Following a coordinated campaign to deliver essential communications services in our community, Bermagui locals have welcomed SBS and NITV programs back to their TV screens.
More than a month ago the SBS broadcast signals in the town went dead, prompting calls and emails to my office.
More than fifteen hundred people lost access to SBS and NITV without any warning and little explanation.
Upon investigation, it was discovered that the company maintaining the transmitter simply could not afford to keep up with the cost of repairs. The maintenance service had been provided by local commercial broadcasters at their own cost – free of charge to SBS and ABC for over 10 years.
Labor also discovered that the shutdown of the Bermagui site was just the beginning - sites at Batlow, Bungendore, Dalmeny, Merimbula and Tumbarumba were also a risk.
In response to local concerns, I wrote to the Communications Minister, spoke about the issue in parliament and met with the maintenance company.
Since then, I am pleased that a short-term fix seems to have been struck: SBS and ABC have each agreed to pay $600,000 to secure transmission for the next year.
My big fear now is the impact this might have on SBS and ABC. Since 2013, the Liberals and Nationals have cut funding to the ABC by approximately $100 million each year. Both broadcasters will now need to find $600,000 to maintain these sites.
The question remains: how many programs, services or jobs will ABC and SBS need to cut to find this extra money to cover transmission costs?
Eden-Monaro knows all too well the role the ABC plays during times of emergency. SBS provides a unique lifeline connecting regional communities to the whole world, while NITV is a rich and important link to Aboriginal news, stories and culture – especially as NAIDOC Week approaches.
Ensuring local residents have access to essential communications services remains my priority, particularly as we enter this year’s bushfire season.
Regional Australians deserve a long-term fix to this transmission issue so that we aren’t left with blank screens in the future.
Artwork: The Land