TRANSCRIPT - ABC Insiders > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

CONTACT SENATOR FIFIELD

Click here to email me

Electorate Office
42 Florence Street
MENTONE VIC 3194

Phone: 03 9584 2455
Phone Toll Free
(Vic only): 1300 797 110

Parliament House Office
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Phone: 02 6277 7480




Media Releases

Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - ABC Insiders

with Barrie Cassidy


6 March 2016

9.20am


E & OE

Subjects: Party Room, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, media reform, ABC, ABCC


CASSIDY:

Mitch Fifield, good morning, welcome.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you, Barrie.

CASSIDY:

You wouldn’t want too many more weeks like last week, would you? Disunity is and always has been deadly for political parties.

FIFIELD:

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. 

CASSIDY:

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.

FIFIELD:

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 

CASSIDY:

Do you think Tony Abbott is keeping to that side of the bargain?

FIFIELD:

Well it's 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.

CASSIDY:

And Tony 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?

FIFIELD:

Well, every 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 that.

CASSIDY:

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?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY:

When the 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 contain?

FIFIELD:

Look, it's 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.

CASSIDY:

So in that sense it might help to give the country a better sense of what lead up to the leadership transition?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY:

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?

FIFIELD:

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 next election.

CASSIDY:

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?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY:

How has he done that? Demonstrate how he has moved the party to the centre?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY:

But in the end it has to be more than tone and language, doesn't it?

FIFIELD:

The centre is where Australian politics is debated. The centre is where Malcolm Turnbull is.

CASSIDY:

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?

FIFIELD: 

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.

CASSIDY:

There will be sensitivities over regional coverage. How will this local content requirement work?

FIFIELD:

Well, at the moment, there's a requirement in what are known as the aggregated regional TV markets for 720 points of local content...

CASSIDY:

What does that actually mean?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY:

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?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY:

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?

FIFIELD:

At the 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.

CASSIDY:

Mark Scott 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 budgetary arrangements?

FIFIELD:

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 do.

CASSIDY:

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?

FIFIELD:

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 that.

CASSIDY:

So there still might be a vote in the autumn session?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY: 

Are you denying yourself a second trigger or do you see it a failure to support it amounts to the same thing?

FIFIELD:

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.

CASSIDY:

Thanks for your time this morning, much appreciated.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with Barrie.

[ends]