Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nick Minchin: Set-top box warrior

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:

Blankety blanks?

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.

Hmmm. Sounds terrible doesn't it? What does Senator Minchin suggest the government do?image

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.

Well said.

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….


Matt said...

Totally misses the point.

It is not the program by itself but nobody trusts this govt to spend the money wisely.

Greg Jericho said...

Problem is Matt you miss the point - it has been rolled out already in Mildura. And rolled out quite successfully.

Neither the media nor the Libs were complaining about it until the Budget announcement - suddenly there's a lot of revisionist views happening.

theJasenator said...

This is an article from over 2 years ago. Talk about scrapping the barrel Grog. Over the last two years the Liberal party has had a more consistent policy regarding set top boxes than Labor has had on border protection, the NBN or a carbon tax. Grog if your main gripe is consistency than there are much bigger issues to discuss than set top boxes. The price of set top boxes and digital technology has reduced significantly over the last two years, yet the government is still paying (what many would see as) an exuberant price for them.

Unknown said...

The only thing the voters "know", the only thing that matters, is that Labor are the masters of waste and mismanagement.

Abbott has revolutionised Australian national politics. Far from spin being the problem, spin was actually the answer.

The terrible beauty of Abbott's strategy is that his pure spin, his complete populism, comes disguised as the slayer of Government spin.

"Great big new tax", "waste and mismanagemnt", "school-hall ripoff" are understandable and therefore not spin. Complex policy prescriptions are misunderstood and therefore are perceived as so much spin.

The Jasenator said...

The lack of consistency in the Coalition is a little amazing to be honest. The fact they get away with it so often is appalling.

Gordicans said...

Why not Matt? Not everyone is sucked in by the Murdoch/Abbott propoganda. Do you seriously think labor is any worse than the Coalition in the spending money wisely department? Remember John Howard throwing our money around in marginal seats like he was printing it in marginal seats before his last election? Bribing the electorate was Howard's political stock in trade and why we are stuck with middle class welfare. Or what about the lazy $130million of ours he spent advertizing the wonderful delights of Workchoices? Or the $1.3 billion he spent on the Seasprite helicopters that never worked (and he ignored all advice and refused to cancel the contract because of an upcoming election)? How much of our money did he spend invading Iraq and Afghanistan so he call call George W my mate and go for a fly on Airforce 1?

Michael B said...

@theJasenator: Is the government is paying an "exuberant" price for set top boxes? Sourcing, delivering, installing, testing and explaining is exactly the kind of thing that Minchin was talking about. If you are delivering to Cobar or Burra or Meekatharra, you can bet your bottom dollar that it isnt going to be for Gerry Harvey's off the shelf price. The fact that Minchin wrote this two years ago is exactly the point. He advocated it. The government is doing it. Problem is, the media has become so lazy they are no longer interested in doing any investigation. If Abbott says woof, the media does the howling for him. Pathetic journalism has become our trademark in Australia.

theJasenator said...

@Michael B the price of set top boxes and other electronic materials have actually decreased. The majority of pensioners do not live in the Cobar or Burra or Meekatharra, the vast majority of them like most Australians live in our major cities, pensioners aren't unique. They don't go out to the country to graze. And for most of those living in the city or country areas they have family or friends who can install and instruct how to use them. (I've forgotten how many times I've instructed by grandmother how to use her DVD player, surely Labor isn't going to be creating a set top box hotline to assist) The fact that Minchin wrote this over two years ago highlights how old and out of date this idea is. Technology has changed, there has since been and continues to be long running advertising campaigns, prices have changed. The media reports what sells and what garners ratings, the vast majority of the Australian people do not care what a retiring Liberal Senator said two years ago about a policy he wasn't even the shadow spokesperson for, its hardly newsworthy.

Gordicans said...

Jensenator, I don't know what you are going on about. You say it is not newsworthy but it seems to be newsworthy enough to make the murdoch press and the shock jocks froth at the mouth, and the coalition to go banannas about it.

Your grandmother may be lucky enough to have a grandson to help her with technology, but not every pensioner in the community is so fortunate. Believe it or not there are a lot of pensioners and disabled people in our society who are very isolated and frail who would be cut off from the outside world to a great extent without government assistance in this area. This is why the coalition voted for this assistance 18 months ago. That the opposition is able to get away with crap like this is a perfect illustration of the power of the murdoch press and the total lack of any balance or substance in our political reporting.

Doug said...

Looks like the trolls have finally come over the hill and are at Grog's Gates.

So, just to confirm if you would please Jasonator: It's controversial that the Govt is doing it but it wasn't controversial when the Opposition advocated it.

Sounds to me like the Opposition is flip-flopping.

theJasenator said...

@Gordican I am glad to see that regardless of your apparent disdain for the "murdoch press" you are still in some way supporting it by reading it (how else would you know what they are frothing about).

If the aim is to aid pensioners who are without support from family or friends than they should make the policy opt in. Allowing those who need the assistance access to it, instead of wasting money on insulation costs when they are not needed. I don't disagree that there are some frail people who feel isolated but isn't this just a poor reflection on the government that they need have done nothing to reduce this. Their solution seems to be to send a set top box installer to keep them company for 15 minutes, and then let gardening Australia takeover keeping company instead of solving the actual problems for the frail and disabled.

People have options in there choosing media. People can either read a news limited paper, a fairfax paper or the multitude of other papers, or no paper at all. No one has a monopoly on the media, your rage and frustration should not be focused at Murdoch but rather at other news organisations who are failing to compete. If you want people to read less Murdoch press, blame its competitors for not providing a service more people want or can approach.

theJasenator said...

@Doug Technically controversy is 'a dispute or contention' (Macquarie dictionary) therefore if something has wider support it is generally less controversial. Since the opposition has now (and rightly so) raised concerns with it, there is now now greater contention and hence it is more controversial. But that's just the dictionary speaking, your welcome to quibble with it.

Casablanca said...

@ May 17, 2011 11:01 pm the Jasenator said

"the vast majority ....do not care what a retiring Liberal Senator said two years ago about a policy he wasn't even the shadow spokesperson for, its hardly newsworthy."

This statement is a perfect illustration of what Grog is arguing about ie the mis-representation or just plain laziness about checking the facts.

Sen Minchin at the time was indeed the Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. He held the position from 22-09-08 to 08-12-09. His Advertiser article was published on 19 January 2009 ie just about smack bang in the middle of his term as Shadow when his main duty would have been to develop and articulate the Opposition's policy in this area.

Minchin's Advertiser article is still posted on his website:

theJasenator said...

@Casablanca (love the name, one of my favourite films) The Coalition was playing musical chairs with shadow ministries around that time, It seems I have forgotten Minchin's short stint as Minister for Communications etc etc. It is still true that a two year old article in the Advertiser is hardly relevant today. The article has spent more time collecting cob webs than Minchin actually spent in the role. Talking about this article is barrel scrapping. And if Labor wants to get into any potential debate about supposed 'flip flopping' than I am sure the Coalition would welcome it, allows them to talk about Labor's flippy floppy way with the Carbon Tax and ETS.

Gordicans said...

@ Terminator, my disdain for the murdoch press isn't apparant, and I don't read it.

"If the aim is to aid pensioners who are without support from family or friends than they should make the policy opt in." You haven't read the policy. It is opt in.

"...but isn't this just a poor reflection on the government that they need have done nothing to reduce this." Like what?

"People have options in there choosing media. People can either read a news limited paper, a fairfax paper or the multitude of other papers, or no paper at all." Murdoch publishes 70% of the newspapers in this country and have a monopoly in the tabloids and set the agenda. Your let the market decide argument is infantile.

theJasenator said...

@Gordicans Murdoch doesn't have a monopoly in tabloid journalism, the market for tabloid journalism lacks the barriers to entry that a monopoly requires to exist. You should read about monopolies its rather interesting. The fact that 70% of newspapers are published by Murdoch shows that he has been successful and that more Australian's prefer his papers to others. However if another news provider offered a more competitive service that people enjoyed more Murdoch's market share would naturally fall.

Anonymous said...

Jasenator, the policy is opt in. You really should do a little research before you start fulminating.

Michael B said...

@Jasenator: In this, Minchin was ahead of his time! Don't bag him out now that he is retiring. The technology has not changed a jot since then (unless you are advocating that they should all be getting 3D TVs). No one is suggesting that family members shouldn't help an aging relative get one and sort it out themselves. That is just what we do, isn't it? But the number of people who don't have that support is large - family members living interstate etc. Whatever cost a contractor comes up with, has to cover all areas, not just Darlinghurst, Brunswick or Norwood. But I do agree that an article by a whinging Senator in the Murdoch press is generally not something we have to take much notice of.

Greg Jericho said...

Yep the scheme is opt-in. You also have to be eligible - here are the criteria:
You or your partner receives the maximum rate of one of the following payments:
- Age Pension
- Disability Support Pension
- Carer Payment
- Department of Veterans’ Affairs Service Pension, or
- Department of Veterans’ Affairs Income Support Supplement.
You own a functioning TV.
You do not currently have access to digital TV on any of the TVs that you own. (If you can watch ABC 2 or SBS TWO, then you probably do have access to digital TV).
You live in a switchover area that is currently switching to digital TV.
You can read more here link

denise said...

Apparently 38000 pensioners have taken up the offer. Wouldn't it be nice to see a positive article by a journalist rather than constant coalition negativity.

Matt said...

@Gordicans Yes I do think Labor are worse at managing money than the Coalition. Over last 20 years Labor has racked up over $200 billion of debt in 9 budgets. The Coalition saved $97 billion in 10 budgets.

The Coalition is not perfect but the record is clear.

DaveB said...

Remember the BER had a 97% success rate and the pink batts program installed insulation into over a million homes with no corresponding increase in fire risk and look how those were reported.

Is it any wonder that another already successful program is being reported as wasteful and mismanaged before the nationwide rollout has even begun?

Caesar Wong said...

Matt said... @ May 17, 2011 9:37 PM
"It is not the program by itself but nobody trusts this govt to spend the money wisely."

That may well be so, but the Coalition have done absolutely nothing - NOTHING - to prove that they are the more fiscally responsible party.

Furthermore, the point of Greg's article, which isn't "missing" anything, is to demonstrate two things:

(a) the number of Coalition party members who have personal beliefs that contradict current party policy. We now have Minchin on Set top boxes to add on top of Barnaby "millions" Joyce on sovereign debt, and Turnbull on ETS and NBN.

(b) the obvious bias in media reporting given the hypocritical stance adopted after the budget, when the Libs had already suggested precisely and exactly the same thing. It's almost as if they're willing to turn on their own policy if taken onboard by Labor. If they agree with the policy except for the possibility of poor implementation by Labor, how about expending their not inconsiderable energies towards keeping them accountable, instead of trying to get it shut down as if the government was doing the wrong thing? This is exactly the reason why Abbott and co. are seen as negative.

Caesar Wong said...

Sorry, let me clarify my statement above. The CURRENT Coalition party has done nothing to prove their fiscal responsibility. In their entire time in opposition they've done nothing but dog the Government on every little minor detail, without putting forward anything that holds up to public scrutiny. It's good to be able to hide behind opposition lines, isn't it?

Anonymous said...


Don't mean to quibble, but
please use your Macquarie dictionary to look up scrapping and scraping.


Hermes said...


"And for most of those living in the city or country areas they have family or friends who can install and instruct how to use them. (I've forgotten how many times I've instructed by grandmother how to use her DVD player, surely Labor isn't going to be creating a set top box hotline to assist"

Ignoring the fact that you seem to think that all pensioners have the support that your grandmother seems to have, it is worth noting that this policy not only requires the installer to explain and help the recipient understand the set top box, it does include a hotline for on going assistanc -1800 20 10 13

Ben said...

Anybody who thinks that the coalition, should they be in power, would do any differently are deluding themselves. Set top boxes to the elderly, infirm, and poor, was always going to happen as the analog signal is switched off, Labor or Liberal in government. The opposition is living up to its name, but in doing so is showing they're even better at spin than the government. The media, as always, is more than happy to play along with keeping the general population clueless.

@Matt: hmm, there was this little thing, I don't know if you heard about it at all, called the Global Financial Crisis, which has sent countries bankrupt and is still affecting us. It's easy to save money during the good times, but it has to be spent during the bad, and now our economy is one of the strongest in the world. Oh yes, Labor is terrible - (relatively) low interest rates, increasing employment, and a high dollar. Yup, atrocious.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. At some point even the Australian people will wake up to Abbott and his negativity. As you say greg where is this info in the mainstream media.

Senexx said...

Thanks Grog for exposing what needed exposing. Hopefully now someone in the media will pick up on it. They've done it from your blog before.

For those saying that it misses the point, needs to read some of the recent articles that expose the Liberals as the big spending government and Labor as the small spending government.

My only concern with the STB switchover isn't a big one, its just whether the pensioners that "order" one have a tv with the three plugs red/white/yellow that are required as some older tvs only have two of the above and some have none.

Anonymous said...

This programme has been in operation 18 months. There does not appear to be any problems.

Mr. Conroy has asked those who say they can do it cheaper to tender to the government.

Surely they has the chance to tender 2 years ago.

Can someone tell me where I can find a flat screen for under $300. I have been looking and found them to be much dearer.

I would like to say anything under 32 inch is to small for me, and I would imagine most my age. It would be useless as I Would not able to see the picture.

I have a 22 inch monitor on my computer which I watch TV and is suitable but only as long as I sit near the screen. I need something I can watch from a comfortable seat. (32inch as a minim) $400 is the cheapest I have found from a shop and brand I find dubious.

Anonymous said...

I am very happy with my LED 22inch/55cm GVA (reportedly a re-badged Samsung) from The Good Guys. I paid $349.00 for it in about Oct 2010. Also try Kogan online - http://www.kogan.com.au

sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Cantbeeffed said...

@Matt "I do think Labor are worse at managing money than the Coalition. Over last 20 years Labor has racked up over $200 billion of debt in 9 budgets. The Coalition saved $97 billion in 10 budgets."

So if I spend $20 on fresh veggies and you spend $10 on pokies, you're a better economic manager because you spent less? Simply citing raw figures without any contextual analysis gets you nowhere.

A Labor government floated the Australian dollar. An Australian government did much to deregulate the Australian economy. Howard introduced the GST. However he also cut income taxes (causing a structural loss of government income) without making structural cuts to spending. Indeed he increased the overall spend on non-means tested welfare, rebates and hand-outs. So spending less if you spend it on the wrong things isn't so great.

Accordingly, I call bullshit on the enduring meme that the Liberals are good economic managers and that Labor are bad. They are both political parties who twist the system for the marginal benefits that will help to keep themselves in power.

If either party had the brains and the fortitude, they would equalise company and individual taxation rates to stop the ridiculous arbitrage that happens in legal structures to minimise tax(putting a massive impost on business), reform negative gearing and CGT concessions. Not to mention having the guts to deal with the fact that galloping mining growth is not good for the economy, society or the environment and needs to be throttled.

Do you seriously expect me to believe that Joe Hockey is remotely capable of being anywhere near as good as Costello or Keating as treasurer?? Swan may be a lightweight, but ironically Joe is lighter.

Cantbeeffed said...

Correction: "An Australian government did much to deregulate the Australian economy" - should read "A Labor government did much to deregulate the Australian economy".