House debates

Wednesday, 2 June 2021


Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:45 am

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Australia) Share this | Hansard source

I am pleased to be the one who is seconding this amendment by the member for Greenway. This bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill, shows us the Liberal government's vision for Australia. It's a future that has no place for high-quality Australian television. It's a future that has no place for a publicly funded ABC broadcaster. We know they had their federal council here last weekend. It was only a few years ago that their federal council was backing the Young Liberals' drive to destroy the ABC and privatise it. I understand that still stands as policy of the federal Liberal Party council, and we see the grains of that in this legislation in front of us today. The future that is put in this legislation ignores many Australians with disabilities and many regional Australians.

Under the Liberal government's vision for the future, Australian screens will be full of American and English television. Australian stories would go untold. We'd have no Blue Heelers, a series that I think is well and truly due for a good-quality Netflix reboot, and I call on Netflix to get onto it and reach out to Channel 7 and see if we can get Blue Heelers back on Australian screens as an Australian produced drama for the 21st century. If we continue down the path that this legislation takes us, there'd be no Secret City, a great piece of Australian drama that tells the story of Canberra—not necessarily a true story of Canberra, but a great story nonetheless—no House Husbands and definitely no Offspring.

This legislation continues an attack on Australian television. We've learned a lot during this COVID pandemic, and we've learned that Australians love watching Australian stories with unique Australian voices—from the young, who love Bluey, to the old, who also love Bluey! There is huge demand for high-quality Australian broadcasting.

We've seen the benefits that Australian stories have to our economy. More than 230,000 international tourists, according to the government's own estimates, visit or extend their stay in Australia because of viewing Australian television content. That generates $725 million of tourism expenditure. The whole sector of Australian screen content contributes $3.3 billion annually to our economy, employing more than 25,000 Australians. Over the last year we've learned just how much this matters. But we've got a government that seems to be determined, despite the evidence in front of them, to ignore the lessons.

We know how important Australian content is for our national identity, the pride that comes with seeing Australian stories told by Australians, but this government seems to think they're low-quality, unprofitable, a waste of time. So we have this bill, the purpose of which is to accelerate the decline of Australian drama, to prepare Australia for a world in which they hear everyone else's stories but not their own.

We know the challenges and dangers that have come with the rapid transformation of television, but instead of addressing these issues—the government doesn't mind consulting on them, but—it has chosen to give up on any hard and meaningful reform. Instead of developing policy that extends Australian content across platforms, that deliver Australian stories to where Australians consume them, we've got a government that's giving up. This government sees Australian drama as outdated, as some kind of a regulatory burden and thinks that our Australian artists aren't worth hiring. I find the contradiction of this bizarre.

Last year, this government splashed a $1.5 billion Perth City Deal into my electorate, promising to move the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts from Mount Lawley, in my electorate, into the CBD. This is something that is welcome because we do need more investment in Perth city, and I know the shadow minister for cities, who's sitting next to me, is a passionate advocate for revitalising our cities. But you can't tell students they're going to have this great new facility to learn how to perform in Australian dramas and then say, 'We're also going to cut off the lifeline that enables you to have a job at the end of that study.' They're getting all of the debt burden that comes with these US-style university debts and none of the career opportunity at the other end. That's what this legislation does.

In the last few years, the way that Australians consume content has changed dramatically. We can't deny that. The number of Australians paying for online services and streaming services has tripled. Seventy per cent of Australians now subscribe to an on-demand video service. That's the way that most Australians now watch a large amount of what we call telly. Audiences are migrating. They're moving away from TV to online viewing, but the government isn't moving with them. The competition for Australian viewers has never been more intense. This should be good news for producers and for Australian performers—for our writers, actors, directors, camera operators, make-up artists and production assistants. It should mean more opportunity and more jobs. It should mean more Australian content produced than ever before. But this bill is about diminishing content. The first step will be halving Australian drama on subscription television, with a cut of investment from $25 million to $12.5 million, and we know that once this government starts cutting it doesn't stop. More cuts will come. There will be less quality drama and less quality Australian programming.

This bill also makes no attempt to put any obligations on online streaming services. We know that this is the future. If we don't have a plan for how to get ahead of it, then we'll continue to see huge declines in Australian jobs and Australian stories. The worst bit is that the government is well and truly aware of all of these problems. The ACCC released a report in 2019 that told them that the digital transformation affecting Australia and the world needed to be acted on. The government had asked for the review because it recognised the problem. It was a world-leading piece of policy work. It said to the government they needed to provide a comprehensive policy framework that brought Australia's media landscape into the 21st century. Instead, we get a bill like this—something that doesn't strengthen Australian broadcasting and instead tries to help accelerate the decline of Australian broadcasting. Sometimes it's all photo-op, no follow-up. The other thing with this government is it's sometimes all consultation, no action. We've definitely seen complaints from media leaders across Australia saying they continue to be consulted by this government and have their views sought but they continue to have the same experience of no meaningful action when it comes to making sure that we are prepared for the digital transformation.

When it comes to the digital transformation, the government also has a role in making sure that the publicly owned broadcaster, the ABC, is ready for that transformation. I'm not talking about their plan to privatise it; I'm talking about making sure that we can continue to support it as a treasured part of our public institutions. This bill offers no support for the ABC. It fails to recognise the importance of our public broadcaster. It doesn't reverse any of the cuts to the ABC. The 250 jobs that were cut last year are still gone. Jobs in local news rooms in cities and in the regions—gone. Since 2013, $780 million has been cut from the ABC. That's not a drop in the ocean. The effects of that cut are significant. It affects our ability to define and share the broad diversity of our national identity, and it diminishes services that are essential for many Australians, especially regional Australians.

In my home state of Western Australia, as bushfires burnt across the Perth Hills earlier this year, it was the ABC that people relied on to give them emergency broadcast information. In an age of uncertainty, where so much misinformation is spread by everyone from crazy conspiracy theorists on Facebook through to crazy Liberal Party members also on Facebook, it's a concern that we don't have more investment in the ABC, which actually is a fact based organisation. The ABC practises thorough journalism, professional journalism, despite what is said in the attacks on the ABC from the backbench, the Liberal Party of Australia Federal Council and, indeed, the former Attorney-General. The reality is that the ABC and the services it provides save Australian lives. We know that that was the case in the bushfires that affected Perth earlier this year, so the government does have an obligation to save the ABC.

It's not just regional Australians that rely on it: 71 per cent of Australians engage with ABC content. But the lack of action to protect the ABC shows that this government really do, somewhere deep in their heart, wish they were privatising the ABC. It's on their policy books. They've tried to do bits and pieces here and there, and I have no doubt they will try again. The government that racked up $1 trillion of debt, with very little reform to show for it, will one day snap back to their debt-and-deficit disaster rhetoric and they will start to talk about how they pay it back. They will look to sell off public assets. I know that, in my home state of Western Australia, the Liberal Party looked to sell off our public electricity network, Western Power, to fix the financial mess that the member for Pearce had left when he was the Treasurer of Western Australia. I have no doubt that this government will look to sell off public assets when they, once again, try to fix their financial mess, a mess that they've created on their watch, and the ABC is not safe from that fire sale.

If we lose the ABC as a public broadcaster, it will be lost to the Australian people forever. Regional Australians know the devastation that that would cause. Australians in the city, including those in my electorate of Perth, know it too. We know that television shows from the ABC consistently rank amongst the most watched and that the ABC is treasured for the stories that it tells. Some of these stories feature our cities, as we've seen in the ABC telling the story of people who live in Perth through the brilliant ABC drama The Heights. As I mentioned, the ABC also screens some of the highest-quality children's programming, not just on any of the free-to-air networks in Australia but anywhere in the world. I note that one of the last significant investments in the ABC from any government was the investment in ABC3, or ABC Kids. When I'm not in Canberra, most mornings I wake up to ABC Kids with my three-year-old, Leo. It is a fabulous service that educates the next generation. We need more investments in the ABC, not more cuts.

I mentioned before that this bill doesn't place any obligations on streaming services. It provides no answers to what we're doing for streaming services. While Australians love streaming services, I don't think they'd object to having more Australian voices on those streaming services and neither would they object to huge, growing, large-profit-making multinationals doing a little bit more to preserve Australian voices and paying just a small fraction of what they receive from Australians for producing Australian content. Research indicates that some 80 per cent of Australians think that Australia's stories are vital for contributing to national identity and 75 per cent of Australians say they would miss the Australian film and television industry if it ceased to exist. This government says it wants to support Australian artists and produce more Australian programming. But how does it do this? By making less of it. That's the government's logic: the more they pull back, the more there will be. It seems strange, but that's the core of what this government believes in.

We know, from the debates they've had in their own party room, that they don't believe in quotas. They are preserving a very, very small quota when it comes to protecting Australian content, but we know that if they had the chance they would abolish quotas entirely. We know that quotas are essential to the sustainability of the sector. The decision to suspend quotas in response to the pandemic has had significant negative impacts. PwC has projected that if quotas were permanently eliminated, as I'm sure many of the government backbenchers would like, children's programs in Australia would cease to be produced and drama would be cut by 90 per cent. Imagine what your television programs would look like, if you cut Australian drama by 90 per cent. You can guarantee Neighbours would go. Home and Away would go. And permanently eliminating children's programs would be a huge mistake that would be started by the passing of this bill in its current form by this government.


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