TRANSCRIPT - ABC RN Drive
With Patricia Karvelas
28 October 2015
E & OE
law, arts funding, Nauru, Tony Abbott speech, e-health trial.
Be agile and embrace disruptive technology – that’s
what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull keeps telling us. But we’re still waiting
to see the Government’s plans for Australia’s media laws, which even it says,
are past their use by date.
Mitch Fifield is the Communications
Minister, and he joins us now. Hi Minister.
Now, just a short time ago, Peter Dutton announced
that the Somali asylum seeker known as Abyan will return to Australia from
Nauru to consult doctors and mental health workers about having an abortion.
Was Cabinet consulted about this decision? What brought it about?
Oh, Patricia, I never comment on Cabinet decisions as
to what may or may not be discussed there. Clearly, this is a
very delicate and sensitive matter and I think the best thing is for there to
be one person from the Government speaking about it, that being Minister Peter
Alright, well we have his comments on the record. I’ll move
to something I know you know quite a bit about, on media laws. Liberal
backbenchers this morning publicly called for you to abolish the reach rule,
which says a network can reach more then 75 per cent of Australian TV screens.
Here’s Angus Taylor on AM.
networks are getting close to being unviable businesses now. I think it’s
happening faster than most people had expected. The streaming of live content
from the metropolitan stations into regional areas is just another example of
how quickly this is unfolding.
[End of excerpt]
He’s referring to Channels 7 and 9 streaming their content online
24/7. How much longer can you put off this reform?
Patricia, look, we’re not putting off reform.
Practically on day one as Minister I said that the existing media laws were
being challenged on a daily basis – challenged by technology, challenged by
consumers who are seeking to access their media in new ways that technology
So, bit by bit, our existing media
laws are being rendered redundant, and over time, consumers and technology will
render them completely redundant. So what I’m doing at the moment is getting
around, talking to all the key stakeholders, getting their views on the
existing media laws, and hoping that we can find a general consensus to reform
our media laws so that they really reflect the sort of world that we live in
But this reach rule is over?
Well, we haven’t made any decisions as a Government –
we want to follow a good process, a good Cabinet Government process, as you
But it’s also important as an incoming
minister that I spend the time talking to each of the stakeholders, and there
are a range of views among stakeholders, but it does seem clear to me that
there is a broad view that the media laws that we have are not fit for purpose.
And the two that are most often cited are the 75 per cent audience reach rule
and also the two out of three rule, the cross media ownership rule, which
doesn’t allow mergers to involve more than two of three regulated media
platforms - they being TV, radio and newspapers. So they’re the sorts of issues
that are being raised with me and that I’m looking at.
How do you ensure that without the reach rule there
would still be local content in regional programming? Because that’s really at
the heart of this.
Yeah, absolutely, and that’s one of the reasons why
regional broadcasters are pushing this, because they want to be able to
configure their businesses in the way that they want to enhance their viability
so that they can continue to provide good local content. But there are some
existing protections – the license conditions of TV stations do have local
content requirements. So even if there were changes to media law, we would not
be touching or upsetting those existing license conditions.
But I think if we’re looking at the
area of media reform, there will also be a strong desire to see the existing
local content protected. And what I mean by that is, most regional TV providers
actually provide local content in excess of that which is required by their
license conditions. So I think there would be a strong view and a strong desire
in the community to protect that.
You’ve said your media reforms don’t need unanimous
support from media organisations, just a consensus. So do you think you have
that consensus now?
Look, there’s a large degree of commonality amongst
the various operators that I’ve spoken to. I have to continue to talk a little
more to not only the media operators themselves, but also to my colleagues in the
parliament. It’s important to be a minister who’s consultative but, look,I’m
not someone who wants to let the grass grow on this issue.
On RN Drive, my guest is Mitch
Fifield, the Federal Arts and Communications Minister. Our number here is 0418 226 576. What do you think of the reach
rule? Should it be gone and what implications are there for regional media
within that? 0418 226 576.
Now, Minister, last time we spoke- if
I can- if you can sort of move your hats around and put your Arts Minister hat
on. When we spoke last month you wouldn’t commit to the future of George
Brandis’s National Program for Excellence in the Arts. That is- this is the
proposed funding body that took $26 million out of the Australia Council
budget. Can you say now whether it’s going ahead, or if so, what it would look
Yeah, again, I think it’s important when you come into
a portfolio to take the time to talk to stakeholders. And as we’ve spoken about
before, there are some very strong views amongst stakeholders about some of the
proposed changes to arts funding. And what I’m seeking to balance is, on the
one hand, the desire of people in the sector to have the chance to have their
say to me, as a new Minister. Seeking to balance that, on the other hand, with
the understandable desire of the sector to have certainty as soon as possible.
So I’ve got a bit more consultation to do with the arts sector and then I’m
keen to make a decision. And, look, we’re talking about a matter of weeks
rather than months.
Okay. Overwhelmingly, though, the feedback you’re
getting is saying that this decision by the previous minister was the wrong
decision – that’s overwhelmingly what you’re hearing, isn’t it?
Well, I always hesitate when you look at submissions
that come into Senate inquiries or even that come into consultations through
portfolios, to form a judgement on the basis of the balance of the submissions
that you receive.They don’t necessarily
represent the full spread of opinions. So that’s what I’m seeking to get. But,
Patricia, I don’t deny for a second that there’s not some unhappiness about.
Strong unhappiness. Would you call it that?
There’s unhappiness and a desire for me to take a look to
see if we can make some adjustments to what’s proposed.
So could it be that the $26 million is returned to the
Australia Council budget?
Well look, I don’t think that there’s much argument
about moving the festivals and the vision funding from the Australia Council to
the Ministry of the Arts. That's where it previously rested. So that
particular element I think people are pretty relaxed about. What is in
discussion is the $20 million transferred from the Australia Council to
the Ministry of the Arts for the Excellence Program. So what I’m looking at is
that particular element, and there will be some adjustments but the exact
nature of those – I still want to chat a little bit more to the key
I know. I know you’re not ready to make announcement,
but what I want to get from you is is there a scenario on the table that the
Australia Council gets that 20 million, that back?
Well I’m not announcing anything today, Patricia, I’ve
still got some more discussions to have.
You’re also the Minister Assisting the
Prime Minister on Digital Government. Today, Health
Minister Sussan Ley announced a trial of the myHealth record. What will
Well, it’s a trial in the Western Sydney area and
North Queensland involving about a million people. And it’s looking
at those e-health records, how they can be better deployed. So that’s a
project that Sussan has carriage of. But she, like all of us who are Ministers
in the Government, are keen to do whatever we can to make the interactions that
people have with government and with government services as painless as
possible – no pun intended for the health portfolio. But every Minister is
charged by the Prime Minister with seeking to make the
community interface with government as seamless as possible. Far, far, far
too many government transactions are still conducted by telephone or face
to face, and often that’s not because people wouldn’t prefer to do them online
or in a digital fashion, it’s just that they can’t do them in that way. So what
we want to do is give people the opportunity to do their transactions with
government in a way that suits them. Because what government has done for too
long when working out its systems and processes is to work out what suits
government rather than what suits the individual.
And just finally, did you hear or read about Tony
I heard a few grabs of it on radio earlier in the day.
Is it distracting from the work of the Government? I mean,
do you wish he wasn’t out on the speaking circuit and still sitting in
Parliament? Is it appropriate? He has dominated the media today. Pretty much
he’s one of the top stories.
Well I think there is an appropriate role for former Prime
Ministers to contribute to public debate, and I for a second wouldn’t seek to
deny someone who has served the country extremely well the opportunity to share
Is Tony Abbott qualified to tell Europe’s leaders how to
solve their refugee migration crisis?
It’s a matter for Mr Abbott. He had an invitation to speak
at a forum and to share his views and that’s what he’s done.
Do you think that those- giving advice to
Europe, is it something you’d do? Give European leaders advice on how to
turn back boats?
Well I’m not a former Prime Minister Patricia.
There’s still time.
Well no, I’m in the Senate so we’re not possessed of
those particular dreams.
Alright. Very diplomatic of you there Senator. Thanks
for joining me.
Terrific. Good to join you.
And that’s the Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield, he’s
the Minister for Communications as well, and the Arts, and the
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government. Giving a little
hint there, I’ve got to say, that that very controversial decision by George
Brandis to take money away from the Australia Council budget and move it into
the National Program for Excellence is- well it’s under review, but
overwhelmingly the Minister did say that a lot of people are unhappy, and a
very strong review going on there to try and maybe reposition that
Justine Sywak | 0448
448 487 | Justine.Sywak@communications.gov.au