Senate rejects bill to restore Australia’s shortwave services

(Source: Radio Info)

Bill to restore shortwave rejected by Senate Committee

A Senate Committee inquiring into the possibility of restoring ABC Shortwave services has rejected proposed legislation to restore the international radio service.

Several members of the committee presented dissenting reports.

The ABC ended its shortwave transmission service in the Northern Territory and to international audiences from 31 January 2017, in line with the national broadcaster’s commitment to dispense with outdated technology and to expand its digital content offerings.

On 16 February 2017, the Senate referred the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Restoring Shortwave Radio) Bill 2017 to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report in May but an extension of time to report was granted, until yesterday, 9 August.

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UPDATE: Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who also shares an informative link to the Parliament of Australia’s website.

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18 thoughts on “Senate rejects bill to restore Australia’s shortwave services

  1. Tim

    ABC provided no real data about shortwave listenership either…their vague assertion of ‘only 10 or so’ phone calls from target regions says volumes about their own aggressive apathy towards their non-white, non-wealthy audiences. Shortwave listeners in remote areas of the Pacific, many of which have little or no access to phone or internet, provided a convenient self-fulfilling prophecy: SW was such an easy target, and ABC knew isolated constituents would lack the wherewithal to complain, and so could be easily written off as non-existent. It’s just an insult to any reasonably intelligent person to hear their excuses and rhetoric. ABC clearly pledges allegiance to the global kleptocracy…where there’s no room for educated guesses, good will, or advocacy for the underprivileged. This is one *Hell* of a world we’re building for ourselves.

    1. Keith Perron

      The did provide that information directly to the committee. If you watch the hearing they mention all data on the SW reach was handed over. This also included the latest data from the Association of International Broadcasting.

  2. Eric J. Smith


    Great response and I appreciate your perspective. On the topic of China, I was speaking theoretically. I agree that users can find workarounds to any governmental attempt to block internet access. However, will that always be the case? What happens if access to Radio Free Asia becomes criminalized? Ross’s point about the US military establishing HF communications in Guam is significant.

    Obviously times have changed and technology has changed. The example you use for television is apropos. However, given the capability of a sophisticated network of hackers to shut down the system, sole reliance on the internet as a means of transmission would seem to be short-sighted, particularly when the cost of maintaining a shortwave service is not cost-prohibitive.

    As for your other point, of course I listened to Radio Australia for content. I’ll also concede that I do listen via internet, particularly through my phone, but it’s a different experience. The news reports, music, sports, and cultural program are all part of the experience.

    Regarding listener reaction, my understanding was that there was a strong reaction to the decision to terminate shortwave service but that RA deemed reactions from listeners outside the target area to irrelevant. There must have been a significant groundswell to prompt Senator Xenaphon to take the steps he did.

    I guess for me as someone who has listened to shortwave since I was a kid and who has invested significant time and money into the medium over the years, there was something about the experience of tuning in to the broadcast on shortwave that enhanced the experience for me. If you were never into the hobby to that extent you wouldn’t get it.

    I get it. It’s 1987 anymore. However, shortwave still have value in my humble opinion.

    1. Keith Perron

      Stations like Radio Free Asia are already seen as illegal. If you post anything from RFA and other on the Chinese version of twitter/facebook like Weibo. The PSB will pay a visit to your home. China is no longer a target for Radio Australia. If memory serves me correct it was in 2010/11 when Radio Australia changed it’s target. IT use to be Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Pacific. This was changed to the Pacific only.

      The following languages were cut: Mandarin, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Khmer, Burmese and Tok Pisin.

      The languages kept were: English, French, Burmese, Khmer, Tok Pisin and only produced programs for re-broadcast on local stations.

      Part of the restructuring of Radio Australia was to stop duplication of services with the ABC in terms of news and current affairs. Programs like AM, PM, The World Today and a number of other programs were doing the same stories as those on Radio Australia’s Connect Asia for example. Pacific Beat which is the only in-house production from Radio Australia also airs on domestic ABC.

      As for Nick Xenaphon his reasons could be seen within the next 13 months. Within political circles in Canberra many are suspecting he will try to move into national politics with an eye on running for prime minister.

      What is interesting about the hearing was those who supported restoring the shortwave services of the ABC. For the most part only gave anecdotes. They couldn’t provide any real numbers of research. The ABC even said the DXERS and Hams that tune in are not Radio Australia’s target audience and unless they lived in Fiji, PNG and soon. Their emails are unimportant. If the ABC/Radio Australia had received at least 100 or 200 responses from the Pacific, it would be a very different story. But they got some 10 or so.

      They estimated that from a dismal response from listeners in the target the audience was fewer than 100 listeners a week on shortwave. What I found very funny was when one of the supporters of restoring the shortwave service said at the hearing that in the Highlands of Fiji there is no mobile service. Huge blunder. He was going from what he found there in 2013. But that had since changed. Most of the data that was from the restore side was out of date and old.

      Like the guy who said he shipped some 500 radios to Solomon Islands. Yes he did. But that was back in 2009. He also claimed that he sells at least 100 Tecsun shortwave radios a month. Well a quick call to Tecsun confirmed they supply him with less than 30 a year. So how did he come up with at least 100 a month?

      1. RonF

        “Programs like AM, PM, The World Today and a number of other programs were doing the same stories as those on Radio Australia’s Connect Asia for example.”

        Or, more correctly, most of RA’s Connect Asia stories were rebroadcasts of segments previously aired on the ABC’s domestic MW/FM networks – mostly from ABC RN’s “AM”, “PM”, & “The World Today” programmes.

        “As for Nick Xenaphon his reasons could be seen within the next 13 months. Within political circles in Canberra many are suspecting he will try to move into national politics with an eye on running for prime minister.”

        Ha, ha, ha, good one, Keith! I’d say “pull the other one”, but the bells fell off long ago…

        No, seriously, it shows a woeful misunderstanding of Australian politics. Nick Xenophon doesn’t have to “try to move into national politics”; he’s already been there for 10 years as a Senator (first as an Independent, then representing his eponymous party) for South Australia. Nobody seriously believes or expects that he has “an eye on running for prime minister”; he heads a minor party (NXT) with just 3 federal senators (out of 76), 1 federal MHR (out of 150), & 1 state MLC (out of 22).

        At best, the NXT *might barely possibly* find itself in a position to support one of the major parties in a minority government. But there’s absolutely no way in Hades that Nick Xenophon has any chance of becoming Prime Minister, and he doesn’t seem to be suffering from the delusion that he could.

        And pontificating/speculating about details based on such obvious misunderstandings as the above examples really doesn’t help your basic argument – which I happen to agree with – at all.

        1. Keith Perron

          Stories that were used on Connect Asia were redone for Radio Australia. Connect Asia has it’s own stringers. One of the big issues that use to come up with with the ABC is why is Radio Australia paying someone for a story that was already on AM, PM and so on. It’s like when Radio Australia use to do it’s own newscasts. Nearly 90% of the stories were exactly the same at the one from ABC RN. It’s just like what use to happen nearly all the between CBC Radio News and RCI. A good example was when Patrick Brown the CBC correspondent in Beijing. He would file a story for CBC Radio and then RCI would contact a stringer like May Kay Magson to do exactly the same story.

          I remember when I was in the English Asia section of RCI. I never understood why when we reported on a story from Delhi we would contact the Radio Australia correspondent Edmond Roy and pay him, when CBC Radio had someone already there. It made no sense.

          Nick Xenophon, while yes is already in national politics. At the parliament press gallery the word is among his team is that it is one of his goals. True he doesn’t stand a change. but his move for the bill he wanted to pass was nothing more than political.

          1. RonF

            So … not much to contradict what I said, except about how Radio Australia had to ‘pay’ for stories from elsewhere the rest of the ABC (yeah; it’s called ‘transfer pricing’); stating that Connect Asia had (past tense; it’s been gone for years now) it’s own stringers (well, yeah – not _all_ Connect Asia ‘s content was replays of domestic radio content – but see a couple of points down); a couple of unrelated anecdotes about CBC & CRI; a story about how CRI used a “Radio Australia” (you sure about that? Not ABC?…) ‘stringer’*; and recounting one of the more unbelievable pieces of press gallery humour as if it’s fact?

            You’ll pardon me if I find your outline of the whole situation unconvincing…

            (* Huh? How long ago was that? Nothing even remotely recent, that’s for sure – Edmond Roy has been an ABC *employee* for 30 years, and has been based in Australia for at least the last 15 or 20. He’s been EP of ‘PM’ for the last few years…)

  3. Ross

    Very disappointing decision that may come back to haunt this country.
    Great to listen to R’ Australia online ….. if you have a reliable internet connection!
    Many in the farther reaches of this country don’t and if mobile forget it.
    I regularly listened to R’Australia in my truck in Western QLD during the day on my SW equipped Pioneer dash mounted radio and it was 1 of 3 signals available , virtually no decent MW signals until nightfall and FM what’s that out here?
    Given the recent and increasing spate of cyber hacking and Nth Korea’s belligerent threats its interesting to see that the US military are establishing HF comms in Guam for an alternative comms ability to their stateside bases and Brass.
    I suspect there is a very good reason for this!
    The cost of the ABC’s R’ Australia service was peanuts compared with the amounts being spent grossly in other areas including the new “postal plebecite” that should be decided within the chamber by our reps!
    Just my take Ross

    1. RonF

      Essentially, yes – the Bill will either go to the Senate to be voted on, or be left sitting to expire. Since the committee’s recommendation is to not pass it, either way it’s almost certain to fail.

      The committee … well, the Aus Senate is still actually pretty independent, that particular committee is pretty even (3 Lib & Nat members on the government side, 3 ALP & Green on the opposition side & likely supporters of the bill, & 1 each Lib [Gov’t] & NXP [Independent, & the one who introduced the bill] as additional participants), and the members on the government’s side were some of the harshest critics of the ABC’s decision during the estimates hearings. Worth noting the dissenting comments of Senator McKenzie – a member of the Lib party – at the end of the report.

      So no, not stacked against it – but not surprising either. The outcome was pretty much decided the moment the ABC’s contract with BA ran out…

      1. Rob Wagner

        Thanks to both Richard (for providing the latest APH link above) and Ron for your comments. A minor point, Ron, but Sen. Bridget McKenzie is actually a member of the National Party, not the Libs…..Yes, they are in a coalition, but Bridget has that unique Nat perspective and understanding of “life on the land”.

        I thought her “additional comments” were particularly insightful. She also highlighted the ABC’s rather opaque and contradictory statements throughout this whole enquiry. ABC has been less than honest about its audiences. It is more interested in getting rid of something it is no longer interested in delivering, regardless of audience needs!

        This is also reflected in other domestic programming decisions made recently by ABC execs and their leader Guthrie. There have been some shockers recently, and there’s more to come. ABC is trying to make the best of it with greatly reduced funding. But it has proved time and again that it just doesn’t have the TOTAL Australian audience in mind when making changes to policy and programming. The view through the lens of the Corporation’s Sydney headquarters is quite distorted.

        I’ll step off my soapbox now……. 😉

        1. RonF

          Yes, my apologies to all – I edited & re-edited a couple of times before posting to avoid confusing US folks with the word “Liberal” (because our Liberal Party is anything but!), and then got mixed up…

          And yes, the view out the ABC’s window very much sees Sydney (and to a lesser extent, Melbourne) as the totality of Australia. Which goes a long way to explaining their peculiar “let them eat podcasts” attitude to remote listeners…

  4. Eric J. Smith

    It’s a sad development but the ruling doesn’t surprise me. As Keith indicated, shortwave is viewed as an ancient and thus not impractical technology at least for traditional broadcast media.

    The fact that one well-placed cyber attack can bring down an entire broadcast network seems to have been lost on the money crunchers. The fact that governments can screen access to certain ISPs to deny citizens access to unpopular media also seems to be lost. Not everyone buys into the ‘net neutrality’ concept. China controls regional ISPs and has laws in places to filter ‘illegal’ content. The FCC has been flirting with similar controls in the United States.

    It amazes me that wealthy countries like the U.K., Australia, and the United States cannot seem to scrape together the cash to maintain a shortwave presence if only to guarantee the free flow of information.

    On a purely selfish level, it’s a shame because I have not listened to Radio Australia since they dropped their shortwave service. For me, I guess it’s the fact that tuning in on 9580 Khz was a daily part of my morning routine going back to when I was a kid in school. It wasn’t just about the information being conveyed but the experience of listening on shortwave. It’s just not the same for me over the internet, as silly as that may seem.

    1. Eric J. Smith

      Sorry about the typo. No editing feature, unfortunately. I meant to “impractical” rather than “not impractical.”

    2. Keith Perron

      What you said about China is not exactly true. While that have made VPNs illegal it’s not working. I’m in China a few days each month. The VPN I was using isn’t working now, but I just got another one and I had no problem accessing blocked sites. If China was to really block certain sites the one way is if they block the internet from entering the country. This is something that won’t do as it would affect domestic and international business in the country. So if someone in China wants to access let’s say Radio Free Asia Chinese, which is blocked. They still can. For every 1 step the central government takes. Internet users are 10 steps ahead.

      Explain to me what you mean by “experience of listening to shortwave”. If you don’t still follow Radio Australia, because it isn’t on shortwave. This would suggest you were never really interested in the content. Delivery of content isn’t important. It’s the content that it’s important. SWLs and DXERS talk about shortwave as if it’s 1950. Television has moved on from B&W to colour. So has music delivery, film production and delivery, and so on.

      When Radio Australia dropped shortwave. Fewer than 10 emails came in from their target audience. The 100 or so that came in from SWL in North America and Europe don’t count. And even that amount is tiny for the thousands and millions that claim are listening. The Australia + app is where people are listening and via the expanding FM network across the Pacific and mobile technology.

      Also listening habits have changed. Just like television viewing habits. It makes me think of Burma. The first time I went to Burma in 2009 my mobile phone service cost me 100USD a day. A few months ago when I went for 2 weeks it was 15USD. Not a day, but for the two weeks. If you wanted to buy a mobile phone in 2009 prices ranged between 1000 to 2000USD, now in 2017 between 25 and 50USD. Across the Pacific it’s the same thing with phones from Huawei and Xiaomi.

    3. Stu M

      Well said Eric – I totally agree with everything you said and i too listened for the very same reasons …something I did as a kid and always without fail Sat or Sundays with coffee . The audience for ” Macca ‘ must of plummeted immediately . It is true in my opinion that the Internet system will be broken or controlled in harsh times ahead ( perhaps not very far away at this present time ) , and HF would prevail. Perhaps the authorities have just imagined that if in the event they actually do need to use HF for emergency purposes etc ( strife/war ) ..they would take over a private high powered station/s …. as many Amateurs now have Kw+ transmitters in place with directional antennas etc …..

  5. Keith Heimbold

    I know shortwave radio has been overcome by modern tech like internet and satellite communication but still think for emergency purposes and for the developing world it is still an important service for humanity. I think it is short sighted for countries to give up international broadcasting but I can see how it could be compelling for people who want to cut costs to target shortwave broadcasting.


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