774 ABC Melbourne
7 August 2017
E & OE
There are a series
of meetings as our politicians return to Canberra. The Liberal Party will
meet on their own; Cabinet too will consider the issue of same-sex
marriage. The Communications Minister is Senator Mitch Fifield. He's a Liberal
Senator from the state of Victoria. Minister, good morning.
we had the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield?
I'm here, good
And I can hear
you. That's good. Things are going to plan so far. Can we start, though, with
the issue raised by the Mornings program? Jon Faine and his producer Dan
Ziffer put in an FOI request with a simple question, for any documents between
your department and Fox Sports. So the further question is, was there any
correspondence at all between the Government and Fox Sports, written
communication before the decision was made?
The scope of the
FOI request to my department, Raf, was a very narrow one. It only sought
correspondence between my department and Foxtel about the formulation of the
Budget measure. And, you're right, the department determined that there
were no documents that met that description. But given this measure was
developed as part of the last Budget, it's not unusual that there's no
correspondence of that type.
So, was their
correspondence between the Government as a whole? Any part of the Government
and Fox Sports before the decision was made to give them the money?
Well, Raf, the
Budget process is a contained process. And due to that fact, there tend not to
be letters flying all around the place in the preparation of Budget
measures. We have a Budget process. We go through it. That was gone through in
relation to this measure.
Sorry, does that
mean that you decided to spend $30 million without any paperwork going between
Fox Sports and any part of the Government?
Well, Raf, the
budget process has many inputs. The budget process is what's called 'Budget in
confidence' so, obviously, there are papers which are prepared in the consideration
No, I understand.
So can I be really specific with my question? Forgive the interruption. I
understand that there are Cabinet documents we don't get access to, that's
fine. I'm just trying to establish, before you decided to give them $30
million, and you can do what you like, you're in charge. But before you made
that decision, was there any paperwork between the company getting the money,
Fox Sports, and the Government?
Raf. I can't
really go further than I did before to say that there are a range of documents
which go to Cabinet in consideration of Budget matters. The FOI request from
the ABC to my department was a very narrow and a very specific one in relation
to correspondence between my department and Foxtel.
So, Minister, I
don't understand why you can't tell me whether or not there was written
communication before you made the decision?
Well, look, Raf,
I'm not endeavouring to be difficult here…
Perhaps I should
ask you if you can't, or you won't? Is it that you won't answer?
Well, Raf, the
first comment I made to you on this matter was that it is not unusual that in
the context of the preparation of Budget measures, that there isn't correspondence
between the Government and stakeholders.
Why don't I ask who
made the decision? Who made the decision to give the $30 million?
It was a decision
of the Government. It was a decision of the Cabinet. This was something which
was determined as part of the process for the last Budget. But let me put it in
some context for you, Raf, if I may. The media reform package that we have was
all about delivering two community dividends. The first was stronger Australian
media organisations. And the way that we're seeking to give effect to that is
through the abolition of TV and radio licence fees for free-to-airs and
replacing those with a more modest spectrum charge. The other element of
helping to create stronger Australian media voices is to remove some of the
outdated media ownership laws that we have.
community dividend that we sought through the media reform package was the
restriction on gambling advertising during live sport. And this is where it's
important to look at the media reform package as a whole. In the context where
part of the package was about significantly curtailing gambling advertising,
and therefore TV revenues, as a Government, we recognised that the free-to-air
TV operators have the opportunity to offset some revenue losses against the
licence fee reduction part of the package. But we also recognise that
subscription TV has a different operating environment. They don't pay licence
fees, and therefore they don't have the same offset opportunity. And what we as
a Government didn't want to see happen was that the effects of a decision in
one part of the package, such as the gambling ad restrictions, would be to the
detriment of women's sports coverage on subscription TV and recognising that
the majority of women's sports coverage takes place on subscription TV. So,
it's important to look at this as the entirety of the media package.
So I hear that if
you reduce gambling advertising, there are less ways that television
stations can make money. And I hear you saying that Channel Seven, Nine, and
Ten received a discount. Are you telling us that you gave Fox Sports $30
million because there was no licence fee to come?
Well, we recognised
that they have a different operating environment. And we didn't want decisions
in one part of our package to be to the detriment of the coverage of women's
sport. And in fact, we wanted to see an enhancement of women's sport…
Can I stop you
there, Minister. Because you did say that. Are you telling us
that because you gave the free-to-airs a discount, they paid less in a
licence fee. You had to give Fox Sports money or
they threatened to not cover women's sport?
No. What I was
saying is that you've got to look at this package as a whole. We had two
objectives. We wanted to deliver two community dividends. The first was
stronger Australian media voices. And the second was a further
restriction on gambling advertising during live sports. Now, we recognise that
free-to-air and subscription TV both have different operating environments. And
what we didn't want to see is that there was any detriment to the coverage of
women's sport. And in fact, we wanted to see this as an opportunity to help
improve the coverage of women's sport.
you wanted improve the coverage of women's sport, did you offer any
other broadcaster the chance to access that money?
Well, the decision
that we took was that we would enter a funding deed with Fox Sports…
Can I get an answer
to that question though? Did you, did any other broadcaster- your clear,
intention to me this morning is that you're either wanting to maintain or
improve the coverage of women's sport. Did you offer that opportunity to any
Well, the offer is to
Fox Sport. That was a decision that was taken in the Budget. I know some people
will reference the ABC. The ABC gets in excess of a billion dollars every year.
What we're talking about here, in relation to Fox Sport, is $7.5 million a year
for four years, terminating. Now, it's important to recognise that Fox Sport,
at the moment, covers 70% of all women's sport. Something of the order of 80%
or women's tennis. Almost all of women's golf…
Australians can't watch it 'cause it's on pay TV.
65% of women's
basketball. So the bulk of women's sports coverage takes place on Fox Sports.
We wanted to take this opportunity to further enhance the coverage of women's
So it does sound
like that we as taxpayers are handing them money so they can charge us to watch
There are a
range of platforms which cover sport. There are a range of
platforms which cover women's sport.
But you just told
us that most of the women's sport is on pay TV. The obvious- I mean that is
what's happening. We're paying them so they can charge us to watch women's
Raf, if you'll let
me continue. There are women's sports on a range of media platforms.
But, Fox Sport is in a good position to further enhance the coverage of women's
sport. They've got four dedicated sports channels. They've got a good track
record of providing access to lower profile sports that get little or no coverage
Mitch Fifield is
the Minister for Communications. Delighting in the pleasures of his portfolio
on ABC Radio Melbourne. Minister, we'll get to people's calls. 1300 222 774.
You've got a series of meetings this afternoon. Is there any chance of a free
vote outcome from this series of meetings?
Today's meeting is
an opportunity for my colleagues to have their say on this issue. The Party
Room is the appropriate forum for colleagues to put their views. Now, first and
foremost, Raf, we are a Government that is about keeping its election
commitments. We told the Australian people that they would get the opportunity
to have their say and we remain committed to that happening. But a number of
colleagues have said that they would like the opportunity to put forward a
proposition for an alternative pathway. We respect the views of our colleagues
and they're being provided the opportunity to put their view.
I just wonder if
there is a chance because it looks like we'll have to pay as taxpayers again to
resolve your party's internal disputes.
Well, we took to
the election, Raf, a very clear commitment that we would have a plebiscite.
That the Australian people would be given the chance to have their say. We put
that proposition to the people. We were elected. We put that proposition to the
Parliament and Bill Shorten sought to deny us, as the elected Government, the
opportunity to give effect to that election commitment. We still think that
it's appropriate that when you're talking about an institution that has been in
place for a very long time, that there be a higher threshold of community
engagement when it comes to taking a decision in relation to that. Bill Shorten
is the person who is stopping us from giving effect to that election
commitment. I still think that he should change his mind. I still think that he
should allow that plebiscite to happen. He hasn't done that. But it does weigh
very heavily on us, the commitment that we made at the election.
Can I just put the
counter-argument to you? The polls show this is not a priority issue for most
voters. In fact, the Prime Minister said last week in Perth only about 1 in 100
people ask him about it. But you want taxpayers to pay $100 million for a
plebiscite and you're also having an extra party room meeting to deal with
something that you say is a low priority issue. I mean the counter-argument is
that you're tying yourselves in knots and spending our money to resolve your
internal differences. What do you say to that?
What I say very
simply is that elections are about parties putting propositions to the people.
We put a proposition to the people for a plebiscite. The Australian people
endorsed that proposition at the election it would be passing strange if we
didn't take our election commitments seriously. And it would be passing strange
if we didn't seek to give effect to our election commitments. That is what we
sought to do. We put legislation into the Parliament. It passed the House of
Representatives, Bill Shorten thwarted it in the Australian Senate, seeking to
deny us the chance to give effect to our election commitment. Now, election
commitments are serious things. They weigh heavily upon us. It is our view that
the Australian people should have their chance to have their say. As I've
mentioned, and as you know, there are colleagues that want to put a different
pathway forward. And the great tradition of the Liberal Party is that our Party
Room is a robust forum where any colleague can raise ideas that they want to.
And the Prime Minister is giving his colleagues the opportunity to do that, to
have a respectful debate. But it does weigh heavily upon us the commitment that
we did make at the election.
I hope you enjoy
the meeting this afternoon, thanks for joining us.