PVO NewsDay > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

CONTACT SENATOR FIFIELD

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Electorate Office
42 Florence Street
MENTONE VIC 3194

Phone: 03 9584 2455
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Parliament House Office
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Phone: 02 6277 7480




18-September-2017

 

PVO NewsDay

Sky News Studio Melbourne
18 September 2017

2:30pm

Text Box: Subject: media reform, NBN, Parliament House security

E & OE

 

PVO:

Senator Mitch Fifield, thanks very much for your company. 

FIFIELD:

G’day Peter.

PVO:

You must have seen the cartoon in The Australian today by none other than Jon Kudelka of yourself, I’m sure you should get a copy of that for the pool room. He had a bit of fun at your expense! Now I know that you’ve got a good sense of humour, you know this notion that you’re saying to Barrie Cassidy on Insiders one thing that you know these changes will have no impact on the ABC but you might be saying another when talking to Pauline Hanson saying these will be profound in their impact on the ABC. Come on Minister, which one was right? 

FIFIELD:

Well my point was that the ABC’s own editorial policies talk about fair treatment, but also talk about having a balance that follows the weight of evidence. So that was my first point. These aren’t weird and wonderful things or something strange and scary for journalists. And the second point was that we’re not seeking to supplant the role of the ABC board and management when it comes to editorial arrangements at the ABC. By law they are matters for the ABC. And they will continue to be. But none of that is inconsistent with recognising that no media organisation is perfect all the time. And that journalists should always endeavour to be their best professional selves. So what we’re looking to do is to legislate what are good, common, standard journalistic objectives into the act of the ABC. Reinforcing what is already in the act. And that is, that the ABC should be accurate and impartial. These are good things to do. We hope it assists the organisation. But it’s nothing for journalists to be afraid of. 

PVO:

Can I ask you about the $60 million for regional journalism? Am I right in my understanding, I think I heard Nick Xenophon say something to this effect, that doesn’t actually include jobs for journalists as such or cadetships necessarily, it’s for equipment, is that right? 

FIFIELD:

Well there are three components to the $60 million that we’ve allocated. There’s a $50 million innovation fund which is essentially to assist small publishers and regional publishers, with a particular focus on the regions, to re-engineer their businesses. And if that means training for staff, if that means some new equipment, then that’s to make a contribution towards those business endeavours. We also have $8 million going towards journalist cadetships and $2.4 million going towards scholarships. But Peter, you’re right, we’re not in the business of having the taxpayer pay the salaries of journalists in private sector organisations. Now there were some in the media, in some media organisations, who thought that that was a terrific idea that the Commonwealth should pay for salaries of private sector journalists. But oddly enough, it’s a path that we’ve chosen not to go down.  

PVO:

You know that I’m in favour of media reform, we’ve talked a number of times about it Minister but there are still conditions or limits if you like. It’s not a completely open market. We spoke to David Lleyonhjelm yesterday here on Sky News, he would like to see a more open market. How comfortable are you about the limits that still exist and I guess as an addition to that question how long do you see them and necessary in the changing landscape that the media is these days? 

FIFIELD:

When it comes to our media laws we should never see them as set in stone for all time. That is the view of the Australian Labor Party who think that media laws never need to change. That we never need to recognise that the internet exists. And that everything’s fine. That’s not the approach we’ve taken. That’s why we've got rid of the two out of three rule. That's why we’ve got rid of the 75% audience reach rule. But you’re right, we still have the 5/4 or voices rule which says you’ve got to have five independent voices in metro areas and four in the regions. We’ve still got the two to a market radio licence rule and the one to a market TV licence rule. So, they are there. They are in place. They are some underpinnings for diversity. But you never want to see these things as set in stone. You want to keep them in your sights. But we don’t have any plans at the moment to change those remaining media laws. And I should also point out that when people are expressing concern about diversity, Peter, that we also have the ACCC and their role. And we also have that small, struggling organisation called the ABC which is one of the underpinnings of diversity. 

PVO:

I’m glad you got to the ABC because I had a more general question about them if I can. There’s an interesting debate about whether or not the ABC is going beyond its remit, going beyond its charter, I mean the nomenclature, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, yet they are into online writing, virtual newspaper if you will in some respects, they do all sorts of other things but don’t get me wrong, they’re a sign of the times, podcasts and all the rest of it. But strictly speaking in what is already a challenged media environment, what are your thoughts about the ABC moving off into those areas, and if you like chewing into the space for a private sector that is already struggling? Should they just be sticking to a traditional role of a broadcaster, as the public broadcaster, radio, television, particularly across the regions not just in the cities and by doing so not if you like gobbling up as other media companies in the private sector try to innovate in this difficult time economically speaking? 

FIFIELD:

The ABC’s charter is fairly broad. And Stephen Conroy, as Communications Minister, broadened it further by altering the Act to make specific reference to digital services, online services. But obviously we hear the views that are put forward by a number of commercial media organisations who feel that the ABC does, on occasion, compete directly against them in a way that they see as unfair. Which is why we’ve announced that we are going to have a competitive neutrality inquiry. To see if the ABC, and SBS for that matter, use their position as government entities to compete with commercial media organisations in ways that are unfair. So the ABC will have the opportunity to put their view forward. The commercial media organisations will have the opportunity to do the same. These are real issues which have been raised. And I think it’s a good thing that there’ll be a mechanism to have those ventilated and addressed. 

PVO:

Where to from here for you as the Communications Minister your big ticket was obviously to get the media reforms you’ve done, you’ve done that. Do you just kick back and put your feet up between now and the next election? 

FIFIELD:

Yeah, not so much Peter! The great and exciting thing about the Communications portfolio is things are forever evolving. We’re looking at the issue, on the comms side, of the universal service obligation. Something which was crafted before you had serious penetration of mobile phones, and serious broadband penetration. It covers fixed line phone and public phones. So obviously, that’s something that we’re reviewing to make it fit for purpose. I’ve got the NBN which is halfway rolled out. We're going to complete that. Which we’ll have done by 2020. We’ve got issues of reforming spectrum. Making sure that we are ready for 5G when that comes. So there’s a lot to do. 

PVO:

So things like the drive towards 5G and beyond, will that render the NBN potentially a bit of a white elephant project at great expense? 

FIFIELD:

Look you’re always going to need a fibre backbone for any communications in Australia. Yes, there’ll be… 

PVO: 

The node would do wouldn’t it? With the rise of 5G and beyond?

FIFIELD:

There’ll be fresh applications in the wireless environment. Absolutely that will be the case. But you're always going to need to have that fibre backbone. And  one of the good things about the mandate that Malcolm Turnbull gave the NBN when he was Comms Minister was as an organisation it's technology agnostic and it can evolve as it needs to. 

PVO:

As Communications Minister I wonder what your reaction is to the Supreme Court decision vis-à-vis Bruce Gordon and Channel Ten. Do you think this makes it much more likely that CBS will ultimately takeover Ten?

FIFIELD:

Well the good thing is, Peter, I don’t have to have a view on those matters. My job is to lay out the laws in the Parliament which will govern the environment for our media organisations. Its then up to them to put propositions forward to each other and, in this case, to the administrators and receivers of Ten. They're matters for those various players. 

 PVO: 

Just finally Minister before I let you go. Just on a wholly different topic I suppose, this fence at a cost of 126 million bucks going up around Parliament, it’s an eyesore to say the very, very least. I had Peter Khalil earlier on To The Point with Kristina Keneally and he basically admitted that they went along with it as a bipartisan decision to go along with it, just on speaker say so. No chance to review the security reasoning behind it, it’s costing more than the postal survey, it’s more than double the $60 million that you guys are putting into the regional journalism fund that we talked about earlier. It’s an eyesore, is it really necessary? Even if security is a concern, wouldn’t you have thought you could do some sort of perimeter that’s further afield to the Parliament? I mean it makes the Parliament of Australia look like a prison?

FIFIELD:

The presiding officers take security advice as to what needs to be done to make the parliamentary precinct secure… 

PVO:

Well the presiding officers, in fairness Senator, they talked about banning the burqa in the Parliament and thankfully that got overruled or they changed their mind and I mean shouldn’t we have another look at this one? 

FIFIELD:

It’s within the jurisdiction of the Speaker and the President. But maybe when we’re back in Canberra I’ll put my hat on as Minister for the Arts and form a view of the aesthetics of the fence.  

PVO:

But it is an issue I think, I mean don’t get me wrong, obviously security is a big issue and the most important issue no doubt but you know what I’m talking about, the design of the building, the nature of where the fence is, it’s not a perimeter that’s wider field like, if you like the White House where it makes more sense. It’s literally there on the building, it just strikes me as something that’s worth a bit more thought than everybody just saying, oh well, we’ll give it bipartisan support because the presiding officers say so. 

FIFIELD:

I have no doubt Peter that it’s a matter that will be a subject of ongoing discussion amongst the community as they come to their House. But I’ll focus on the task that’s before me. 

PVO:

Fair enough. Nicely side-stepped. Mitch Fifield, appreciate your time as always. 

Thanks very much for talking to us.

FIFIELD:

See you Peter. 

 

[ends]