TRANSCRIPT - ABC Brisbane with Steve Austin > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - ABC Brisbane with Steve Austin

8.35am
23 March 2016



E & OE

AUSTIN:

You’d know that we have a de facto election campaign underway, one hundred odd days god help us, because of a disagreeable Senate that you might head to the polls as early as July Second.

My next guest is fully immersed in this fray and is a key player for the Federal Government in the upper house, Senator Mitch Fifield is Federal Minister for Communications and the Arts and is Manager of Government business in the Senate. He’s in Brisbane, thanks for coming in. 

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Steve. 

AUSTIN:

I know it’s not your portfolio, but is there anything more the Federal Government knows about what’s occurred in Belgium?

FIFIELD:

Well I think the first reaction of everyone in government is basically a human one. Horrified by what we see. Knowing that it can happen here, and has sadly happened in Australia. We saw the Lindt Café tradgedy. So the first reaction is very much a human one.

Secondly as a government, we have to move to think about the situation of Australians who maybe over there. And our advice to people who may have family or friends in Belgium is, firstly to try and make contact with them. If you can’t, then do feel free to call 
1300 555 135 which is the Department of Foreign Affairs Consular Advice Line. So that’s our prime focus at the moment. But obviously with the rest of the international community we want to do everything we possibly can to bring these people to justice.   

AUSTIN:

The Federal Government has a Security Committee have they changed Australia’s Security Threat Level at all?

FIFIELD:

I heard the Attorney this morning say that our threat level has not been altered. I guess it’s worth pausing at a time like this to reflect that our great strength as a western liberal democracy is our freedom and our openness. But that also, in a sense, is our vulnerability, the fact that we are open. So we’ve got to do whatever we can to protect ourselves. 

AUSTIN:

The man Abdul Salam who was arrested last week in Belgium was not an immigrant. While he was an Arabic speaker, he was not an Arabic immigrant. He was a Belgium born citizen. And as I understand it, the big concern or the big threat for many of these terror incidents in non-Middle Eastern Countries are not from immigrants but actually from people who are born in a county and seemingly grow up with contempt for the country they’ve grown up in. What can any government do about that?

FIFIELD:

Well one of the very troubling things is that a number young people are attracted to this deeply offensive world view. I think we’ve got to take a step back and think, what is it that young people are looking for? Ultimately they are looking for something that is bigger than themselves. And sadly some young people are finding a cause bigger than themselves in this...

AUSTIN:

... So something to stand and believe in?

FIFIELD:

Yes, I think that’s what people are looking for.

AUSTIN:

So it’s an existential question isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

Well yes. But as a society what we’ve got to say to these young people is that there are many good, great and wonderful things bigger than yourself that are positive and that are good. 

AUSTIN:

In the post-Christian west what do we offer? If Judeo Christian values have collapsed and belief in God is declining and declining not in the world, but only in western countries, western democracies, what do we offer if we say there is nothing beyond what we see?

FIFIELD:

Well I don’t think we do have to say that there is nothing beyond what we see. As a pluralistic society, there are a range of good and positive alternatives that can be presented. Those that are based around faith. Those that are based around positive humanist values. I think there are a lot of good alternatives that we can present to young people to say that we understand. You’re searching. You’re questioning. You want to embrace something bigger than yourself. There are great things, there are wonderful things, there are good things that you can embrace. You don’t have to go down this dark and destructive path. 

AUSTIN:

Why aren’t they obvious to people? Our good things, our great things, our wonderful things. They don’t seem to be obvious even for those who aren’t Islamic.  

FIFIELD:

Well it's incumbent upon all of us to reach out to young people to present that which is good. 

AUSTIN:

Alright my guest is Senator Mitch Fifield, he’s Manager of Government Business in the Senate, this is 612 ABC Brisbane.

One more question on this Dr David Kilcullen, Australian, ex-army guy. I know you’re ex-army yourself but ex-army guy, advised both Condoleezza Rice and the Iraqi Government in counter-terror, he was in Brisbane a little while ago, he toured the country about his good Blood Year. He said look, there’s going to be more of these and they will be in Australia. Can I get you to say, what is the Australian Government able to do about that? Not a great deal I don’t think.

FIFIELD:

Well what is critically important are our intelligence agencies and what it is that they are able to discover before events take place. There have been something of the order of half a dozen significant events which have not occurred because Australian Intelligence has provided our authorities the opportunity to disrupt those before anything happens.

AUSTIN:

Listeners appear to be worried about what we may be importing via boat although the evidence doesn’t necessarily support it but at least Australians are worried about it. Can the Australian Government give any further assurances about the, say the 15,000 Syrian people we intend on resettling here, in terms of their, you only need one of that 15,000. That’s the difficulty for any government you only need one successful terror event and things look a bit stressed.

FIFIELD:

Look you’ve always got to balance being a compassionate society, which we are as Australians. We do receive and settle on a per capita basis the highest or the second highest number of refugees. And that’s a good thing. But, as I say, you’ve also got to make sure that you do the appropriate security checks and that’s something that this government does.

AUSTIN:

I’m very grateful for being so generous with some of your comments this morning Senator Fifield. 

The Clean Energy Innovation Fund. We hear that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be today making some announcement about this together with the Federal Environment Minister. Can you tell me anything about it? It’s on page eight of the Courier, I’m fascinated to know.

FIFIELD:

Well we’ll be announcing today that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Agency will be retained and that there will be a clean energy fund of about a billion dollars which will be established. And the purpose will be to provide capital to help encourage and support emerging technologies. It might be something like large scale solar and storage. So it’s part of the menu of arrangements that we will put in place to make sure that we will can meet our emissions reductions targets.  

AUSTIN:

My guest is Senator Mitch Fifield. He’s Federal Minister for Communications and the Arts and he’s also Manager of Government Business in the Senate.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission is going back to the Senate in April, it’s not going to get up is it? It’s not going to get through?

FIFIELD:

Steve look I’ve gone through a morning without remembering that I was the Manager of Government Business in the Senate. You've gone and reminded me. Thank you very much. 

AUSTIN:

Does this mean you’ve failed?

FIFIELD:

No, no, Steve, look we have had a Senate, which I know all too well as the Manager of Government Business, which has been difficult to deal with. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Senate being a house of review. With the Senate scrutinising. With the Senate asking questions. We don’t have an issue with that. But what we’ve been faced with over recent months is a sustained filibuster, to use an American term, of the proceedings of the Senate. Which has meant that it took us a long, long time to get to finally deal with electoral reform. And it's taken a long, long time to even get to the point where we can debate the ABCC bill. So the Prime Minister has asked the Governor General to recall the Parliament so that the Senate can have three weeks to look at the ABCC legislation. All we’re asking is that the Senate makes a call on it.

AUSTIN:

Someone like Senator Glenn Lazarus, came in on Clive Palmers money and then jumped ship and is now an independent. Have you ever taken him for lunch and had a beer and say listen here mate let me explain what we’re trying to do here? In other words, I’m surprised how little Senators from opposing sides have actually talked to each other and try to win each other by the power of argument and discussion.

FIFIELD:

Look, I’ve had lunch with Glenn. I’ve had a beer with Glenn. I’ve shared meals with most of the Senate crossbench over the time that they have been there. There has been no lack of engagement between the Government and the crossbench. But they have a view. They're entitled to a view. But what we find really frustrating and this is really something that needs to be sheeted home to the Australian Labor Party, is that the ALP continually seek to use procedural tactics and to filibuster to prevent us actually getting to a position where the Senate can make a call.

AUSTIN:

Alright, I want to ask you about media laws because media diversity is a bit of  a problem in this state. 

Queensland has a couple of unusual features. It’s quite decentralised, we have major centres outside of Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville. Some would argue and some other regional places as well. But you’re bringing in significant changes to media ownership laws. Just in the language that I can understand. What will they mean 
tomorrow if you release, free up these laws for reading a newspaper, reading a blog, listening to a radio station and watching a television network?

FIFIELD:

Well for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the laws were passed tomorrow. The change on day one, would be none. What these laws are really predicated on is giving media organisations the opportunity to reconfigure in ways that they currently can’t. Now what I mean by that is, we have two media laws that we’re seeking to get rid of. One is, what’s known as the 75% reach rule. Which means that you can’t have a collection of TV licences which have more than 75% audience reach around Australia. Now that’s pretty meaningless in an era where some of the networks actually live stream and have 100% reach. 

The other rule we’re looking to get rid of, is what’s called the two out of three rule. Which prevents more than two out of three of the regulated platforms of Radio, TV and Newspaper merging in a particular market. 

AUSTIN:

That’s a real problem for us. If Australian Provincial Newspapers, sell their papers like the Gympie Times, the Sunshine Coast Daily, whatever those smaller community newspapers? I mean that is a democratic disaster.

FIFIELD:

Well there are some important protections which are still in place, some media rules which we’re not looking to alter.

AUSTIN:

They can’t make a quid. I mean the whole market seems to be collapsing doesn’t it?

FIFIELD:

Well, let me firstly go through the protections. We’re keeping what’s known as the one to the market rule. Which is you can’t have one outfit having more than one TV licence in a market. And the two to a market rule. Which says you can’t have one outfit having more than two commercial radio licences in a market. And we’re also keeping what’s known as the five/four rule. Which is that there’s got to be in metropolitan areas, five voices as they’re called, and in regional areas, four voices. 

So there are those diversity protections. But what we hear from media organisations is that they want the opportunity to reconfigure. They want the opportunity to merge in some cases to get scale. And that’s the particular argument from some of the regional TV operations. They want to be combined in ways that make their business more viable. And they say if they do that, they’re in a better position to provide local content. We take them at their word. Which is why if there is a trigger event that sees some of these mergers happen we’re going to be putting in place and requiring a higher baseline of local content.

AUSTIN:

It’s all about convergence though isn’t it they want to converge to survive they’ve got to have a presence on multiple platforms now. 

Can I get you to attach your headphones, put you headphones on. I’ll take a quick call from a listener. If I can’t then I’ll ask you a follow up question. 

Mark is from Tarragindi, you’ve got an observation about commercial talkback what is it? Hi mate. 

LISTENER:

Good morning Steve, good morning Senator Fifield. Yes I want to know what the Senator will do about the commercial failure in Brisbane of two of our radio stations, where by 4BH has zero percent live and local content in a week and 4BC has just over 10% live and local content in a week. Now in regional areas they are mandated by a licence condition, small markets for you know, up to a couple of 100,000 people for 10 and a half hours of live and local content a day. I think capital cities could at least sustain nine hours of it and I want to know what will the Minister do about this unique problem which has emerged in Brisbane over the last year?

AUSTIN:

It is unusual here, so 2 sorry 4BC which is arguably my main talk competitor, they don’t have a local talk program. You’ve given them a licence but it’s coming out of Sydney. We’ve got Ray Buggerlugs, Ray Hadley on now, magic 882 comes from Melbourne in the morning, we’re the only local talk issues station, and the poor taxpayer has to carry the load. Doesn’t that indicate a complete failure of what the commercial stations are doing here?

FIFIELD:

Well I think the people who have the ultimate power when it comes to commercial radio, are the listeners. If they don’t like the offering they can switch to another radio station.

AUSTIN:

But they can’t in terms of local politics. You know 4BC wouldn’t get you on the air because they’d get you on in Sydney, you know. You’d have nowhere to go Mitch. But they’re not doing it; none of the commercials are doing it. 

FIFIELD:

Yeah, look even in the case of regional TV, just as a comparator, the requirements that we have relate to local news. There's a certain number of minutes of locally relevant content and local news that commercial TV have to provide. So, I don’t know the Government would ever be in the situation of mandating where presenters, for blocks of hours, have to come from, when it comes to commercial radio.

AUSTIN:

You do mandate for news bulletins that they have to do a certain amount of local news content they have to. 

FIFIELD:

That’s right, at the moment it’s, this is for commercial (television), it's 720 minutes in an aggregated market over a six week period. We're wanting to move that baseline to 900 minutes over a six week period. 

 

But look, can I say, it would seldom be the case that it’s been raised with me, issues of local content, in metropolitan areas, because generally it takes care of itself and listeners determine. 

AUSTIN:

It’s not a problem in Melbourne, its, not a problem in Sydney but it is a major problem here in Brisbane.

FIFIELD:

Well it’s been registered with me, through your show Steve. But as I say, I don’t think it’s likely that the Government will mandate that between the hours of nine and six there's got to be four hours of a local presenter on a particular commercial radio station. 

AUSTIN:

I’ll talk to you, I’ll ask one question and I’ll let you go in just a moment I just want to a quick check of the traffic. 

[Break] 

AUSTIN:

Thanks very much Dave, my guest is Senator Mitch Fifield, he’s the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Federal Minister for Communications and the Arts.


I want to ask you about regional radio. As part of the triennial funding, the ABC has asked for money specifically for boosting regional content. Now are you of the mind to give the ABC more money or say sorry guys you’ve got to find that within existing budgets?

FIFIELD:

I’ll make a couple of points Steve.
The first is obviously we’re in the lead up to the budget. Part of the budget will be the ABC’s triennial funding. So I can’t give an indication of what will be in the budget.

AUSTIN:

I’m not asking you what’s going to be in the budget.

FIFIELD:

Other than to say that we will always make sure that the ABC is appropriately resourced. But specifically in relation to the issue of regional and rural radio. Look this is part of the core business of the ABC. Always has been. Is now. And always will be. This is the heart of what the ABC does. And people who live in regional Australia are very protective of their radio, of their ABC radio. And we saw that at the end of last year when the ABC management sought to make some changes in particular regional locations with morning programs.

AUSTIN:

People lost their jobs and it was a very difficult time. 

FIFIELD:

And there was a huge outcry. That was not, taking the ABC at their word, that was not in order to save money and was not as a result of any decisions in relation to funding by government. That was purely a decision of ABC management. But what that indicated to me is just how much people in regional Australia value and have a sense of ownership of regional radio. 

We will make sure that the ABC has the dollars to do what it should do. And the ABC should always see regional radio as a core part of its business.

AUSTIN:

So will the ABC have to find the money from within their existing budgets if you regard it as what the ABC needs?

FIFIELD:

Well I can’t talk to what’s in the budget, you’re going to have to wait to budget night, but rest assured the ABC will get what it needs to do its job.

AUSTIN:

I’ll let you go to your function, thanks very much.

FIFIELD:

Thanks very much Steve.

AUSTIN:

Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield.

[ends]

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