TRANSCRIPT - ABC Radio National
with Fran Kelly
2 March 2016
E & OE
media reform, Party Room, Senate voting reform
The biggest changes in a generation to media ownership laws will be
introduced to the Federal Parliament today. This legislation could unleash a
raft of mergers and acquisitions. Prompting concerns again about diversity and
local content, particularly in regional Australia. The Governments resisted
pressure to change the anti-siphoning laws, but it has left the door open to a
cut in television license fees. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield is in how
Parliament House studios, Minister welcome to Breakfast.
Good morning Fran.
There are two key elements of this bill, scrapping the reach restrictions
and the two out of three rule. Which we means we could see for instance News
Corp buying Network Ten, we could see Fairfax merge with Channel 9. Is this a
case of letting the market rip?
Look I don’t think so. I think it’s a case of making sure that our media
laws reflect the reality of the world that we live in. The current media laws
were designed in and for an analogue world. When print, radio and TV were just
about it. Online is a major news source for people throughout Australia. And I
think probably people under the age of 30 would be a little bit bemused about
us even having a discussion about ‘is there sufficient diversity in the media
markets?’. There is a lot of diversity, there will remain some existing media
laws such as the one to a market rule which will only allow ownership of one TV
license in a market. The two to a market rule which will only allow an
individual or an organisation to have two radio licenses in a particular area.
So there are still significant diversity protections. But the greatest
protection for diversity is the sheer number of news sources that are available
Well let’s look at
that. Yes there are all those resources so in one sense this whole argument
that we’ve had for decades now about diversity which has helped put in place
these limits on ownership have been about diversity of ownership, therefore
diversity of view. The 2 out of 3 rule is about that, but how can you guarantee
diversity of opinion or political commentary for example if you scrap it.
Particularly as Jason Clare pointed out on AM a little earlier, that it’s all
very well to say diversity, but a lot of the sites that people are getting
access to, are streaming are still owned by the same organisations that own
most of our media like News Corp, like Nine MSN or like the ABC. I mean they
are, these are the [inaudible] in that space.
Look Fran, we’re still going to have multiple radio stations with their own
news sources. We’re still going to have multiple TV stations. We’re still going
to have multiple newspapers. We’re going to have online. And the current media
laws do not in any way shape or form even address online ownership or online
sources of information. So I’ve got to say I’m particularly untroubled by
people who say they’re concerned about potential lack of diversity. And let’s
not forget about the ABC. If there is a bulwark against lack of diversity, surely
the ABC is it.
Surely it is. Labor has said yes it’s there with you on the reach rule,
scrapping that. It’s not so sure about the 2 out of 3 rule. And there’s going
to be an inquiry into this, but it’s holding out the option of urging the Government
to split the bill so it could vote against that. Will you consider splitting
I think it’s important for the Parliament to look at this as a package, which
is why I’m referring the legislation to the Senate Environment and
Communications Committee for examination. When that comes back to the Senate,
again, I think it’s important that the Senate look at this as a package. I’ve
got to say, I’ve been heartened by Jason Clare’s comments to date. I’ve been
keeping him in touch over the past few months as to where our thinking is at.
He’s indicated on behalf of the Opposition that they support the removal of the
reach rule. That’s a good thing. I’d be pretty confident that they will support
our enhanced protections for local content and local news content for regional
TV. And he’s indicated that they have an open mind in relation to the 2 out of
3 rule. Again Fran, can I say I think for people who are younger than you and
I, they would be a little bit bemused that we’re even having a discussion about
if it’s worthwhile getting rid of the 2 out of 3 or not. They would just see it
as completely irrelevant to the world that we live in today.
Maybe not so if they’re living in the bush though or in regional Australia. You
talk about local content and this has always been a touchy point within the
Coalition. Particularly some kind of protection for news content in rural and
regional Australia. Now your rules I understand, you’ve agreed to higher
protection for local news content and these protections will come in place
after what you call a trigger event. What’s a trigger event?
Well, a trigger event for the purposes of the legislation is if there are
reconfigurations, changes in ownership or control in regional areas for TV that
would see a group of TV licenses have more than 75 per cent audience reach,
then that would constitute a trigger event. Six months after that there would
be for what are known as aggregated markets in regional areas a new and higher
local content requirement. At the moment those providers have to ensure that
there are 720 points of locally significant material, that would rise to 900.
So we would have a new benchmark. But on top of that in major population
centres in the non-aggregated markets following a trigger event there would be
for the first time local content requirements of 360 points, over a six week
period that is.
And what’s the definition of local content? Because there is also fears that
the National Party has been airing again recently. They don’t what just a rip
and read bulletin from capital cities dealing with issues for their area. They
want real crews on the ground. Journalists on the ground.
Look regional broadcasters say that if they can get scale as a result of
changes to media law then they will be more viable and in a better position to
provide local content.
Well they say that
but what’s the guarantee that that’s where they spend their money. There’s
always plenty of places to spend their money.
saying is we take that at face value and therefore those organisations will be
untroubled by the fact that we’re introducing new and higher local content
standards. We’re also introducing an incentive for those media organisations to
produce content. They will get 3 points if they not only have material that’s
relevant to a local area but also has footage from the local area, so we’re
providing an incentive for them to provide that local presence.
The ABC of course does produce local content. It produces in there in the
regions. We have radio stations, we have crews and we have journalists on the
ground. Jason Clare again told AM this morning that the ABC becomes even more
important to regional Australia after these changes. Do you agree with that and
therefore will you guarantee our regional funding? Maybe self-interest at play
with that question Minister but I may as well get you on the record.
Sure. Fran the ABC is and always as been and always will be very important in
regional Australia. Which is why at the end of last year there was some
sensitivity when there were some changes made by ABC management to regional
radio. There’s a great sense of ownership of rural and regional ABC radio. And
that’s important. So that will continue. But we also want to make sure that we
have a good and strong and a viable future for TV in regional areas and that
there are good local content protections. So we’re through this legislation
introducing new and higher local content protections in the aggregated markets.
And in the non-aggregated markets in the major population centres introducing a
baseline of local content for the first time. So that’s good news for regional
It’s 16 to 8 on Breakfast. Our guest is the Communications Minister Mitch
Fifield who’s also the Manager of Government Business in the Senate. In that
role Minister the proposed changes to the Senate voting rules. Are you running
the risk of crossbenchers blocking everything the Government puts up? Given
that you’re now bringing in rules that would basically put them out of
existence? How do you think you’re going to have a workable Senate in the
We’ve taken a principles based approach to the introduction of electoral
law reform that deals with the issue of the method of voting for the Senate.
Is it a principles based approach though that only works in terms of the
functioning of the Senate if you go to a double dissolution election? Only
makes sense in that context?
This is change that is required regardless of when the election is held. I, as
you mention Fran, have the great joy and delight of being the Manager of
Government Business in the Senate. I spend a lot of time with our crossbench
colleagues. Yes, numbers of them have made clear they don’t like our electoral
reform proposals. It’s important to recognise that Senator Nick Xenophon, an
independent, is supportive of these proposals. But I take my crossbench
colleagues as I find them. And they have issue by issue, by and large, been
prepared to look at the issues on their merits and I hope that continues. .
On another issue the Government seems to be at six and seven’s over tax policy.
In your view, I know you were in the Party Room meeting yesterday. Did Tony
Abbott help things with his help things with his intervention there or has he
made it basically impossible for the Government to make any changes on negative
One of the virtues I think of our Party Room system is that there is a forum
where colleagues can speak in confidence. Because it’s a closed forum they have
that opportunity. So I won’t be commenting on what may or may not have been
said in the Party Room.
Well we’ve had the
official briefing though and we have been told some of the things that have
been said and we know he said the Government needs to take up the challenge of
spending. And we know he said it’s not the time to make changes to negative
gearing you should just focus on tearing down Labor’s policy. Did you welcome
his intervention in the Party Room? Let me just ask you that.
I guess if I can make a broader point. I think every former Prime Minister and
former leader has a right to comment. Look at John Howard, I’m enjoying his
comments at the moment on the 20 year anniversary since he was elected. I think
we should look to John Howard as a model for how former Prime Ministers and
former leaders contribute to debate.
Mitch Fifield thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
Mitch Fifield is the Federal Communications Minister and Manager of Government
Business in the Senate, which is quite a job at the moment, might get a bit
tougher going forward shall we say.