No, Nanna, your TV won’t kill you

In Tuesday night’s Budget speech, Treasurer Wayne Swan announced that the government would allocate funds that will assist pensioners to get ready for the switch-off of analogue television in 2013. Under this program, digital set-top boxes will be installed, pensioners will be taught how to navigate the new system, and twelve months’ technical support will be available if needed.

Sounds like a fine idea, right? You’d be surprised.

The Master Electricians’ Association warned yesterday that the government’s program might attract ‘shonky and shoddy’ operators who would risk the lives of young, unqualified workers. These evil businessmen, lured by the promise of a quick $300, would send our hapless children into roof spaces to get electrocuted. Twirling their mustaches, they would pressure our vulnerable pensioners to sign up for products they don’t need.

Then, presumably, they would lean back in their baby seal fur covered chairs, light a cigar with a page from the Constitution, prop up their feet on their piles of money and congratulate themselves on a job well done.

The Coalition, never slow to capitalise on a potential scare campaign, immediately jumped on this idea. Their original criticism – that the program was simply wasteful – was quickly shelved, and a new message, designed to strike fear into the hearts of the elderly, hit the airwaves.

Digital television will kill your Nanna! Your house will burn down while you’re watching Masterchef! It’s pink batts all over again! The sky is falling! Won’t somebody think of the apprentices?!

Okay, stop. Breathe.

Installing a set-top box is practically idiot proof. You can walk into a shop, buy one off the shelf, take it home and hook it up. Unless you’re stupid enough to try this while standing in a bathtub full of water, the direst consequence you’re likely to suffer is a headache from the sheer frustration of trying to work out which cable goes where.

Of course, if the irritation levels spike you may find yourself shelling out for another box, but that’s another story. But the point is, installing a set-top box is about as difficult as plugging in a DVD player. You don’t need any qualifications other than the ability to plug cable A into socket B.

Seems pretty straightforward – but surely that can’t be all there is to it? The warnings are so dire, there must be some hidden danger. Ah, I know! Maybe those pensioners will need new antennas! That must be it.

So I rang Nathan at New Image Antennas, and asked him. What qualifications do you need to install an antenna? Are there any electrical dangers?

He was, frankly, bemused.

To install a new antenna, you don’t need any qualifications other than the ability to not fall off a roof. Of course, it helps if you know exactly what kind of antenna to buy, and for that Nathan recommended hiring a technician. They’d get up on your roof using safety gear and wave a signal meter around to figure out the quality of signal you can receive, get the antenna for you and install it.

Electrical danger? None.

I queried Nathan repeatedly about this and he was absolutely sure that there was no electrical risk.

But surely it can’t be that straightforward?

Wait, how about this? Pensioners live in old houses, right? They’ll probably need their antenna cabling replaced! Yes, I know, that’s a ridiculous stereotype, but go with it for a moment. So, obviously you need a master electrician to do that, and this is why the Master Electricians Association is pounding the Drums of Doom. Mystery solved.

Except you don’t.

What you need is a Certificate II in Telecommunications qualification. That’ll teach you all the ins and outs (no pun intended) of laying cable, including how not to staple your fibre-optic, CAT5, coaxial or whatever cable to electrical conduits. If you want to be really picky, you can then specialise in a Certificate II in Telecommunications Cabling.

You do not need to be a fully qualified electrician.

It’s hard to find a real safety concern here. The fact that there is a huge number of antenna installation operators out there already, regularly performing installation tasks, begs the question: why on earth would the Master Electricians Association be so adamant now that Imminent Disaster Looms on the Horizon?

The possibilities aren’t comfortable to contemplate: they range from the venal to the political.

What it comes down to, though, is that a particular organisation took it upon themselves to push a panic button for reasons that appear to be utterly without foundation. And apparently, that panic button was just too Big, Red and Shiny for the Coalition to resist.

You see, people can only get worked up to a point about ‘government waste’. It’s familiar rhetoric, and it’s been over-used to the point where it degenerates into meaningless noise and people stop paying attention.

But ‘Nannas in danger’? ‘Our most vulnerable citizens at risk’? ‘Young lives endangered by shonky operators’? Well, the headlines just write themselves. You can almost hear them delivered in that stern, condemnatory voice-over while ads for A Current Affair or Today Tonight show footage of Evil Rip-off Artists running for cover away from the Crusading Reporter on the Case, can’t you?

It’s rubbish. It’s a tabloid headline – and like most tabloids, its factual basis is close to zero.

It’s an open question as to whether Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will try to push this scare campaign in his Budget Reply speech tonight. I’d like to think he’ll have more substantial criticisms of the Budget than raising the spectre of TVs lurking in the corner of the lounge just waiting to explode.

I’m not hopeful, though.

(Caveat: I am not an electrician. The information provided is from technicians and educational institutions.)


4 Responses to No, Nanna, your TV won’t kill you

  1. Catching up says:

    I would assume that most already have an antenna installed. This programme is for an set top box not the providing or installing of an antenna..

    I find it hard to understand why I would need an electrician to install it. This is a beat up. There are many who only business is to install antennas. I would be surprised if they were electricians. The only time the installer has contact with electricity is when they plug the antenna booster and set top box into a power point.

    It is the ridiculous back lash they got from the insulation effort. The perception is that the Insulation programme increased fires and deaths in the industry. Research found this was not true. There were fewer deaths and fires under the programmes than for decades before. The new regulations introduced as a result of the programme has made the industry safer.

    I would like to see the electrician demanding new regulations and practises that make our homes safer. I would like them to look at the installation of down lights and ceiling exhausts to be made safer. All the fires and deaths arose from faulty wiring, in our homes that should be a safe environment.

    I do have concerns about this programme. I believe the government is over reacting and is putting in place unnecessary safe guards. I believe that all the government needs to do is to provide the pensioner with a voucher to buy the services.

  2. Catching up says:

    Poor Mr. Abbott, he must have forgotten we voted and he lost the last election.

    This is not 1975. We do not have Mr. Kerr and he does not have control of the Senate.

    Also there has been no ministers sacked or accuse of misbehaviour.

    The economy is travelling reasonably well.

    Unemployment is low, inflation within limits set by the treasury and interest rates steady.

    I do not believe that just because you do not like a government and the opportunity arises is grounds to force a new election.

    The cost pressures of food and petrol is hopefully of a temporary nature.

    Yes water ans electricity have risen, but still among the cheapest in the world.

    We need to secure our future water needs and this cost money. The electricity system has been allowed to run down, as well as coal prices reaching record prices over a long length of time.

    There is no way Mr. Abbott can do any better, no matter what he promises.

    Mr. Abbott needs to tell us what he would do in the real world that exists today, not in one that exists in his imagination.

    We have had weeks of Mr. Abbott’s electioneering campaign. To night he has launched or is it relaunched his election opening speech. It has very little to do with the budget.

    Surely Mr. Abbott did not or has not forgotten we voted and he lost.It is made up of every slogan he has ever made.

    He will announce a list of savings in good time before the election.


  3. Gillian (Reynardo) says:

    I’m wondering if this bleating from the Electricians is the same as the Retailers organisation bleating about how plain packaging for cigarettes will send corner shops broke. You can’t help but wonder at what forces and funds are behind it.

    In other news, I should hire myself out as a Set-Top Box installation expert – I got ours up and running, didn’t I?

  4. You are pretty much right on your facts there Marian. 🙂

    The vast majority on installations wouldn’t even require fooling around with the antenna and in a pinch a pair of amplified rabbit ears would do the trick if you wanted to do it on the cheap.

    Good article.

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