TRANSCRIPT - ABC Insiders
6 March 2016
E & OE
Party Room, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, media reform, ABC, ABCC
Mitch Fifield, good morning, welcome.
Good to be with you, Barrie.
You wouldn’t want too many more weeks like last week, would you? Disunity is
and always has been deadly for political parties.
Well Barrie, I think we have displayed an incredible degree of unity since we
had the change in September last year. What were obviously very difficult
events. And which do take some people time to process. Bearing that in mind, I
think we’ve done remarkably well in presenting a united front and focusing on
the people’s business.
Just look at last week, Tony Abbott attacked Malcolm Turnbull in effect for
what might have been a spurious claim over the submarines deadlines and Malcolm
Turnbull put him back in his box.
Well Barrie, I think former leaders and former Prime Ministers by virtue of
the offices that they’ve held, have earned a right to speak on a range of
issues. But equally, former leaders and former Prime Ministers also have a
particular duty of care to the Government to not do or say anything that would
effect the electoral prospects
Do you think
Tony Abbott is keeping to that side of the bargain?
really for Tony Abbott to measure himself against what I think is the model of
how a former Prime Minister, a former leader, should conduct themselves, which
is John Howard.
Abbott did put out a message, essentially reassuring his colleagues that he
wouldn't sabotage the campaign. Is that a message that you think the Party
needed to hear?
Party member wants us to win the next election. Every Party member wants to see
Bill Shorten never occupy the Lodge, never have his hands on the levers. Every
member of the Party, every Member of Parliament, needs to keep their focus on
Tony Abbott made that
point in a slightly different way. He said that whatever concerns he has about
the Turnbull Government, they pale in comparison with the prospect of a Shorten
Government. So he’s actually saying I don't like Malcolm Turnbull very much,
but Bill Shorten's even worse. That's not much of a message?
Well, what I
found heartening yesterday was that Tony Abbott himself said, "We have got
to focus on the election of the Turnbull Government". And I expect him to
follow through on that.
publication now of Niki's book, though, and you've heard us discussing that. Do
you think it will make matters worse? Will it make tensions even harder to
inevitable when you have significant events in the life of a nation, as
occurred in September last year, that there will be histories written. That
there will be accounts of the events that led to a change of Prime Minister.
That's inevitable. I think it's quite right that there is a public record of
what led to such a significant change. I think all colleagues need quite
frankly to take that in their stride.
So in that sense it
might help to give the country a better sense of what lead up to the leadership
Well, people will
ask. People will want to have their views on the record. The important thing is
that there be respect for the views that people are presenting. I mean it's
just not real world to expect that there won't be authoritative accounts of
events as occurred in September.
The John Howard
anniversary dinner during the week it seemed Tony Abbott was much better
received than Malcolm Turnbull was. Yet the people, I think it is fair to say,
and the polls indicated that, embraced Malcolm Turnbull when he became the
leader. Do you think the Liberal Party will ever embrace him in the same way?
The Liberal Party has
embraced Malcolm Turnbull. Whenever I've seen Malcolm at Party events around
the nation as Prime Minister, or as Communications Minister before, he's been
extremely well received. Be in no doubt, the Liberal Party membership, Liberal
supporters, want to see Malcolm Turnbull remain as Prime Minister and win the
Part of the reason
perhaps people embraced him was they saw the Party moving more towards the
centre. In retrospect, were they wrong to assume that?
Well, I think Malcolm has moved towards the centre. The centre is where
Australian politics is fought. The centre is where elections are won. Malcolm
is a classical Liberal. He's bang in the centre, where most Australians are.
How has he
done that? Demonstrate how he has moved the party to the centre?
I think partly it's
through tone. It's through the language that he uses. It's through emphasising
that we are one nation. Through emphasising inclusion. I think a big part of it
has got to do with the tone that he's used, the language he's used.
But in the end it has
to be more than tone and language, doesn't it?
The centre is where
Australian politics is debated. The centre is where Malcolm Turnbull is.
On media laws now,
and after years of handwringing, I think it's fair to say on both sides of
politics, are you a little surprised about how suddenly these new rules are
being broadly embraced?
I think it's a sign
that Australians recognise that our media laws were crafted in an analogue
world for an analogue world. They don't reflect the contemporary way that
Australians access media. Australians have more choice than ever before. So I
think Australians get that. Also, I think the media organisations understand
that the media laws at some point would have to change. So I've been very
encouraged by the response across the board. Obviously there are varying
degrees of enthusiasm amongst media organisations for these changes. But I
think basically everyone gets reality.
There will be
sensitivities over regional coverage. How will this local content requirement
Well, at the moment,
there's a requirement in what are known as the aggregated regional TV markets
for 720 points of local content...
What does that
That essentially is a
proxy for the number of minutes of local content that there are over a six-week
period. What we are proposing is that after a trigger event, namely
reconfigurations, changes in ownership that would see a group of TV licences
have more than 75% audience reached nationwide, that there would be a new and
higher base line of local content. Which would be 900 points of local content.
And we are also including in the points system an incentive for regional TVs to
actually produce and film local content. So they get bonus points if in their
news they have local footage.
And on the
anti-siphoning rules, you haven't spoken a lot about that because it's not part
of this package, but I gather it's something you will be looking at further
down the track. Now I accept that there are major events, AFL, Rugby League,
Commonwealth Games, Olympic games, those sorts of things that will probably
always be on the list. But do you think it's time to look again - that there is
room to move on that front?
You're right. The
anti-siphoning list isn't part of the package that I'm putting forward. But
this is a list that has changed over time. There have been things that have
come on the list. There have been things that have come off the list. The
anti-siphoning list does not provide an absolute protection for the events on the
list going onto free-to-air. There is nothing to compel free-to-airs to
actually acquire the events. There is nothing to compel them to put them on
air. And there's nothing to stop them from grabbing the events and then
on-selling to subscription TV. But it does provide a degree of comfort for the
public that the events they love will be on free-to-air. I think if there was
to it be a significant change to the anti-siphoning list, that there would need
to be a good understanding in the community about what the list does and what
it doesn't do. But also, there would need to be broad parliamentary support for
change. And I don't think that those circumstances are there at the moment.
I want to go close to
home and I hardly have to declare an interest here, but nearly three years ago
the Gillard Government gave the ABC $20 million a year to boost news services,
including in the regions. Is that allocation now at risk?
moment, we are in the lead-up to the budget. We are in the lead-up to agreement
for the next triennium of ABC funding. The ABC as you know Barrie gets about a
billion dollars a year. Part of the ABC's core business is, should be, and will
always remain, I hope, providing services to people in regional Australia.
Exactly what the funding arrangements will be, they'll be revealed in the
Budget. But you can rest assured that the Government will always make sure that
the ABC is appropriately resourced to do its job and that we see part of the
ABC's core business as servicing rural and regional Australia.
said of you to do that, if that allocation was to go, that would be the third
significant cut since Tony Abbott first promised not to cut the budget. Do you
see this as a special one-off allocation or do you think it is part of ongoing
Barrie, you'll have
to wait and look at the Budget to see what the funding provision is for the
ABC. But we will make sure that the ABC has the dollars to do what it needs to
From the ABC to the
ABCC. As Manager of Government Business in the Senate, I now gather that that
bill won't be put to the Senate for a vote in the autumn session?
Well, in the next
sitting week, our focus is going to be the Senate electoral reform bill. Now,
we don't have the numbers in the Senate. So that means, if we want to make sure
that we can get the electoral reform bill to a vote, we need to reach an
agreement with the Greens for extra hours. The Greens have agreed to do that,
but part of that arrangement is that we can only deal with bills that they’re
comfortable with. So the ABCC will be dealt with in the sitting week after
So there still might
be a vote in the autumn session?
We'd love to get the
ABCC bill to a vote. Labor, are filibustering just as they do with the
electoral reform bill. If Labor made appropriate contributions we could get it
to a vote. I want to get it to a vote. Michaelia Cash wants to get it to a
vote. But ultimately that’s in the hands of our colleagues in the Senate.
Are you denying
yourself a second trigger or do you see it a failure to support it amounts to
the same thing?
We want to get this
bill passed. So far there's been a failure to have it passed. We would much rather,
we would much rather, get the votes that we need from the cross-bench to see
that legislation passed. That's our objective.
Thanks for your time
this morning, much appreciated.
Good to be with