TRANSCRIPT - Sky News Interview > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - Sky News Interview

with Patricia Karvelas
Parliament House, Canberra

28 February 2016

7.10pm

 

E & OE            

Subjects: media reform, negative gearing, Tony Abbott

KARVELAS:

Australia’s media landscape is about to radically change. Cabinet signed off on a plan that abolishes the so-called ‘2 out of 3 rule’ allowing media companies to own radio and TV stations, as well as newspapers in a single media market. Cabinet also agreed to dump the ‘reach rule’ which prohibits any one media company from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the country.

Mitch Fifield is the Communications Minister and he joins me now from Canberra. Minister, thanks for joining me.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Patricia.

KARVELAS:

Minsiter, what can you tell me about the media reforms agreed to by the Turnbull Government?

FIFIELD:

We’re still going through the internal processes of government consideration. And once they are concluded, I’ll be able to make an announcement and talk to the details. But, in the broad, what I have proposed for sometime now is, that we see the repeal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule which prohibts a group of TV licences from having more than 75 per cent audience reach in Australia. And also removing what’s know as the 2 out of 3 rule which prohibits an organisation or individual from having control of more than 2 out of 3 regulated platforms of radio, TV and newspapers in a particular market.

But, it’s really important that as we’re looking at this sort of change, that we make sure that we have appropriate local content protections for television. So that’s also something that we’re taking a close look at.

KARVELAS:

What agreement did you come to with the Nationals? Because I understand that was a sticking point with the Nationals. You now have a plan. It’s been widely reported these tougher protections for regional content are based on expanding what is called the current points system for local content. Can you explain how that’ll work and how it will be potentially policed by bureauocrats? Because it could get quite bureaucratic.

FIFIELD:

I think the good thing is that with the discussion with my Liberal and Nationals colleagues, there hasn’t really been any great points of contention or any sticking points, as you described it. It’s been a really good internal process, we’ve had good discussions. Both regional Liberal and National colleagues have put forth some ideas which I think have been really helpful, in terms of putting a package together.

KARVELAS:

Can you explaing the points system? Could you give us some idea of how it would work? How this trigger event, it’s been reported that there would be a trigger event which would allow for an intervention, how would that work?

FIFIELD:

Let me firstly explain what the current arrangements are in what‘s known as the aggregated television markets. At the moment a TV provider has to provide 720 points, over a 6 week period, of local content. Now those 720 points are made up on a minute per point or a point per minute in relation to local content and you get double points for local news content. Now one of the arguments that‘s been put forward for removing the 75 per cent reach rule is that it would allow organisations to configure themselves in ways that can better support their viability. And that if they have scale, then they’re in a stronger position to provide local content. So that being the case, it wouldn’t be unreasonable in the absence of the 75 per cent reach rule to look at putting in place some higher local content provisions. So that’s what we’re looking at, in terms of the specifics of how that might work...

KARVELAS:

Could you tell me how much higher that might be? Could you give me some idea, you’ve come of the program, about how much higher at that point, the points might be and how you might police them?

FIFIELD:

Patricia the specifics will have to wait until we’ve concluded our internal processes and I make an announcment. But I think the two important principles here are firstly if we’re removing the 75 per cent audience reach rule which gives organisations an opportunity to reconfigure themselves, to get scale, then its not unreasonable to look to have a higher local content in place should that eventuality happen. And I think it‘s important that you do have some sort of a trigger event which would see these sorts of requirements come in. Now I’m not being deliberately coy. It‘s just that we do have to conclude the process before we can make an announcement and go into the specifics of how those arrangements might work. 

KARVELAS:

Minister you know I’m not a very patient woman. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp...

FIFIELD:

I’ve always found you to be incredibly patient Patricia.

KARVELAS:

I want the detail. Let me ask this question, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation says it is disappointment that changes do not reform anti-syphoning laws regarding pay TV. Why haven’t you changed this?

FIFIELD:

Well, what we’ll be putting forward and what I’ve been proposing are reforms upon which there is fairly comprehensive and broad agreement. I don’t think anyone would suggest that in the world that we’re in today, where there are increasing options for consumers, where there is new technology that is giving consumers choices they haven’t previously had, that we shouldn’t have media laws that reflect that world, rather than the anologue world that the current media laws were crafted in. So what we’re looking at are those laws where there seems to be pretty universal agreement that they’re no longer relevant. That’s not to say that there aren’t other things that we should do in the future. Media law is an area that is going to be under constant review.

KARVELAS:

So will it happen after the election? Anti-syphoning laws? I mean News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller said the fact that anti-syphoning regime is not part of the proposal makes it difficult to accept that this is genuine media reform. Why are you unprepared to give us an idea about when you might be willing to tackle anti-syphing?

FIFIELD:

We put forward a package that we think will get support. There will be future media reform. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. But in relation to anti-siphoning. I think there are some misconceptions abroad about the anti-siuphoning regime and principal amongst which is that if something is on the anti-syphoning list that guarentees it for free-to-air TV, that it even mandates that free-to-air TV must aquire it and that if its aquired that it be put on free-to-air. The anti-siphoning list does not require the free-to-airs will pick up particular events. And if they do there’s no requirement on them to put them to air. There’s also nothing to stop a free-to-air purchasing an event and then onselling that to subscription TV. So I think firstly, there are some misconceptions about the anti-syphoning regime.

KARVELAS:

So you might look at it after the election?

FIFIELD:

Well the anti-siphoning regime has changed over time. There are some things that have come onto it, there are some things that have come off it. I don’t think anyone is proposing that things like the AFL, or the NRL, or the Commonwealth Games, or the Olympic Games, shouldn’t be on that list. I don’t think anyone is proposing that for a second. But, look all media law is subject to ongoing review.

KARVELAS:

How about the push to cut license fees. Is that under consideration from this budget?

FIFIELD:

Well we’ve made clear to the free-to-air’s that we will have a look at license fee reduction in the context of this current budget. When license fees were first put in place, it was a very different world. It was in the late 50’s. License fees for TV’s were in effect one of the earliest forms of a super profits tax. The world has changed significantly since then. Free-to-air’s essentially had a monopoly, with radio,  over electronic media communication. They are under intense competition now and operate in a much more challenging environment. So I certainly understand the arguments that are put forward by the free-to-air’s and also by radio for that matter, who also pay license fees. TV and radio license fees together are about $175 million a year. We do operate in a difficult budget environment. But we have made a commitment that we will examine the issue of license fees in this budget. Now, nothing should be read into that one way or the other. But we have made that commitment that we will examine them in the context of this budget.

KARVELAS:

So when will this legislation be all ready to go? This media reform legislation? I know you’re presenting it tomorrow to the Nationals and to the Liberals?

FIFIELD:

Well, I don’t want to be coy Patricia but I won’t...

KARVELAS:

Then you don’t have to be, you don’t have to be.

FIFIELD:

I won’t flag at what stage things are at in terms of our internal consideration other than to say that things are progressing well. I’m keen to introduce legislation to the Parliament sooner rather than later, and you probably don’t have many more sleeps left to go.

KARVELAS:

Okay. Just on broader politics before I let you go Minister. John Howard has given a very long interview this morning on Sky and of course in the Australian Newspaper. Suggesting a number of things, but also that we should be very careful, that the Government needs to be very careful around negative gearing changes. Would you like the Prime Minister to listen to that advice?

FIFIELD:

Well we’re careful about everything we do in relation to policy Patricia. And we’re being very careful and very methodical when it comes to tax. We will take to the next election, a tax reform package. But I think it’s been really imporatnt that we take the time to work through the options. To work through those proposals that really can be a benefit. That’s something that Scott Morrison is doing. And I look forward to when we can share that with the Australian public.

KARVELAS:

And Tony Abbott has written a very long piece as that. It’s going to be in Quadrant, he said he could have won the election. Do you agree with him?

FIFIELD:

Well, we made a decision as a Party in relation to the leadership. What I’m absolutely confident of is that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can and will win the next election.

KARVELAS:

Many thank for your time Minister, pleasure as always.

FIFIELD:

Good to see you Patricia.

[ends]

Media contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak@communications.gov.au