After more than a month without SBS broadcast signals, 1,500 people in the NSW South Coast town of Bermagui have welcomed SBS and NITV programs back to their TV screens this week.
Federal Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain said she began receiving phone call and emails from her constituents when their broadcast signals “went dead, without any warning and little explanation”.
Ms McBain said an investigation revealed local commercial broadcasters had provided the transmitter maintenance free of charge to SBS and ABC at their own cost for 10 years and could no longer afford the cost of repairs.
Ms McBain told parliament on 29 October that sites at Batlow, Bungendore, Dalmeny, Merimbula and Tumbarumba were also at risk of losing SBS and ABC.
“In response to local concerns, I wrote to the Communications Minister, spoke about the issue in parliament and met with the maintenance company,” Ms McBain said.
“Since then, I am pleased that a short-term fix seems to have been struck and SBS and ABC have each agreed to pay $600,000 to secure transmission for the next year.
Ms McBain said her “big fear” now was 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,” she said.
“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?”
During last summer’s bushfires Ms McBain was Mayor of the hard-hit Bega Valley Shire and said her electorate of Eden-Monaro knows “all too well” the role the ABC plays during times of emergency.
“Ensuring local residents have access to essential communications services remains my priority, particularly as we enter this year’s bushfire season,” she said.
Ms McBain said as NAIDOC Week approaches, SBS provided a unique lifeline connecting regional communities to the whole world.
“NITV is a rich and important link to Aboriginal news, stories and culture,” she said.
“Regional Australians deserve a long-term fix to this transmission issue so that we aren’t left with blank screens in the future.”