Bills Digest no. 141 2008–09
Social Security Legislation Amendment (Digital
Television Switch-over) Bill 2009
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as
introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest
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Contact officer & copyright details
introduced: 13 May
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Families, Housing, Community Services
and Indigenous Affairs
Day after Royal
relevant links to the Bill, Explanatory Memorandum and second
reading speech can be accessed via BillsNet, which is at http://www.aph.gov.au/bills/.
When Bills have been passed they can be found at ComLaw, which is
To amend the Social Security
(Administration) Act 1999 (the Act) to relieve some
confidentiality obligations on Centrelink in order to allow the
Commonwealth to identify people who are eligible to be given
technical assistance with the conversion to digital television.
The process for conversion to digital television broadcasting
began before the turn of the century. A history of the process is
recorded in the
Parliamentary Library s digest of an earlier Bill.
The general thrust of the process at least for non-remote areas
is that television broadcasters are required to broadcast in both
analogue and digital modes for the duration of a simulcast period.
For metropolitan areas, that was eight years commencing on
1 January 2001. For regional areas (not remote areas) the
simulcast period was to commence by 31 December 2004. The
simulcast period was to be subject to review and has in fact been
extended. The end of the simulcast period marks the end of analogue
transmission and the time for switch-over to digital transmission
The Government has published a timetable for digital switchover
(that is, the end of the simulcast period)
Assistance under this program will be given to the following areas
which lose analogue transmission in 2010 and 2011;
- first half 2010: Mildura/Sunraysia television licence
- second half 2010: Regional South Australia television licence
- first half 2011: Regional Victoria television licence areas;
- second half 2011: Regional Queensland television licence
While some people in these areas have acquired digital
television reception equipment, many have not. In order to avoid a
situation in which people have no television reception when the
analogue signal is turned off in their region, the Government is
funding the Digital Switch-over Household Assistance Program (the
Assistance Program). Under this program, eligible people will be
given help to become ready to receive digital television. The kind
of help to be given includes practical in-home assistance,
including the installation of a set-top box and remedial upgrades
to household cabling or antennas .
Assistance will be available where one or more residents are
receiving the maximum rate of age pension, disability support
pension, carer payment or a service pension or income support
supplement from the Department of Veteran s Affairs.
This Bill does not implement the Assistance Program. In fact,
the Bill has a relatively minor, albeit crucial, role in enabling
the Assistance Program. In order to identify the people who are
eligible for assistance, information held by Centrelink must be
used. The use of this information is tightly restricted by
legislation. Section 202 of the
Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, details the
limited ways in which the personal information of recipients may be
used and section 203 makes it a criminal offence to use that
information in an unauthorised way. Currently, the permitted uses
do not include a use associated with the Digital Switch-over
Household Assistance Program. This Bill makes that a permitted
At the time of writing, the Bill had not been referred to the
The Bill itself is not particularly controversial and has not
attracted any attention of this kind.
The Explanatory Memorandum records the following financial
2009 10 $11.3 million
2010 11 $31.1 million
2011 12 $29.8 million
Neither the Explanatory Memorandum nor the second reading speech
indicate the number of people who will be eligible for assistance
under this program.
This measure is generally uncontroversial. However, it will
involve the disclosure of information about certain payment
recipients to the Department of Communication, Digital Economy and
the Arts and to its contractors without the consent of the
recipients. With a little information about the eligibility for the
Assistance Program, those contractors will know that the people
they assist have few means, a fact that may disturb some
recipients, especially those who do not want assistance through the
program, either because they already have, or are intending to get,
digital television reception equipment or because they do not want
it. On the other hand, the Department undertakes to put appropriate
contractual controls on contractors in order to ensure that
personal information is not misused. In his second reading speech,
the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children s
Contractors will not receive specific
information about the customers age, payment type, disability or
The measure of need chosen is a narrow one (being in receipt of
the maximum rate of a certain payments made through Centrelink).
Whether it is better adapted to achieve its end than other measures
of need such as past income or eligibility for other Commonwealth
payments (these being the basis upon which the Government s two
stimulus payments in 2008 and 2009 were made) is a matter for
others to judge.
Item 1 amends subsection
202(1) to add the Digital Switch-over Household Assistance
Program to the list of purposes in relation to which protected
personal information may be obtained.
Item 2 amends subsection
202(2) to add the Digital Switch-over
Household Assistance Program to the list of purposes in relation to
which protected personal information may be recorded, disclosed
Item 3 inserts a definition of Digital
Switch-over Household Assistance Program into the definitions
section in Schedule 1 of the Act.
To turn off analogue transmission while a significant number of
people are without digital reception equipment would undoubtedly be
politically damaging and so government s have an incentive to
ensure that everyone is given a reasonable opportunity to convert.
The proposed Assistance Program is the Government s response to
that incentive. For those with few means, reception of digital
television may not be a priority. The Government is therefore
targeting those, who by one measure of need, are less likely to
give priority to the purchase of digital television equipment. The
measure chosen is a fairly narrow one and some may quibble about it
but the line has to be drawn somewhere.
This Bill does not implement the Assistance Program but merely
creates a mechanism for identifying those who will be eligible for
assistance. It does this by adding to the purposes for which
personal information held by Centrelink may be used. That is, it
enables that information to be used for the purposes of the
Members, Senators and Parliamentary staff can obtain further
information from the Parliamentary Library on (02) 6277
. R. Jolly and P.
Pyburne, Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television
Switch-over) Bill 2008, Bills digest, no. 35, 2008 09,
Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2008, viewed 25 May 2009,
26 May 2009
Bills Digest Service
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