House debates

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006

Second Reading; Consideration in Detail

11:28 am

Photo of Stephen SmithStephen Smith (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

(1)    Schedule 1, page 3 (line 2) to page 47 (line 16), - Opposition to oppose

(2)    Schedule 2, item 6, page 53 (lines 6 and 7), omit the item.

Let me first give a technical description of these amendments. These amendments seek to remove from the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006 provisions which delete the current cross-media ownership laws from the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and replace them with the government’s weaker regime, which will facilitate a massive consolidation of media ownership in this country.

The government’s new media diversity regime is inserted into the act by schedule 1. The new regime, with the so-called five-four voices test and the two out of three rule, fails to protect media diversity in this country and, as a consequence, threatens the health of our democracy. Amendment (1) deletes schedule 1 from the bill. Item 6 of schedule 2 deletes the cross-media rules, which are presently found in sections 60 and 61 of the Broadcasting Services Act. Amendment (2) will remove item 6 from the bill.

If these amendments are successful, the effect will be that the amended media ownership bill will remove the foreign ownership restrictions relating to commercial and subscription television. Provisions of the bill which insert local content requirements for regional television and radio will remain part of the amended bill. By passing these amendments, the House can support media reform that promotes diversity and enhances local content.

Having dealt with the bill’s technical effects, let me now deal with the substantive policy and political effects. This is the last chance the parliament has to prevent a massive concentration of Australian media ownership. This is the last chance the parliament has to secure, protect and preserve media diversity in Australia. This is the last chance for the National Party, this is the last chance for the Liberal Party, and this is the last chance for our parliament to prevent a massive concentration of media ownership in Australia and a massive undermining of diversity of media content in Australia. Such a concentration, such a diminution of diversity, will have serious adverse consequences, not just for media content but also for opinion, information, cultural services, cultural activity and democracy in our nation.

The frenzy we have seen overnight, the frenzy we have seen on the front page of every major newspaper, has occurred before the bill has even gone through the parliament. It has occurred before the bill has been formally enacted and proclaimed—and proclamation of the bill does not take place until sometime between 1 February 2007 and 1 January 2008. So we have seen this frenzy of activity before the bill has passed through the parliament and it is some time before the bill will be proclaimed, which could occur as late as 1 January 2008.

What does that tell you? That tells you that the market will always go where public policy lets it go. And that is the point here: the market will always go where public policy lets it go. I have seen comments like ‘we have this terrible, shocking, bad media company here,’ or ‘we’ve got this not so bad media company here,’ or ‘we’ve got this good media company here’. It is not about good media companies or bad media companies. It is not about good media proprietors or bad media proprietors. It is about bad public policy. The effect of this bad public policy will be a massive concentration of media ownership and a massive lessening of diversity of media opinion and media ownership in the marketplace. That will be the consequence of the government’s law, and that is the consequence of the marketplace seeing what the government proposes to enact as law in this country.

We have seen the PBL example and we have seen the Channel 7 and West Australian example. It may well be that the PBL example we have seen is consistent with current law. If that is structured in the same way in which Channel 10 and CanWest structured their arrangement—which caused the regulator, then the ABA and now ACMA, considerable consternation over a long period of time—that may well be lawful. It may well be lawful if the deal is predicated to take effect upon the changing of the law, and it would not be affected adversely by Labor’s amendment, which allows the removal of the foreign ownership restrictions. (Extension of time granted) And I was quite surprised to hear the parliamentary secretary opposite, the member for Flinders, saying that he did not believe that foreign capital investment in Australia was a good thing.

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