Over the past few months I have been contacted by dozens of frustrated Canberrans. The reason for their frustration is that, despite being in the 21st century, despite living in Australia's national capital, they are unable to listen to radio online. 'Why?' I hear you ask. 'Streaming radio online is relatively commonplace in this day and age; surely it has made it to Canberra by now.'
Unfortunately, it is not a technological barrier preventing them from listening; it is an Abbott government barrier. The Minister for Communications, the member for Wentworth, has had on his desk for nearly seven months the recommendations of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee calling on him to resolve ambiguity that currently exists around whether online broadcasting is a simulcast or a separate broadcast. But in nearly seven months he has done nothing to resolve this ambiguity.
While this ambiguity exists, radio stations are paying double for their licensing fees, which has forced nearly 200 regional radio stations, including many right here in Canberra, to cease online broadcasting altogether. The Canberrans who have contacted me about this issue have said they listen to radio online on their phones as they exercise, while they are on the bus or while they are studying. They listen to radio online at their computer while they are at work, or they use online streaming to record their favourite programs and listen to them later on, or they tune in from overseas to keep in touch with what is happening at home. They have said, 'It seems ironic that I can listen to stations from all over the world, but just not my local DJs doing their thing.' They have also said: 'It seems unfair that radio stations are expected to pay additional payments for online broadcasting. These additional payments would make sense if radio stations paid additional payments for each car tuned in to their station.' They have also appealed to me: 'Could you please help the public regain the simple pleasure of being able to listen to radio stations online. I'm confident that you appreciate technology moves so quickly that people now use their phone to access radio online all the time.'
Listening to radio online is an everyday part of their lives that, thanks to the minister's inaction, has been indefinitely interrupted. The same has occurred to hundreds of thousands of Australians who live in remote and regional areas, because the stations that have been switched off are almost exclusively regional stations. Of course, the great irony is that it is regional Australians who benefit most from being able to use the internet to overcome the tyranny of distance. I guess it is now back to scratchy old wireless for them.
On behalf of these many frustrated Canberrans and the many more frustrated people throughout regional Australia, I urge the minister to implement the committee's recommendations as a matter of priority. In 2014, it is not too much to ask to be able to listen to radio online.