Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
Last night, time didn't allow me to finish my comments about this bill. One thing that is really important in this bill is that there are amendments to schedule 5 of the bill to allow the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund to have an extension of time to administer all of the grants before them. As you can appreciate, COVID disrupted a lot of regulatory and administrative processes in many departments and statutory authorities, and ACMA was not immune to this. It is estimated that there are 83 outstanding grants from this Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, which is designed to support—exactly as it is titled—regional and very small news outlets. If we followed the current regulations, there would be about 30 of these grant opportunities that couldn't be administered and delivered before the fund would extinguish. So there is an extension of time for one year to allow this fund to be administered.
As I said at the outset, there is this huge digital disruption going right through the businesses of the traditional news and media players. As I said yesterday, it's taking no prisoners. Whilst there are quality programs and TV channels with news, drama and children's programs, the businesses that have delivered this for generations are under existential threat from the digital video streaming services and digital platforms that are disrupting. The ones I have mentioned—Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Stan and all of these similar sorts of digital platforms—are cannibalising the advertising revenue that all of these businesses have relied upon. They are also stealing viewers, because people have a wider choice.
But it's really important that we support these small publishers, newspapers and radio stations that are part of the fabric of Australia, both in metro and, most importantly, regional Australia, because there is a different paradigm in regional Australia. Many people aren't part of the digital world. There are many older people in regional Australia who don't get the benefit of all of these digital services. We do want to maintain independent local news and we do want to maintain Australian drama being projected on to free-to-air TV and to video subscription services, but they are being challenged. They are in the battle for their own business's lives. I don't think even Foxtel is immune to the challenges, so the difficult decision to reduce the eligible drama scheme burden of 10 per cent on such businesses was a difficult one.
There are other solutions in the latest budget, and I will just check my figures. For the Australian Children's Television Foundation, which has been funding production of Australian children's drama and other children's productions, there is another $11.9 million over four years for grants they can administer to try to make up for this change. There is also an appropriation of $3 million of operational funding for the Australian Children's Television Foundation. And that is on top of the $20 million that was announced in the 2021 budget. So that's a total of $31.9 million for the Australian Children's Television Foundation to fund more children's productions.
The other good news in the 2021-22 budget was that Australian Associated Press Newswire will receive $15 million more appropriation out of the Public Interest News Gathering, or PING, program. This appropriation in this latest budget is on top of the $5 million they received in the 2020-21 budget.
So there is a yin and a yang, but, as I said, we really want these free-to-air and video subscription services to survive. We want the full suite. So we have had to make these difficult decisions, but we've tried to make it up on the other side of the ledger, because, as I said, they are all under threat from the digital revolution, and the whole suite of measures that we announced well before this budget were to try to get them some negotiating power with these new digital platforms.
The other thing that I'm advocating for, most importantly, is that, while these streaming services, so far, have had a leave pass—they can put up in Australia whatever they want—they should have a certain percentage of their streaming platform mandated for eligible Australian drama, including some children's programs. We should be matching what other nations around the world are proposing, because we can get Australian production of real quality stuff that can be shown around the world with our own Australian accent. I've been told, 'Oh, no; video streamers wouldn't want Australian-produced movies because we speak with a funny accent.' Well, hello—that's no excuse. In Europe, in France, their shows either have subtitles or are dubbed over with other languages. We could do that too. So stuff that's produced in Australia for Netflix, Stan, the Disney Channel and all these other streaming services could be sent around the world, equally. It's not unreasonable for us to be asking for what other countries are demanding in Europe and in North America. Everyone should realise that it's important that we have our own production in our own voices of our own stories produced and presented both in our country and around the world. It's good for business. It doesn't cost the taxpayer anything. We should just mandate that, for a certain part of the whole value chain in Australian screen and movie presentations. They would flourish, just by virtue of mandating that this new, giant disruptor of digital video streaming on demand has to play by the same rules as its competitors in video subscription services and free-to-air TV. All have to play by the same rules.
With that, we put this bill before the House. I look forward to supporting Australian screen production for both children and adults in the future.