Gillard defends set-top box funding


Prime Minister Julia Gillard has staunchly defended the Federal Government’s $308.8 million funding allocated in this week’s budget to install and support digital TV set-top boxes for pensioners, claiming that for some, the pending switch-off of analogue television had the potential to remove “perhaps the only companion in their lives”.

The funding was announced last Sunday and continues the Digital Switchover program which has already seen some 38,000 Australians receive set-top boxes to support the ongoing switch to digital television. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said this week that 79 percent of Australian households were already ready for digital TV — compared to less than half just two years ago.

However, since the funding was announced, a number of organisations and individuals have publicly criticised the program.

Industry group Master Electricians Australia has warned that the program could put the lives of “young, unqualified workers” at risk in a similar way to the previous home insulation scheme, while the Coalition has flagged the initiative as a wasteful project in the budget.

In addition, electronics retailers like Harvey Norman and Kogan Technologies have called for the Government to more closely examine pricing on the scheme, with set-top boxes selling for as little as $50 — compared to the amount the Government has allocated, which is believed to be approximately $350 per installation.

“If the Government is serious about this program, we honestly believe we could deliver a Set Top Box to each and every one of the proposed recipients for under 1/6th of what the Government has provisioned,” wrote Kogan chief Ruslan Kogan on his company blog. “The Government can spend as little as $50 million instead of the proposed $308 million on helping pensioners get access to digital TV.”

However, speaking on Sky News today (the full interview is available online — click the ‘interviews’ button), Gillard rejected all criticisms of the project. For starters, the Prime Minister pointed out, 38,000 of the set-top boxes had already been installed, with the Government working with industry on the scheme, including the credentials of those who were installing the hardware.

Secondly, on the price, Gillard said the Government was talking about “the cheapest one you can go and get from an electrical store”, it was talking about “a quality set-top box” with the right design features which could be used by older people and those with disabilities. In addition, the cost also included installation costs and a 12 month support package.

Lastly, Gillard told those complaining about the overall cost to consider who the program benefited. “It’s for the poorest Australians, older Australians,” she said, “who may, the day after the digital switchover, will no longer have perhaps the only companion in their lives, which is the TV set.”

Image credit: MystifyMe Concert Photography, Creative Commons


  1. I don’t actually understand what all the fuss is about on this one. It seems to me just another example of “Oh look, it can be done cheaper.”

    • Same … I simply cannot understand why people care. In fact, I wouldn’t have written this article if it wasn’t for the fact that my traffic stats and comment numbers tell me that yes, you all do care about this very much!

  2. If someone in government could actually say what the $350 involved then you’d find it was justified.

    ABC News this morning reported this .. .. which highlight antennas which have been installed along with the set top boxes, and that’s not including areas where booster boxes are needed as well.

    If you work off the assumption that all the installer is doing is plugging the STB into the wall and hitting auto-tune then yeah $350 is too much, but when you actually take into account all that can be involved in getting the service to work properly it’s not.

    The main concern is the fly-by-nighters who don’t do a good job and are there to simply rout the system, they should be of concern not the cost per installation.

    • The Federal government supplied Set top box that I got, the installer put up a new antenna and a tv antenna point on the inside wall and explained how it works.
      that was OCTOBER LAST YEAR.

  3. With the numbers involved, the price the govt is paying, and with bulk-buying, it may have been a whole more sensible to actually provide a new HD TV rather than just the box.

      • Even then.. $300 million+ is absurd.

        Total all the revenues from antenna installers in the past few years, I doubt we’d get anywhere near that. And thats for the entire population and not just pensioners.

        • Is it? Again as Tezz alluded to, we don’t know what is being paid for. Answer that before you starting bagging the government for spending to much on the issue, because you, nor I, are not an expect in the field.

      • My HDTV & set boxes are working perfectly fine on my 20yo antenna.

        However, I think Tezz summed up the problem with the government no matter what it does, right or wrong:

        “If someone in government could actually say what the $350 involved”

        It never explains anything properly. I hated Howard’s govt but at least we got explanatory brochures and fridge magnets (the latter is part is meant to be biting satire).

        • My point was merely that, yes, you can get a 32in HDTV for $350, but that’s an entry level television isn’t it? What if the person needs a new antenna, where will that cost come from if it is only $350 per person?

          I am also interesting in what is being paid for, but I don’t thinking buying everyone a new TV could be done for the same money as currently on the table.

          • I know it doesn’t answer the aerial question but I bought an excellent HDTV with built-in DVD player at Aldi last week for $259. Imagine the cost of bulk-buying 38,000 of them.

            Same goes for the school laptop project of Rudd’s : $4,000 per laptop.

            The government just gives the impression, at least, of enormous waste.

          • When they don’t clearly explain what they doing and bring it down to a single item like a laptop per child or a set-top box per pensioner, etc, the costs seem higher than they should be. So it isn’t $4000 per a laptop. It’s just happens that they aren’t being honest with what they are doing.

            The worst thing is that often, they clarify the situation, and the media just neglects to report on the clarification. So even if the government explains exactly what the $300 million is for, the general public probably won’t hear a word of it.

            I don’t thinking buying everyone a hugely cheap TV from Aldi is also in the government’s best interest, do you want people complaining that their TV breaks down? Better to spend a little more.

            But still the question comes down to again, what is being paid for?

  4. Ifail to see why all this Fuss Iam an ex telstra technician electricians special aereials what rubbish the settop box works fine on any aerial and does not take an expert to connect think about the aged people this is helping not bloody dollar amounts. This at least shows this government has a little caring

  5. Im with NightKhaos.

    Yes, we can install 30d STB’s for a pensioners, but what if the cabling or antenna is not up to current standards. They may have signal error issues (BER/MER) due to alignment or damage? Who pays for that? The pensioner? The government say up to 400d per household. Surely the government will do a few random audits on installs to ensure no tech is ripping poor pensioners off!

    • “Surely the government will do a few random audits on installs to ensure no tech is ripping poor pensioners off!”

      I have a lovely slightly used bridge for sale if you’re interested. Only built in the 1930s. :-P

  6. This is an existing scheme being funded for the remaining areas going digital only. It appears to have worked well so far.

    The government *has* said what’s covered: a set top box, installation, any antenna work required (Dirtybear should stick to phones – while an STB *may* work fine with an existing antenna, Wozza is correct in saying that new cabling or even a new antenna may be needed in some homes). It even covers the supply and installation of a satellite system in homes that could receive analogue broadcasts but can’t get terrestrial digital reception.

    Hills TechLife and Skybridge won the HAS contracts for the areas already converted, and you’d hardly call them fly-by-nighters.

  7. Most people are completely missing the point. I am an an aged pensioner and as it is so low anyway, offering us a set top box is not only highly insulting, but just goes to show that Julia Gillard has absolutely no idea just how impossible it is to meet basic needs on the amount we are paid. Wake up Julia, or should I say Juuuliaaaaaa, as she says it, we are dirt poor. Please do NOT insult us further. Rather pay us a decent pension as we are the ones who have paid taxes all our lives. Give us some of the extra benefits that other welfare recipients get, most of which, are groups of people who have rarely, if ever, spent any time working or paid a cent of tax in their lives. WE, US white Australian aged pensions are the ones who deserve the fringe benefits and a set top box IS NOT one of them.

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