The ASTRA/Deloitte Access Economics report:

Julie Flynn, CEO of Free TV Australia, writes: Re. “The real price of television protectionism” (Monday, item 15). Free TV welcomes Bernard Keane’s critical analysis of the ASTRA/Deloitte Access Economics report. Unfortunately, Mr Keane’s analysis is also flawed.

Mr Keane correctly notes that the inclusion of digital switchover funding as a benefit for free to air broadcasters is incorrect – the principal beneficiaries are viewers. The ASTRA/Deloitte report also ignores the significant expenditure the networks have made to implement this change. The Digital Dividend directly benefits Australians as taxpayers and consumers by freeing up spectrum that will be sold to deliver improved mobile broadband services. Handing back this spectrum has come at significant costs to broadcasters, and the services using this new spectrum will be competing with Free TV as content providers.

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Mr Keane correctly notes that even the ASTRA/Deloitte analysis claims about the ongoing value of TV spectrum (at $235 million) is very similar to the $231 million paid each year in licence fees. However, both ASTRA/Deloitte and Mr Keane fail to acknowledge that unlike mobile spectrum, TV spectrum comes with an extensive array of obligations that are expensive to implement. None of Free TV’s competitors, including Pay TV, have such obligations.

Regrettably, Mr Keane’s article does miss some of the key problems with the ASTRA report. For example, the anti-siphoning analysis has not been updated for announced changes that benefit pay TV. Mr Keane disregards the public benefit that comes from having major sporting events free for all Australians to watch, effectively arguing they should have to pay to watch the football finals, the Olympics and the Melbourne Cup.

Mr Keane argues against Government’s decision not to grant a fourth TV licence, which would reduce the size of the Digital Dividend. He then fails to note that the Government is currently investing more than $35 billion in the NBN which the Minister himself has said will deliver “hundreds and hundreds” of TV channels.

He also ignores the fact that though popular, Australian content is considerably more expensive to make than overseas content — commercial broadcasters spent $1.23billion on Australian content in 2010. The assertion that broadcasters’ additional spectrum allocations was “one of the greatest public policy rorts in Australian history”, is based on Mr Keane’s personal view that Australians do not wish to watch HD TV. Ratings suggest they do. And in any event the digital spectrum allocation was based on the fact that broadcasters would shoulder the cost of converting to digital transmission — so far they have spent over $2billion in this process.

Australian viewers receive some of the best commercial free-to-air television in the world at no cost. Neither the ASTRA report or Mr Keane’s article acknowledge the valuable contributions that commercial free-to-air television broadcasters make to the community and the Australian economy in providing their services.

Gerry Harvey:

Peter Sheppard writes: Re. “Gatekeeper Gerry: nothing wrong with retailing better consumers won’t fix” (yesterday, item 9). Gerry Harvey needs to take a Bex and have a good lie down.

Mathematics has a function to measure the path of just about everything. It is called the Sigmoid Curve and it is about something that starts small, accelerates, and approaches after time a climax. The secret in the retail business, and everything else, is to reinvent the model before it goes downhill by starting a brand new curve with a new strategy. Gerry has failed to understand this principle and should have started the reinvention some years back.

Nobody can graze in a clover paddock forever and ever, and when things get tough the only remedy is to give yourself a good talking to in the shaving mirror, not blaming everyone else as Gerry loves to do, although entertaining as it often is. Gerry accelerated his curve at breakneck speed so the top of the curve came very early. I looked at a Panasonic TV at Costco recently and did a price check at Harvey Norman on my iPhone and found theirs was $125 dearer.

Did Gerry think his clover patch wasn’t going to be shared one day by internet operators and very serious and much stronger bricks-and-mortar operators, and let me say we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg with real competition about to swoop over the rise? Welcome to the internationalism of retail. I believe bricks-and-mortar retailers will prevail, but we will need a 50% cull of doors first.

We are, in Australia, clearly over-shopped by world standards, and geographical convenience offered to customers by opening doors everywhere indicates a lacking of a real offer in the first place — like outstanding service for example.

As a 50-year veteran retailer I have see many businesses evaporate due to the downhill curve of the Sigmoid Curve.

Same s-x marriage:

John Richardson writes: Re. “Andrew Barr: I can’t marry the person I love — that needs to change” (yesterday, item 12). In his call to arms on the same s-x marriage debate, the Deputy Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Andrew Barr, claims that his position is about “standing up for Labor principles”.

While I have sympathy for Andrew’s plight and endorse his determination to amend his party’s policy on the issue and the federal Marriage Act, I would argue that same-s-x couples are not the only people being discriminated against as a result of Julia Gillard’s decision to allow the matter to be determined by a conscience vote of delegates at this weekend’s National Conference.

Dr Ryan Walter, a lecturer in politics at the School of Politics & International Relations at the Australian National University, asserts that the core responsibility of all politicians is to represent their constituents and to serve the public interest, which they cannot do by participating in a conscience vote. To quote Dr Walter:

“We can bolster this aspect of our political system by coming to see that using a conscience vote to avoid serving a secular public interest is not so different from awarding a public contract to someone because they are a family member. We expect public officers to subject their private attachments to the discipline of the office they hold, by treating the family member as just another prospective employee, and thus to award the contract based on merit.

The merit of same s-x-marriage legislation must be weighed according to some mix of public policy criteria, notions of discrimination, and popular support. That the appropriate mix will differ between politicians and be fiercely debated is simply the outcome proper to liberal democracy.

But to judge legislation according to the requirements of religious belief is to avoid the discipline of public life, and we should loudly and clearly call this abuse of office.”

We are all victims of the Prime Minister not standing up for principles.


Kirsten Blair writes: Re. “Would uranium sales to India breach a key Labor treaty?” (yesterday, item 11). Selling uranium to India or any other country that has clearly stated an intention to develop nuclear weapons is irresponsible, short-sighted and illegal.

I’ll be crossing my fingers this weekend and hoping the majority of ALP delegates see sense and vote no to this frightening proposal at their national conference.

The alternative is far too horrifying to contemplate.

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Peter Fray
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