bill:
Senator MINCHIN (1:36 PM) —The coalition supports this amendment to the Social Security Act to assist with the transition to digital television for households eligible for assistance. The measure was announced as part of the recent budget in a package of measures targeted at regional areas in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. These of course will be the first regions where the analog signal will be switched off under the government switch-over timetable, commencing in Mildura in the first six months of next year.
The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Digital Television Switch-over) Bill 2009 amends the Social Security Act to allow for eligible households to be identified for the purposes of the proposed assistance measures. These households include those where one or more residents are in receipt of the maximum rate of the age pension, disability support pension, carer payment, DVA service pension or income support supplement. The assistance is described as ‘practical, in-home assistance’.
Though no detail is provided in the bill, the department confirmed during budget estimates that the assistance would include a high-definition digital set-top box, delivered and installed; any necessary cabling in the home; and some instruction on how to use the set-top box. During questioning at Senate estimates, the department advised that they are currently putting together tender documents for the rollout of the assistance in Mildura, the first place for the switch-off, where they estimate that there are approximately 3½ thousand eligible households. They anticipate one tenderer to source the boxes, contact eligible households and arrange installation of the equipment. We trust that the department will ensure that the successful tenderer or tenderers approach the task with what will need to be the appropriate sensitivities in relation to these social security recipients.
Discussion at estimates also—and properly—touched on how any potential to abuse this assistance package is minimised, and we encourage the government to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to protect the integrity of the package and ensure it successfully reaches its target audience. The coalition supports the government’s commitment to protecting personal information, particularly in relation to the arrangements with contractors delivering this assistance.
Minchin wasn’t the Liberal in favour of it back then. Here’s Jamie Briggs, Member for Mayo in South Australia
Mr BRIGGS (5:09 PM) —…. It is right that the government does help Australians, particularly those at the lower end of the income scale, to switch over to digital TV. I think that in the future we will see more assistance given to this area. In my previous role I had a little bit to do with the government’s views on the digital switch-over. I was always of the view that the government would be required at some point to help those at the lower end to switch over to ensure that we had a safe and successful switch-over to digital TV without too many missing out on the television programs which they love and have grown accustomed to. Taking away coverage of the Crows in Adelaide, as the Deputy Speaker knows, would be quite a step for government to undertake.
But we should not just help people on the lower scale of income; we must look at the areas which have traditionally found getting TV reception difficult. My electorate of Mayo has two such areas.
Geez Jamie – you want more assistance, keep that to yourself, son! He continues:
What is happening at the moment is that, because of the attention rightfully given to the switch-over, significant numbers of people are purchasing digital set-top boxes or digital ready televisions and are getting home and expecting to see the benefits of digital TV but of course they cannot because there is no digital signal. It is very important that the government—and I urge Senator Conroy and those on the other side to consider this—provide an assistance package for these sorts of regional areas, largely, who are facing these challenges. I think it is important, for the integrity of the switch-over, that we help in areas in which people find difficulty in coming up with the financial resources needed for the digital switch-over. It might not just be those on lower incomes who require assistance, but many people might require assistance to upgrade.
and he ends:
Television is now such an important part of all of our lives that to leave some Australians, particularly those in my electorate, without the benefit of digital TV, or indeed without the benefit of TV, would be a disaster. I urge the government to consider this in the next little while and not wait until they have seen the first results from Mildura and other parts of the country. They know there is a problem; they should act on the problem. In the scale of things, the cost is not significant, but for these local communities the cost is absolutely significant. The federal government can and should help out in these areas.
Ah well. That was then, this is now. Who needs consistency, especially when your leader wants to get out some sound bites about waste and mismanagement….