Sunday Agenda with Peter van Onselen & Paul Kelly
9 July 2017
E & OE
Senator thanks very much for your company. We know what's going on with Channel
10 we’ll get to some of those specifics in a moment. But in broad terms
Senator, how hopeful are you that when you reconvene at the end of the winter
recess that this reform package that you have been negotiating with the
crossbenchers will get enough support to get through the Parliament?
Peter, as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate I am by nature a
legislative optimist and that's the approach I take to this legislation.
I'm having very good discussions with my crossbench colleagues.
As they have demonstrated over the last 12 months, they are very open to
considering and to supporting good propositions. This is a Senate that has
worked. We've got 165 pieces of legislation through since the election. 36 in
the last sitting fortnight alone. So this is a Senate that we can work with.
The great disappointment for me is that the Australian Labor Party have
completely absented themselves from what is good, practical, sensible reform
that the entire media industry wants to see.
So I’ll keep
Can I just ask you on that? Do you think that they’re doing that from what
you’ve been able to gather in your negotiations because of some ideological
opposition to two-out-of-three? That seems to be the sticking point for them.
Or do you think they're doing it to try to wedge you and the media companies
because you’re saying it’s all or nothing because your package is what has
media support. If you start disaggregating parts of it then that consensus in
the industry collapses?
I just think its pure opportunism. We’re seeing that same opportunism when it
comes to our proposal to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Now I would have thought if there were two things that you could expect to put
partisanship aside on it would be fully funding the NDIS and supporting media
reform. So I just think its opportunism.
The Australian Labor Party don't care about strong Australian media voices. The
Australian Labor Party don't care about journalists, their continued employment
and the good work that they do, and the important work that they do in a
Minister, you’ve been talking to the industry at length about this and as you
say you've got broad support from the industry for your reforms.
What do you think as Minister will be the consequence within the industry,
within individual companies and the consequences for jobs if this package is
I think this package gives the Australian media industry a fighting chance. It
will represent a shot in the arm by way of the tax cuts that we’re looking to
give the broadcasters. And it also provides options for Australian media
organisations to reconfigure themselves. Now in the absence of those things,
Australian media is going to find it much harder going. And you've got to
assume that will mean further job losses.
I want to see strong Australian media companies. I want to see strong
Australian media voices and I want to see journalism thriving in Australia.
Now Paul one of the more bizarre things in the interactions that there have
been with the Australian Labor Party, over media reform, was a question from
Kieran Gilbert to my shadow, Michelle Rowland. And he said to her in an
interview, “look the entire Australian media industry support this package,
surely that's reason to have pause for thought and to support the package”. And
her response was “well the Australian media industry is only supporting this
because there is something in it for all of them”. I mean that's the Australian
Labor Party’s reason for opposing this package is there is something in it for
all of the Australian media industry. Of course there is, that's the objective.
One of the arguments used by Labor of course is media concentration. Labor is
saying that there is going to be even greater media concentration under your
particular proposal. What's your response to that and what's your response to
their argument about excessive ownership concentration?
My response is twofold. Firstly, we will continue to have some important
diversity protections. We’ll be maintaining what's known as the five/four or
the voices rule which says that you've got to have five independent media
voices in metro areas and four independent media voices in regional areas.
We’ll be keeping the two to a market radio rule, which means that you can’t
have a crowd that has more than two radio licences in and area. And we’ll be
keeping the one to a market TV rule, which says you can’t have a crowd with
more than one TV licence in a market. Also we’ll still have the ACCC protections.
So those are still there.
But my great concern when it comes to diversity is not some consolidation that
may come about as a result of media law changes. My great concern about
diversity is the failure of an Australian media organisation. If we have Australian
media organisations failing then that's not going to do anything to support
The other thing
when it comes to diversity is people will often look at how concentrated the
consumption habits of people are when it comes to the media. I think what's
more important is to look at the range of options that are available to people
when it comes to the media. And we have more options available to consumers
than there ever has been before.
So I think the
best thing that we can do to support continued diversity and to support strong
Australian media voices is to do everything we possibly can to help their
Once upon a time. You know this Minister, we’ve talked about this before. I saw
value in the two out of three but it was pre what you were talking about with
the diversity tht the internet now brings beyond the mainstream media. Would it
be a fair characterisation in your mind, to call these reforms therefore if you
like a lesser of evils? You know, it’s better to have an albeit more concentrated
media notwithstanding the internet. Than the collapse of media organisations
because of economic viability issues in the context of the broadening out of
the media online?
Look, I wouldn't characterise it that way. What I’d say is that this is just
dealing with reality. This is recognising the media landscape as it is. This is
recognising that there are a range of options which didn't previously exist.
This is recognising that Australian media of longstanding is challenged. It's
challenged by revenue shifting to online platforms. These are things that we
can’t ignore. These are things that we’ve got to address. And our media laws
have got to reflect the reality.
And with all the disclaimers in the world in terms of Sky News and News Corp,
vis-a-vis what we know has been publicly announced, the bid between both
Lachlan Murdoch and Mr Gordon for Channel 10. Is there and way that that can
happen without media reform? Or is it just as simple as two out of three knocks
Well I’m always loath to comment on particular propositions, particular
ownership propositions which are on the table. We’ve seen obviously that a
proposition has been put forward and that the ACCC is doing some preliminary
work. But it would be fair to say that the 75% audience reach rule and the two
out of three rule would currently pose some challenges for further ownership
changes in this area.
So I don't want to comment in
particular on what has been proposed. But if you get rid of the 75%
audience reach, if you get rid of the two out of three rule then it provides
options in terms of dance partners for media organisations like Channel 10.
And Paul Anderson the CEO of Channel 10 has been at the forefront of
arguing for the abolition of two out of three and the abolition of the 75%
audience reach. I want to give options to Australian media companies so that
they can configure themselves in the way that best suits their viability.
Not talking then about a particular proposal. Can I ask you in a general sense?
To what extent do you think resistance from the Labor Party to your reforms is
based on the Rupert Murdoch factor? That is concern about News Corporation the
company we work for. Concern that it’s going to have too much power, concern it
will have more power under these new rules than it does now. To what extent do
you think that that bogie is really an issue here?
Labor do jump at media bogeymen, as they perceive them. Labor do believe that
there are gremlins in the Australian media industry. I think that's probably a
factor in their consideration. But what I say to the Australian Labor Party is
that, sure we all know News Limited are big supporters of media reform and the
abolition of the two out of three rule. But so is Fairfax. So is Seven, Nine,
Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, ASTRA, Commercial Radio Australia,
FreeTV. That the entire media industry is now on the one page. Whatever
emotional responses they have to particular media organisations, quite frankly
they’ve got to get over.
You raised the possibility of a company failure just a few minutes ago in your
answer to a question. To what extent do you think if there is a subsequent
company failure and the law is not changed Labor will bare responsibility for
Well I think Labor will bear some responsibility. And I know that there are
media organisations, the executives of, who have said to the Australian Labor
Party, if these reforms don't go through and if we’ve got to shed more jobs
then it will be on your heads. So Labor can’t just whistle and stare at the sky
and act as though all of this has nothing to do with them. It does. They
present themselves as the alternative government of the country. They should
step up and support this package of reforms.
It's no small thing that every Australian media organisation supports this
package of reforms. And I’ve got to pay credit to the leadership of Australian
media, that they have been able to move beyond their own legitimate
organisational interests and look to the broader interests of the media as a
whole. If Australian media executives can do that then surely to goodness the
Australian Labor Party can do that.
If we can move away Senator from your portfolio just for a few moments. I've
got to get your reaction to what has been in-between all these other policy
debates this week, a week of destabilisation and internal fights. Ministers
mouthing off at Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott offering some free advice and
criticism at events they he's been invited to, including by front bench
colleagues of yours. Have you been disappointed by the distraction?
Well I know there's a media obsession with these sorts of issues.
I don't think you can blame us, can you. As the Communications Minister for reporting
on what's going on internally in your own government.
I don't blame the media at all. But I do recognise when they are intensely
focused on a particular subject. I have my own media focus, I have my own media
obsession which is to get this package through the parliament and that's what
I'm working on night and day to secure.
Minister what can be done about the Tony Abbott factor? I mean there's no doubt
this has been damaging to the Government over the course of the last couple of
weeks. Is there a solution? What ought to happen here?
Paul I focus on the job at hand. And my advice to all colleagues is to focus on
their job, the one that they have to hand. Focus on the tasks that they have
been given. That’s what each of us should do.
I'm almost regretting at the moment Minister an article I wrote for the
Australian on Friday suggesting that Ministers should stop commenting on Tony
Abbott and simply say that they want to stick to their portfolio right about
now. We’ll give it one last crack though if I can. It's not going to change
unless something changes that was in essence I think Paul Kelly’s question just
then. Can anything change or is this just a way of life that the Government has
to accept for the rest of its term. That it will have open criticism from the
backbench from a former PM?
Well Peter we don't always agree with what you write but I think you’ve scribed
a very good prescription for me and my colleagues.
Mitch Fifield we’re out of time. We’ll see if Barnaby Joyce gets through it
with the same approach. We appreciate you joining us to talk about media reform
in particular, thank you very much.
Thanks very much.