TRANSCRIPT - 774 Melbourne > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - 774 Melbourne

Drive with Rafael Epstein


1 March 2016

5.35pm


E & OE

Subjects: media reform, nbn, Party Room


EPSTEIN:

The Turnbull Government call these the most significant media reforms in Australia in a generation. Scrapping the Paul Keating era media ownership laws. Carrying all of this is the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield he’s also of course a Liberal Senator from the State of Victoria. Minister good afternoon.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Raf.

EPSTEIN:

We heard the traffic report I’m sure you’re familiar with. Can I ask you about the 2 out of 3 rule. If News purchases Channel 10, or Fairfax purchases Channel 9, or maybe the other way around. Is that good or bad or us as an audience?

FIFIELD:

Well I’m I guess what you would describe as ownership agnostic. What we’re proposing by getting rid of the 2 out of 3 rule and 75 per cent audience reach rule is to allow media organisations to configure themselves in ways that they think make better sense for their business, and can also help them to better provide their product for consumers. Now I think its really important when we look at this issue of media reform to recognise that there are a number of diversity laws which are staying in place. There’s something called the 5/4 rule which mandates that there be five media voices in metropolitan areas and four in regional areas. That there can only be one TV license owned by a grouping per TV market and only two radio licences owned by a grouping in a radio market. So there are still those important protections there. Also the ACCC requirements that look at issues of competition are still there. And overlaying that is the fact that we have so many more media providers that people can access online. Diversity in the media isn’t something that troubles me.

EPSTEIN:

It just, there’s a quite complicated change to ensure that if a regional TV broadcaster has purchased by one in a big city, you ensure local content. There seems to be no effort to ensure a plurality of commentary if say Fairfax and Channel 9 merge. Isn’t that also an important extra requirement that you should be imposing?

FIFIELD:

You’re right. That in regional areas, having good local content is important and you’re probably referring to the fact that if there’s a trigger event as a result of changes in ownership in the regional areas, in what are called the aggregated TV licence markets, then we’re going to be putting in place 6 months after that, higher local content requirements. And I think that’s a good thing. In terms of metropolitan areas there really isn’t much in the way of concern that’s been expressed to me about there not being good local news content. About there not being good options for people in terms of how they consume their media.

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask you directly then. Surely if Fairfax merges with a TV station or News merges with a TV station, surely that leads to less diversity especially in political commentary?

FIFIELD:

Well I will leave it to consumers of media to form their own judgements as to what constitutes diversity. I think that there is tremendous diversity in terms of news content available to people. It’s no longer just radio, TV and print. We can’t ignore the plethora of news options for people online. So I don’t have concerns about media diversity as a result of the changes that we’re putting forward.

EPSTEIN:

Do you agree with the principle that if you have more people owning media companies, you get greater diversity of coverage?

FIFIELD:

Well, if you’re looking at just a Australia, I think we’ve got significant diversity.

EPSTEIN:

That’s not quite what I asked though. In principle in Australia, if you’ve got more owners do you get more diversity?

FIFIELD:

I don’t think you can follow a simple equation that numbers of owners automatically equals diversity. First and foremost to ensure you’ve got diversity amongst media organisations in Australia, you’ve got to have viable media organisations in Australia. There are numbers of media organisations who will say ‘look our business model ain’t what it used to be, we’re under great competition’. So I think it’s important to give Australian media organisations the opportunity to configure themselves in a way to make sure that they’re still around and still viable. Add to that, the many online sources of news and information that there are.

EPSTEIN:

On the NBN it appears their own internal targets aren’t being met. That seems very clear from the document, maybe they will get over their inability to meet their own targets in the future. But would you concede that with the documents leaked in the last few days, they are not reaching their own targets?

FIFIELD:

No I wouldn’t. I mean, obviously it’s not my job to validate or otherwise, the bona fides of particular alleged leaked document. But if I can make the general point that it’s very easy to pedal a particular document out of context. There are something of the order of 14 steps in the NBN design and construction process when it comes to fibre to the node. That alleged document related to particular steps in the process. But I think, look at the facts, nbn completely reject the claim that they’re at risk of not meeting their targets. In fact they’ve met or exceeded every key target for 6 quarters in a row. The company is on track to meet or exceed its full year target on 2.6 million homes read for service which is great. They’re on track to meet their target on 1 million homes, this financial year, using the network. So things are tracking very well.

EPSTEIN:

I don’t want to confuse people with numbers but that document does say that the number of premises that should have been approved at the date of the report was less than half. So about 1.4 million premises should have been approved. Only 660,000 were, I mean that’s, if there not meeting their internal targets isn’t that something the Government should acknowledge?

FIFIELD:

Well, let me give you the facts. There are currently more homes under construction at the moment than is required for nbn to hit their full year targets. What matters is, can nbn hit their annual targets. And you know one of the best predictors of future behaviour is past behaviour. Nbn, they’ve met or exceeded every key target for 6 quarters in a row. As I say, best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. When our predecessors were in office, they’d only met 15 per cent of their construction target. So the NBN record to date under us is very good. NBN is on track to meet its targets this year.

EPSTEIN:

How was your Party Room meeting today? Are you okay with Tony Abbott pointing towards spending being reigned in while the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are talking about raising a few taxes?

FIFIELD:

Well Raf, it’s not my practise or custom to talk about what may or may not have been discussed in the Party Room. One of the really great things about our parliamentary party is that people have the forum where they can share their views. Now hopefully that’s an internal forum. But we’re working on a tax reform plan that will be released before the budget and I look forward to when that can be shared.

EPSTEIN:

Do you think Tony Abbott’s keeping to his pledge for no sniping, no backbiting?

FIFIELD:

I don’t provide a commentary on my colleagues.

EPSTEIN:

It’s crucial though isn’t it I mean we have watched three supposedly highly intelligent, supposedly very capable Prime Ministers have their Prime Ministership supposedly run down by their internal colleagues. If it doesn’t stop under Malcolm Turnbull, we’ve got a significant political problem. Isn’t it crucial or Tony Abbott to keep that pledge?

FIFIELD:

I think there is good internal cohesion in the Government. Colleagues are focused on what we have to do. And that is making the reforms that need to be made Raf, things like media reform. We have to make sure we are focused on doing the people’s business.

EPSTEIN:

But you’d agree that Tony Abbott needs to abide by the pledge he gave the day after he lost the leadership?

FIFIELD:

For all colleagues it’s important they keep their eyes on the ball. And I think my parliamentary colleagues are doing just that.

EPSTEIN:

You think he’s aware that every time he sticks his head up the media talk about him and not the Prime Minister.

FIFIELD:

I think former Prime Ministers, former leaders of political parties, have earned a right to offer comment. You know, we see John Howard at the moment reflecting on 20 years since he came into office. I think John Howard is a model for former Prime Ministers and leaders of the Party.


EPSTEIN:

Just a quick check on the media changes I think Labor’s agreed to the regional changes. Do you know the fate of the legislation around the 2 out of 3 rule? Is that likely to pass soon or not?

FIFIELD:

I’ve had good discussions with my Opposition counterpart Jason Clare. He’s indicated that the ALP are supportive of removing the 75 per cent reach rule. He’s indicated that they have an open mind about the 2 out of 3 rule. I’m going to be referring the package to a Senate Committee for enquiry but it’s my intention to seek to secure passage of the complete package.

EPSTEIN:

Have you publicly said you want to do that before the Budget or how long you want that enquiry to be?

FIFIELD:

Look we don’t have many sitting weeks between now and the Budget. But I’m keen to get the legislation passed as soon as possible. But obviously, after we have had a good Senate Inquiry.

EPSTEIN:

Thanks so much for your time.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Raf.

EPSTEIN:

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, he’s also one of your Senators from the State of Victoria from the Liberal Party of course.

[end]