Sky News Studio Melbourne
18 September 2017
E & OE
Fifield, thanks very much for your company.
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?
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.
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?
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
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?
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
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?
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.
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?
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.
things like the drive towards 5G and beyond, will that render the NBN
potentially a bit of a white elephant project at great expense?
you’re always going to need a fibre backbone for any communications in
Australia. Yes, there’ll be…
The node would do
wouldn’t it? With the rise of 5G and beyond?
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.
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?
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.
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?
presiding officers take security advice as to what needs to be done to make the
parliamentary precinct secure…
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?
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.
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.
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.
enough. Nicely side-stepped. Mitch Fifield, appreciate your time as
Thanks very much for talking to us.