TRANSCRIPT - Melbourne Press Club Address Q&As with Mark Baker
30 March 2016
E & OE
Minister has agreed to take questions. Our custom at the Press Club is that
working journalists come first. I’d ask everybody who poses a question to make
it a question not a statement and please identify yourself by name and
organisation, thank you.
from The Australian. Sadly I heard what you said about wanting to forget about
being Manger of Parliamentary Business in the Senate, but sadly I have a
question about that.
You are at the
moment of course looking at the ABCC Bill in the Senate. There’s some talk
about negotiations with the crossbench to do that. Today a couple of them have
popped up and said, actually government isn’t talking to us and basically
throwing into question the bonne fides of any such negotiations. How do you
respond to that? Have you been talking to them and what’s actually happening
that. Michaela Cash is the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and
has been talking to the crossbench for a long time on this issue. So yes, the
Government is talking to the crossbench.
As Manager of
Government Business in the Senate, I’m a legislative optimist. You have to be.
Good things can happen in the Senate, and have, during the time that we have
been in government.
Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation is something that
we were very upfront about going into the last election. We made our case which
was that this is important for productivity in the building industry. It’s
important to have the rule of law on building sites. It’s important to have a
cop on the beat. So we’ve been very upfront. This is not an area of reform that
has been a secret.
Now one of
our frustrations has been that the Opposition have been filibustering a lot of
Bills in the Senate over a long period of time and their intention was to deny
the Senate the opportunity to address the ABCC legislation. So the Prime
Minister has recommended to the Governor General that the Parliament be recalled
so that the Senate can make a call on this legislation.
Now we are
negotiating with the Crossbench in good faith. But for the Government to
consider a proposition in the form of an amendment by a crossbencher would
require that the crossbencher can evidence that they have the support of five
of their colleagues. It’s not worth considering if they can’t give that
amendment can’t seek to weaken the intent of the legislation, nor can it seek
to go substantially beyond what the purpose of the ABCC is. So Michaela Cash is
negotiating in good faith. We would much prefer to have this legislation pass
through the Senate. But if it’s not, if we do find ourselves at an impasse,
then we have a constitutional mechanism to resolve that deadlock which we will
from The Australian, technology reporter. I just have a couple of technology
It’s on the
recent outages Telstra has been facing. I was wondering if the Government has a
view on that? And it’s meant to be looking at the review Telstra is putting
into its network.
Question is an nbn question around why the Government remains wedded to fibre
to the node, give that remediation and maintenance cost pop up?
thanks for that. You’re right, Telstra have had some issues of late and Andy
Penn has been very upfront that Telstra is undertaking a review as to what are
the common elements, if any, in relation to those areas of disruption that
they’ve had. So they are going to be looking at that exhaustively. Telstra are
keeping us updated on their work. But ultimately it is a matter for Telstra.
to nbn, you ask why is it that we’re sticking to fibre to the node. We’re
sticking to a rage of technologies. Our predecessors in the form of Stephen
Conroy, took what I describe as a theological approach to the nbn rather than a
technology approach. We are technology agnostic when it comes to what are the
modalities that can see the nbn rolled out fastest and at lowest cost. So we’re
pursing what’s called a multi-technology mix. Whatever is the technology that
would see the nbn rolled out fastest and at lowest cost is what nbn will
So we’ve got
fibre to the node. We’ve got fibre to the premise. We’ve got fixed wireless.
We’ve got satellite. Whatever gets the nbn out fastest and at lowest cost,
that’s the mandate for the nbn. And that approach will see the nbn rolled out
six to eight years sooner than would be the alternative and at about $30
billion dollars less cost.
mentioned copper, the issue of copper remediation. Copper is used in two parts.
One is for the last connection to an individual premise, the other is copper to
go from the node to the pillar in the street. Now in terms of the last bit to
go toward someone’s house, my advice to date from nbn is there haven’t been
issues with the copper network and that hasn’t had to be replaced. But there
does need to be a copper link between the node and the pillar in the street.
But using the
copper that is currently there, is one of the reasons why we can roll out the
nbn much faster because there is a great reduction in the amount of civil works
which are required.
of late have been saying that the nbn is off track. It’s not. The nbn has met
all of its targets over the last six quarters. We’ve got about 1.8 million
premises ready for service. There are about 900,000 people who are connected to
the nbn at the moment and we’re aiming to have it finished by 2020. So the
story of the nbn is a good one.
from Sky News. Senator. Just heard your comments about the ABCC, saying that
you’re opposed to any amendments which either weaken or broaden its scope.
Why as a
matter of principal would you be opposed to broadening the scope of any
commission if it achieved your primary target which is to deal with corruption
within the building industry? And given also that we’ve seen some stark
examples in recent times but the building industry is far from the only sector
of the economy which is affected by serious examples of corruption?
Obviously anything that would weaken the ABCC its self-evident why we would
oppose amendment that proposed to do that. In terms of extending the ABCC
beyond its current scope, I guess what I’m referring to is some of the
propositions to establish a broader anti-corruption body.
perfectly reasonable for colleagues to argue that there should be new law
enforcement bodies or new anti-corruption bodies for particular sectors. But
that really is a separate issue. The bill that is before us is related to
Australia’s building industry. So that’s the proposition that’s before the
Senate. That’s the proposition that the Senate should address.
have views about other sectors and other bodies and other law enforcement
agencies then that really is a separate argument.
from AAP. I was wondering if you could expand a little bit on the timing around
when the media laws might actually take effect and the inevitability of media
merges post that time. And what’s the plan to ensure that there really remains
a range of media voices and we don’t end up with two or three media organisations
that are ruling the roost?
the legislation has been referred by the Senate to the Senate Communications
Committee for enquiry. That enquiry reports back on 12 May. Senate rules
dictate that legislation that is before a Senate Committee cannot be brought on
for debate before the committee reports.
obviously to see this legislation passed as soon as possible, but I need the
numbers to do that and I am continuing discussions with my counterpart across the
aisle, Jason Clare. He does have an open mind on ‘2 out of 3’. ‘75% reach’
they’re on board with. But I want to see this go forward as a package and I
would urge the Labor Party to come on board and to treat it as a package. If
the Australian Parliament can’t address these two rules together then there is
a failure to appreciate the world that we’re currently living in today.
In terms of
potential merger activity after the passage of this legislation. I’m someone
who is ownership agnostic. As long as people are playing by the rules, then
it’s a matter for individual media organisations to determine what is the best
way for them to configure themselves and with whom, for their particular
When it comes
to diversity, I’m pretty relaxed because as I say, we’re not proposing the
abolition of the ‘5/4 rule’ which mandates that there are five independent
media voices in metropolitan areas, four in regional areas. We’re not proposing
to get rid of the ‘one to a market rule’ which only allows one holder of a TV
licence in a particular market, or the ‘two to a market rule’ which restricts
an outfit to having no more than two radio licences in a particular market.
Add to that,
the fact that we’ve still got the ACCC and their various requirements. And then
to add on to that, we have the issue of FIRB requirements as well. So taking
all of that into account, I’m relaxed on the issue of diversity. But I guess I
come back to trying to explain that to someone below the age of 30 or 25 or 20
that there are concerns about issues of diversity in how people access the
media. They access what they want, when they want and how they want.
Karvelas, I’m the presenter of RN Drive at the ABC and also at Sky News on the
weekend so breaking that ‘2 out of 3’, I’m four out of ten, I’m everywhere.
I’ve got a
question on tax. Now I’ve known you a long time Mitch Fifield from when you
were in the ginger group, the backbench ginger group on tax reform in the
I am, because
it’s a question on tax, on this proposal that’s been floated, the States being
able to raise their own income taxes which is quite a radical proposal,
something we haven’t seen really for many, many years.
What do you
make of the claim that I know the Labor Party plans to prosecute, that you’re
basically hitting people twice, double tax that you’re meant to be
conservatives cutting back taxes but effectively people will face higher taxes
under a scheme like this?
What will be
your response given I’ve heard everyone on the public record today effectively
prosecuting this quite radical proposal?
Well I’d say
Bill Shorten is wrong. That this is not double taxation. This would be the
Commonwealth creating space for income tax which would go to the States. The
Australian Tax Office would still be the collection agency for both levels of
government. So I would say that Bill Shorten is wrong. Don’t start your scare
campaign Bill, people will see through it.
Prime Minister has done is put a proposition to the States and Territories that
seeks to more directly align the level of government that spends a dollar
having a responsibility for raising the dollar and therefore, for making the
case to the community about why that tax dollar is needed. I don’t think anyone
would pretend that our Federation is a perfect creation. It’s not. It’s
groaning under the strain of lack of accountability between the level of
government that spends a dollar and the level of government that raises a
The PM has
put this on the table for discussion. A number of First Ministers have
indicated that they’re open to the discussion. First Ministers in the
jurisdictions have been briefed on the proposition before the Government has
spoken about it publically. Let’s see where Friday’s Premiers Conference leads.
Schetzer from The Age. I just wanted to ask you
regarding the climate in the media industry, obviously my job is on the line
along with my colleagues, the recent announcement from Fairfax to cut jobs and
I wanted to ask what the role of government could be in the industry?
Fairfax isn’t alone in job cuts and it effects our ability to do what I think
many consider to be a public service, is there a role for government, you know
tax cuts for new Start-ups, media new voices can you just give us money like
you gave to the car industry for years?
Well the car industry is perhaps not a good analogy because we did cease that
particular activity in the not too distant past. But I take your point. It’s an
unsettling time to be a journalist, as media organisations are changing the way
that they deliver.
reference to Greg Hywood’s opinion piece from last week and Greg has had a bit
to say over recent times on the challenges that are facing Fairfax. But Fairfax
is not unique in addressing it. Changes in technology. Changes in the habits of
Is there a
role for government? Well, yes I think there is a role for government and the
role for government is to create a policy environment that gives the greatest
freedom to media organisations to configure themselves in ways that will help
them be viable. And that’s what the package of reforms that I’ve put in the
Parliament is about. It’s about giving greater freedom to media organisations.
Just to take regional broadcasters. Regional TV broadcasters, as an example, they’ve
been strong advocates of the reforms that we’re putting forward because they
say give us the freedom to combine in ways that will enhance our viability. So
there is a role for Government. I don’t think it’s by way of direct support.
optimistic about journalism. There will always be a market for quality
journalism. There will always be a market for what it is that people who are
good investigators and good writers do. So I’m optimistic.
name is Ranald MacDonald I’m a friend of the ABC, or ABC Friends as they call
themselves. It’s difficult to follow Greg Hywood’s comments about how less
reporters makes for more quality, but I would like to comment and then ask you
comment, your initial remarks your heart-rendering or heart-warming comments
about nearly peeling paint at Bendigo Street and the IKEA for Sky, as I thought
possibly directed against the ABC and triennial funding, and your suggestion
about giving adequate funds with something like 25% in real terms reduction,
with a number of reports including KPMG that said any further cuts, under the
Howard Government would restrict quality programing. What further cuts are you
going to bring in with the triennial funding in real terms or are we looking for
a better future for the ABC? And it’s providing services to all of Australians?
Ranald. And I think probably everyone in this room would be happy to class
themselves as a friend of the ABC. The ABC is an important national institution
and Australians have a great deal of affection for it.
to Sky and the old Bendigo Street studios were more really to make a point
about commercial broadcasters rather than to be a reflection on the ABC. But
given the inevitability of it being seen as a reflection on the ABC, I thought
I would hasten to add that the ABC will be resourced to a degree that Tony
Jones won’t need to take to the tools just yet.
The ABC does
receive significant funding from the public. And I think the public are pretty
relaxed about that. We are in the lead up at the moment to the next triennium
is something determined in the context of the budget. So I can’t give you today
what the dollar figure is that the ABC would be receiving. But rest assured,
the ABC will be well resourced. And it will be able to do the important work
that it does.
is my name, I’m a former journalist with the Herald newspaper. In your capacity
as Leader of Government Business in the Senate, you deal closely with the
independent Senators. I wondered if you’d care to tell us what that’s like and
give us a free character assessment?
William and you failed to mention your distinguished service in the Victorian
Parliament previously. Look it’s a joy being the Manager of Government Business
in the Senate. And for the record, all of my Senate colleagues, Liberal,
National, Labor, crossbench are handsome, intelligent and wise.
But in all
seriousness, yes we have, as you know, changed the law in relation to the voting
system for the Senate, because we want the votes of individual citizens to
achieve the result that they were actually intending when they cast their
ballot in the ballot box. Now that’s not a reflection on the Senators who are
there. They were elected according to the rules as they were. So they won their
seats according to the rules. So that’s a statement of fact.
with the crossbench on the whole have been pretty professional and pretty
cordial. But ultimately I think in this business you’ve got to start by not
dealing with someone where you want them to be. You’ve got to start by dealing
with them where they are and then work back from there. And by doing that,
we’ve achieved some good legislative outcomes in the current parliament. But that
hasn’t been the case with the ABCC. As I say, I’ve put some of the blame on the
Labor Party for continually filibustering and using procedural tactics to deny
the Senate the opportunity to actually get to a vote on occasion. But the ABCC
legislation is important and we will continue to negotiate with the crossbench
in good faith. And I hope that six, at least six of the eight crossbenchers,
will agree to support the ABCC legislation.
thank you very much for a thought provoking address and your practice in
answering questions. These issues are of critical importance to all of us and
the future of our industry. So, I wish you well in your endeavours. As a small
token of our appreciation I’d like to give you this very substantial gift you probably
needed to declare it.
Press Club’s contribution to our industry, one of them has been the
establishment of the Australian Media Hall of Fame. This book which we
published about a year ago profiles the 81 foundation inductees from Victoria.
Later this year we’ll move interstate and around the country to make it a truly
National Hall of Fame. The purpose of this exercise, absolutely, is about
highlighting the importance of good journalism, great journalism, quality
journalism and our past, in our present and in our future, so with our
compliments, thank you.
contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak@communications.gov.au