TRANSCRIPT - ABC RN Breakfast with Sarah Dingle
13 January 2016
E & OE
Subjects: media reform, Australia Post,
television classification, arts funding
2016 will be a big year for the media landscape. At least that’s what
Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield is hoping. He says Australia’s
media laws are outdated, but we’re still waiting to see what he wants to do
about it. He’s also dealing with changes made late last year to postage prices,
M rated TV restrictions and arts funding. Minister welcome to Summer Breakfast.
Good to be with you
Minister you’ve hit a few speedbumps in your push for
media reforms but you did say we’d see your plans in the New Year. It’s the New
Year now, how much longer to we need to wait?
Well people just need
to be patient a little bit longer Sarah. I’m keen to introduce into the
Parliament in the first part of this year media laws which will reflect the
world that we currently live in. Australians by virtue of technology are
accessing media in different ways. And what that means is that the media laws
that we currently have are gradually being rendered redundant by both
technology and the choices that gives consumers.
Well how much longer
is a little bit longer for us to know the details? Has this gone to Cabinet
Look Sarah I don’t
ever comment on what has or hasn’t gone to Cabinet. But I’m keen to introduce
legislation to the Parliament as soon as possible. I have had discussions at
the end of last year with my crossbench colleagues, with my Coalition
colleagues, also with the Opposition, to get a bit of a line from them as to
the sorts of media reforms that they’re open to. What I don’t want to do is
introduce a package into the Parliament that won’t have the support of the
Parliament. I want to make sure that this opportunity that we have, given there
are very open minds across the Parliament, that we take advantage of that.
It has been reported that one of the current
rules in your sights is the ‘Reach Rule’. Which prevents mergers between
regional and free to air networks. Will we see the ‘Reach Rule’ ditched this
The ‘Reach Rule’ and also the ‘Two out of
three rule’, as it’s known, are the two that I am particularly looking at. What
I’m told and what I hear from various players in media markets is that they
want the freedom to configure themselves the way that they best think suits
their business. And that’s particularly important for regional operators who
want to get scale. And the best protection for local news content, for
instance, is to have businesses that are viable, that want to provide that
content and are determined to provide it.
What about requirements that they provide
that local content though. We know that any abolition of the ‘Reach Rule’ will
prompt a flurry of mergers and acquisitions but what about protections
specifically put in place to protect regional news content.
Well at the moment in a number of markets
there are license conditions attached to television which require a certain
level of local content, including local news content. Any reform in this area
in relation to the ‘Reach Rule’, I think the Parliament would expect that we do
have protections for local content. And that would be protections for the
existing local content. We wouldn’t want to see a situation where, in
anticipation of the opportunity for mergers, that media organisations reduced
their local content. So we have to make sure that legislation was drafted in
such a way to prevent that from happening.
Well going to Australia Post now you have
said you’re all about the consumer when it comes to media reform. What about
the experience of the consumer when it comes to Australia Post. The cost of
posting a letter went up 30 cents at the start of the year or 80 cents if we
want the delivery speed we’re accustomed to, which is 1-4 business days. How
long is this going to keep Australia Post viable for?
Well Australia Post is the ultimate example
of digital disruption in my portfolio. On the one hand you’ve got NBN which is
a terrific project which is going to give new opportunities for individuals and
businesses. On the other hand you have Australia Post. And the world that we’re
living in is dramatically changing. I can remember when my grandmother used to
get the train into town to pay her electricity bill. Over time she was
persuaded to use Australia Post. And if she was still with us today she’d no doubt
be paying those bills online. So Australia Post’s letter volumes are falling
dramatically. They’ve dropped by 1.4 billion since 2008. Which means that it’s
now at about 1995 levels in terms of postal volumes. So what we’ve seen in
2014-15 is that the letter losses are now outstripping the parcel businesses
capacity to cover those. So 14-15 we had a $222 million loss for Post. And
there are a range of measures that management have put in place, including the
price rise, which seek to get Australia Post back into the black. But it’s
really important to emphasise that although the price of a stamp has gone up to
a dollar that the concession stamps will be frozen at 60 cents for the 5.7
million concession card holders in the nation.
That’s not going to help small businesses
though, it’s more than a doubling of the price of a letter delivered in 1-4
business days just in a matter of weeks. This is really going to hurt their
Well interesting point is that as well as the
increase in the cost of the stamp we’re also introducing a two speed letter
Small businesses do need letters delivered by
certain times though, they’re not going to embrace a slower delivery service.
Well the interesting point is that the two
speed letter service was actually introduced for business in 2014 and 70 per
cent of business mail now goes at that slower speed. So there are options there
with Australia Post for businesses depending on their needs. If a day or two
doesn’t make a difference then they have that option. If speed matters then
they have the option of paying a bit more for that particular service. But the
reality is Australia Post letter volumes are tumbling. It’s not fair for
taxpayers to be asked to subsidise the Australia Post business. At the moment
taxpayers don’t put a single dollar of subsidy into Australia Post. We don’t
want to be in a situation where that happens. So Australia Post in taking some,
what I think, are prudent and practical measures to get the business back into
Are you satisfied with those measures or will we see further deeper changes to
the structure of Australia Post this year?
Well Australia Post management have already embarked on a significant
change program. There have been efficiencies introduced. Australia Post is
providing essentially the same services with fewer staff. We have the
introduction of the two speed mail service. We have the introduction of the
increase of the price of a stamp. And what that will see is about $323 million
of efficiencies for Australia Post through to 2017-18. The increase in the
price of a stamp will also go to Licensed Post Offices, those 2,900 businesses
around Australia who said that they needed a helping hand. And what this will
do is see an extra $75 million go to those Licensed Post Offices, something in
the order of about $25,000 per year. Those businesses and lots of people in
regional Australia have been calling for support for those LPO’s.
Well Minister lets go to another part of your portfolio. Changes to the
Commercial TV Code of Practise last month mean that M and MA15+ programs can
now be shown earlier. And your Liberal colleagues are amongst those with
concerns about this. Won’t this expose younger children to more confronting
content? Why are these changes necessary?
Under the legislated arrangements there are what are known as ‘Codes’ in
the television industry which are developed by the industry and registered with
the independent regulator, The Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Early last year the free to air TVs indicated that they would like to see a new
code introduced. There was a period of public consultation and the independent
regulator was satisfied that there had been appropriate consultation and that
there was an appropriate protection for younger people in relation to the new
TV code. That code was registered late last year and is now in force. It’s
important to recognize that this is a code which is developed by the industry
in consultation with the independent regulator. The Government, and I as
Minister, don’t have a role in the development of the code and cannot direct
ACMA what to do in relation to this. But you’re right, some colleagues have
expressed concern that the new code brings the M broadcast time forward by an
hour to 7:30pm and also that the MA15+ broadcast time comes forward by 30
minutes to 8:30pm. What I’ve done is to write to the independent regulator to
say that it’s important for them to review the operation of this code and any
complaints over the next 12 months and to then report back to me. But there are
some important protections. There’s the parental lock, which enables parents to
lock out particular categorised programs so that the kids who might grab the
remote switch on but can’t access those programs. So there is an important role
for parental supervision, But I recognise that we want to make sure that the
free to airs don’t use this change in an inappropriate way. And the independent
regulator will report back to me in 12 months.
Well just briefly you also hold the arts portfolio of course. December’s
mid-year budget update cut $10 million from Screen Australia. Diverted $35
million from Screen Australia property sales to big Hollywood studios. Life is
going to be harder for smaller Australian productions isn’t it?
We do make significant contributions in the arts. There have been some
efficiencies which were announced in the Mid-Year Economic Review. We put about
$100 million a year to Screen Australia and the Australian Film, Television and
Radio School. We also provide about $123 million in offsets to the domestic
film industry, which leverages about a billion of production.
These are big cuts though. For a small industry these are big cuts.
Well there are reductions we have required, regrettably, across a range of
portfolios, savings to help towards the important task of budget repair. We have,
as you mentioned, made some grants to secure two feature films from overseas.
The new Thor and the new Alien movies. Effectively what we’ve done through
those grants was to give a grant that would be the equivalent of increasing the
Location Offset from 16 and a half per cent to 30 per cent. That’s something
that has been done by successive governments of all persuasions. And in the
case of these two particular films it will bring about $300 million in offshore
investment to Australia and create about 3,000 jobs. And these are good things
for the domestic film industry. Would I like to do more to support the domestic
film industry? Absolutely, and as a relatively new Minister for the Arts of
about 4 months standing, I’m engaging with the sector to see how they think
that we can better support the industry.
Minister we’ll have to leave it there. Thank
you for your time this morning.
Thanks indeed Sarah.
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