ABC AM > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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29-November-2016

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
7:15am EDST
29 November 2016

E & OE

BRISSENDEN:

For more on this I’m joined by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Mitch Fifield. Senator Fifield good morning.

FIFIELD:

Good morning Michael.

BRISSENDEN:

The negotiations over the ABCC are, they’re moving slowly, to say the least. As we heard the Senate sat late last night, when do you expect this will come to a vote?

FIFIELD:

Ultimately that’s in the hands of the Senate Chamber itself. But we’re working hard to secure the support of the Crossbench. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation have indicated that they will support the package. David Leyonhjelm has indicated that he will as well, and discussions with the other groupings are continuing.

But I’ve got to say Michaelia Cash is doing a sensational job. She’s absolutely focused on the objective here, which is to ensure that Australia’s building sites are as productive as they can be.

BRISSENDEN:

No one likes to hear this least of all Senators who are sitting late into the night, but presumably there is a mechanism for you to extend the sitting after Thursday if you need to?

FIFIELD:

Well, in terms of hours in the Senate everything is in the hands of the Chamber itself. We don’t have a majority in our own right so extending the hours is something we look to other groupings in the parliament. The Crossbench have accepted and recognised that management of the Senate is a shared responsibility of all Senators when the Government of the day doesn’t have a majority. And they’ve demonstrated that last night providing the Senate with the opportunity to conclude the second reading debate.

BRISSENDEN:

Ok, you’re still working through the details essentially with Nick Xenophon and the Nick Xenophon Team. I know Derryn Hinch is also involved in this, but Nick Xenophon seems to be the sticking point, in particular his demands for more water for South Australia. Now are you getting closer?

FIFIELD:

Well, look we are absolutely committed to the Murray Darling Basin Plan to delivering it in full and on time.

BRISSENDEN:

He worries you’re not committed in the way that he thinks you should be though.

FIFIELD:

The Prime Minister has made it crystal clear. We are committed. We continue discussions with Senator Xenophon and his team on a range of amendments. But we’re focused on securing this important legislation. As I say, Australian building and construction sites are an important part of our economy. They can be, from time to time, lawless. There can be thuggery, and there can be coercion. It’s important that we have a cop on the beat who can ensure that people can work in safety, can work without intimidation and this important part of the economy can be productive.

BRISSENDEN:

Sure, water is an important part of the South Australian economy too. And Nick Xenophon was on the program yesterday saying he was taken by surprise when Barnaby Joyce last week announced that in fact they weren’t going to release quite as much water and there would be more water for the north of the system and less water for the south of the system. Did it surprise you? Did it surprise the Cabinet that Barnaby Joyce announced this and if not, what’s going on?

FIFIELD:

Well, the Government is absolutely committed to the plan. Delivering it on time and in full.

BRISSENDEN:

But it’s not, it’s not the plan that Nick Xenophon believed was coming…

FIFIELD:

There has been no change. There has been no change to the plan.

BRISSENDEN:

So the less water, the more water for the north not releasing as much water in the north is not a change to the plan?

FIFIELD:

There has been no change to the plan.

BRISSENDEN:

Right, he thinks there has been a change, you say there hasn’t been a change.

FIFIELD:

Look, there hasn’t been a change to the plan…

BRISSENDEN:

He’s obviously not convinced of that…

FIFIELD:

The Cabinet is as one on that. The Prime Minister has made that clear.

BRISSENDEN:

All right, the Government has also agreed during these negotiations to a demand from David Leyonhjelm for the ABC and the SBS to hold regular community forums alongside their board meetings. Now you’re the Communications Minister how do you envisage that working?

FIFIELD:

Well, look I think this is a good thing. Whether you’re a Member of Parliament in public life, whether you work for a public agency such as the ABC, you can always do more and should always do more to connect with the community. So the proposition that David Leyonhjelm has put forward, which we’ve accepted, is that after at least half of the ABC’s full board meetings, there will be an open community forum where the board can hear feedback from the community and where the community can get a better understanding as to how the ABC works. I think that’s a good thing. David Leyonhjelm has also asked, and we’ve agreed, that at least two of those full board meetings be held in regional Australia. And that’s not just for the ABC that’s also for SBS.

BRISSENDEN:

The Boards will hear feedback from the community but are they bound to act on that? And if they’re not, are they bound to act on criticisms and if they’re not what’s the point of it?

FIFIELD:

The ABC as you well know Michael, has statutory independence in terms of their editorial, in terms of their programing. Nothing effects that. But I know that the ABC board would value this opportunity to hear direct from members of the public. It’s good for all of us to get out and about. I know that you and this program regularly get out and about in regional Australia, talk to people in a range of different communities. It’s a good thing for you. That’s a good thing for this program. And it should be no less so the case for the Board of the ABC and SBS.

BRISSENDEN:

Sure. His criticism seems to be that, well the point of this as far as he’s concerned seems to be that he thinks the ABC in particular, perhaps SBS as well are out of touch with their audience, do you think so?

FIFIELD:

You’ve always got to work hard to make sure that you stay in touch. Whether you’re a Member of Parliament. Whether you’re a broadcaster. Whether you’re a board member of the ABC. This is a new mechanism to provide that opportunity. I think it’s a good thing. I think the board will appreciate it and the community will appreciate it.

BRISSENDEN:

OK, Mitch Fifield, we’ll leave it there, thanks very much for joining us.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Michael.

[ends]