Governing for Innovation

Governing for Innovation Research Program: Australian radio spectrum liberalisation in the 1990s

Chief Investigator: Dr Chris K Wilson (RMIT)

Timeframe: 2015 –


In 1992 the Australian federal government passed the Broadcasting Services Act, replacing an out-dated legislative framework that had controlled access to, and use of, the broadcasting services bands since the introduction of television in 1956. The new legislation was designed to liberalise access to spectrum with the aim of facilitating the expansion and diversification of television and radio services. To identify capacity and demand for new services the Act directed the regulator, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, to conduct a nationwide spectrum review. When this process (and subsequent licensing and allocation of surplus spectrum) was complete in the mid-2000s an array of new radio services had been added to each of Australia’s commercial, public-service and community broadcasting sectors. This outcome may rightfully be celebrated as a mark of the Act’s successful implementation, but doing so masks the impact the legislation and spectrum review had in delivering an even greater number and diversity of radio services through the 1990s and a range of innovations in cultural practice that extend beyond radio broadcasting.

In this research program I how examine how the spectrum review process conducted under the Broadcasting Services Act not only revealed capacity and demand for new services, but created the conditions for innovation. The review facilitated the formation of hundreds of organisations that conducted test broadcasts in preparation to compete for a limited number of permanent community broadcasting licences to be made available following the review and had a significant impact on the cultural landscape beyond broadcasting.