ABC 774 with Jon Faine > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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28-November-2017


ABC 774 with Jon Faine
ABC Studio, Parliament House, Canberra
28 November 2017
8:45am



E & OE

JON FAINE:
Things are getting decidedly difficult for Coalition Ministers and Malcolm Turnbull’s inner circle. 
Mitch Fifield is the Minister for Communications in the Turnbull Coalition Federal Government. He’s a Victorian Senator. Amongst his responsibilities he’s in charge of things like the NBN which is causing a few headaches and the ABC which as I’ve already said this morning is really the unAustralian Broadcasting Corporation. 
Senator Fifield, good morning to you. 

FIFIELD:
Good morning Jon. 

FAINE:
Things are getting difficult for the Turnbull Government. Why should you try and tell the ABC what to do if Triple J want to move the Hottest 100 well that’s a decision of an independent media organisation. 

FIFIELD:
Well Jon one of the good things about the ABC having legislated independence is that I’m perfectly at liberty to express a view on behalf of the community. My simple view is the ABC should just leave the Hottest 100 alone. By seeking to shift it from Australia Day the ABC is in effect making a political statement. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for the ABC to do that. 

FAINE:
On the other hand if the ABC is independent, yes you can express a view because you’re the Minister. It sort of comes with a little bit of extra gravitas and weight doesn’t it? It’s almost a bit threatening to the ABC to say, oi, pull your head in, don’t do what you say you’re going to do. 

FIFIELD:
Jon it would be strange if everyone in Australia is able to express a view about the ABC except the Minister for Communications.

FAINE:
No, no, that would be quite (inaudible) actually… 

FIFIELD:
One of the reasons why… the ABC has legislated independence is so that anyone, including me, can express a view in the certain knowledge that the ABC is not being directed what to do. Only ABC board and management ultimately can make editorial and programming decisions. But where I think the ABC has got something wrong, where the community thinks the ABC has got something wrong, then there’s nothing wrong with me expressing that view which is what I’m doing. 

FAINE:
It would be inappropriate would it not, let’s turn to the actual merits of the argument. It would be inappropriate for us to play Hottest 100 on Anzac Day wouldn’t it? That would be offensive to the people who say Anzac Day is the day where we mark our losses in war, correct? 

FIFIELD:
Look, it wouldn’t be a good programming choice. 

FAINE:
Well, Australia Day for indigenous Australians is a day when they acknowledge the losses from the massacres, the dispossession, the invasion and the post-traumatic stress indigenous Australians feel forever on that day. Why is it appropriate to celebrate Australia Day on that day?

FIFIELD:
Well, Jon, you’ve made my point for me. The ABC through this action and indeed through your own comments is making very clear that their decision to move the Hottest 100 is a statement that they have an issue with Australia Day being celebrated on the 26th of January. Jon, I’ve got a message for you. Australia Day is going to remain on the 26th of January. That is the overwhelming view of the Australian people. The ABC has waded into a political issue. It is not appropriate for the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, which receives more than a billion dollars a year, to wade into a political issue. As the national broadcaster, the ABC should be a unifying force for the nation. We should leave Australia Day where it is. And the Hottest 100 should stay where it is. It’s become part of the soundtrack of Australia Day. Australians enjoy them. Let them do so. 

FAINE:
But you didn’t deal with the fundamental question. Why is Australia Day still on the 26th of January a day when indigenous Australians and those who sympathise with their plight say well, that’s day when we should acknowledge the post-traumatic stress of indigenous Australians, we should acknowledge that only a few generations ago their grandparents were walking around with neck chains and treated like slaves and that’s the day when their country was taken from them and their people were then slaughtered in massacres.

FIFIELD:
Jon, Australia Day is the 26th of January. 

FAINE:
But that’s the day, that’s what it means indigenous Australians Minister, do you not acknowledge that?

FIFIELD:
Jon, Australia Day is the 26th of January, it’s… 

FAINE:
But do you acknowledge that history? Do you deny it?  

FIFIELD:
Jon, are you going to let me speak?

FAINE:
Well if you deal with my question you can speak. But if you just keep saying the same thing without acknowledging my question then no, I’ll interrupt you again.

FIFIELD:
Jon, that doesn’t make for terribly good radio. 

FAINE:
But do you acknowledge the history? Do you acknowledge the trauma? Do you acknowledge the distress? Do you acknowledge the genocide? Or do you deny it?

FIFIELD:
Jon, Australia Day obviously can be a complex issue for some indigenous Australians. But the overwhelming majority of Australians…

FAINE:
Not some, all! 

FIFIELD:
Jon, would you like me to finish a sentence. Otherwise there’s really no point continuing this conversation. If you’re going to ask a question and not allow me to answer it. 

FAINE:
These are delicate matters for indigenous Australians Minister, do you acknowledge the history or do you deny it?  

FIFIELD:
Jon, as I was saying before you interrupted me for about the 10th time, Australia Day can be a complex issue for some indigenous Australians. But the overwhelming majority of Australians support Australia Day being on the 26th of January. I support Australia Day being on the 26th January. The Government supports Australia Day being on the 26th of January. But it looks like the ABC has an issue with that. Now it is not appropriate for the public broadcaster to go into a political issue such as this. My view is Triple J should reverse their decision and they should leave the Hottest 100 exactly where it is. 

FAINE:
In the same way community attitudes have evolved and we’ve seen this very clearly demonstrated recently on same-sex marriage. I suspect attitudes are changing towards Australia Day and you are reflecting what you’re seeing in the rear view mirror rather than looking out the windscreen at what’s coming up ahead. 

FIFIELD:
Jon, you and I obviously disagree. I support Australia Day being on the 26th January as do most Australians. You don’t. It’s clear that parts of the ABC don’t. Let’s agree to disagree. But I do not think it’s appropriate that the ABC takes a stance on the issue of Australia Day. 

FAINE:
Couple of others things if I may Minister. Are you about to appoint a Victorian to the board of the ABC? I just had a look, there are nine members of the ABC board, five from Sydney, one from Adelaide, one from Perth, two from Queensland, no Victorians. You’re a Victorian Minister, no Victorians on the board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation? 

FIFIELD:
Jon, we have good geographic spread on the board of the ABC. You’re right, we do currently have a vacancy on the board. We have initiated the independent nomination panel process to fill that vacancy. 

FAINE:
Someone else from Sydney? 

FIFIELD:
Well Jon, I can guarantee that won’t be the case. 

FAINE:
You can, can you? Philip Ruddock was appointed together with the Human Rights chair Ros Croucher. Annabelle Bennett from Sydney, Frank Brennan from Sydney. Four people on a national committee to look into whether or not we need to better protect religious freedoms. I mean the Sydney-centric aspect of this government I can’t help but remark upon. But let’s go to the NBN… 

FIFIELD:
Jon, just on that point. In the boards across my portfolio and I think have about 197 board positions across communications and the arts, I’ve been very mindful, as the record will show, to ensure there is good geographic spread throughout those boards. 

FAINE:
Well that would be good. Five members from Sydney on a nine-person board is ridiculous. Ah, the NBNCo announced yesterday that there are delays in the HFC cable rollout. This is according to many of the columnists in today’s Financial Review and elsewhere in the business pages. A direct consequence of Malcolm Turnbull’s meddling in the NBN rollout. Do you acknowledge that now? 

FIFIELD:
The multi-technology mix approach that we’re taking is the right one. Because of it the NBN will be completed by 2020 which is a good six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under the approach of our predecessors. And at about $30 billion less cost than would have been the approach and the outcome under our predecessors. But yes, there are some teething issues with the HFC technology…

FAINE:
Teething? 

FIFIELD:
That’s why NBN has hit the pause button. The issues that have been identified are very fixable. They will be solved. And the NBN will be completed by 2020. That’s still the target and what will be achieved. And Jon it’s important to recognise that in these HFC pay TV cable areas that those people who don’t yet have the NBN, in the majority of cases, they are still able to access fast broadband over HFC in the pre-NBN world. 

FAINE:
Certainly calls for inquiries into it all and the like are gathering momentum as they are for investigations indeed a royal commission into Australian banks. It looks as if the Turnbull call for, amongst the Coalition, to see off a royal commission into the banks is going to fail. How does Malcolm Turnbull possibly retrieve some sort of equilibrium if he’s rolled by the Parliament on this?

FIFIELD:
Jon, we don’t think that there’s a need for a royal commission…

FAINE:
Your Coalition, National colleagues disagree now. 

FIFIELD:
Our focus has been on ensuring practical outcomes for consumers and greater accountability for bank executives which we’ve achieved through establishing the House Economics inquiry into the banks which meets periodically. We’ve given more money and more power to ASIC. And we’ve got a one-stop shop for complaints. These are practical things that are good for consumers and enhance bank executive accountability. A royal commission is something that costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time. We’ve been focused on making differences in the here and now. 

FAINE:
Time defeats us and the news waits for no-one. The unAustralian Broadcasting Corporation, nine o’clock news is coming. Minister, thank you for your time this morning. 

FIFIELD:
See you Jon. 


[ends]