Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016; Second Reading
I thank the members who have contributed to the debate on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016. The government is committed to removing restrictive and redundant regulation to enable Australian businesses to get on with the job of growing our economy, employing Australians and contributing to our communities. This bill is another step in that direction and will ensure that independent sources of news, current affairs and similar programming continue to be available to all Australians, particularly those in regional areas. These reforms will allow media businesses to gain the scale necessary to compete in an increasingly fragmented and global media environment while ensuring that Australians continue to have access to a diversity of sources of news and information.
Support for the removal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule is universal. This is an antiquated regulation which restricts commercial television broadcasters from optimising the scale of their operations and does nothing in a practical sense to support media diversity. The shadow minister, in her contribution, was critical of the government's rationale for removing the two-out-of-three rule. In particular, she argued that the existence of the internet does not really matter for media diversity and that of the top 10 news websites in Australia, seven of them are owned by traditional media companies. As usual, Labor does not tell the whole story. For instance, Mr Speaker, if you look at the Nielsen data on digital consumption habits for July this year, you will see that there were 28 news and information websites with an audience of more than one million unique visitors per month. Of these, 14—or half—were not owned by traditional Australian media companies. The fact is that the internet has brought us to an age where there is more diversity and choice in news and media than at any time in human history.
Of course, Labor misses the most important point, which is that these reforms are vital to ensure the ongoing viability of Australian media companies. The greatest threat to media diversity in Australia comes from not passing these reforms and seeing the failure of one or more Australian traditional media companies. If that occurs we will have the Labor Party to thank for it.
The member for Greenway also made much of her view that this bill represents only piecemeal reform and that it is not comprehensive. What is Labor's solution? They want government to do even less. They want to split the bill to pass some of it and ditch the rest of it. It is difficult to understand how doing less is somehow more comprehensive, but that is Labor policy for you.
There has been some commentary about delays to this important reform. In light of this, it is important to set out some facts. The first iteration of this bill was introduced on 2 March 2016. The very next day, on 3 March 2016, the bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Committee for an inquiry with a long reporting date at the opposition's insistence. As members may be aware, Senate standing orders prevent the Senate progressing legislation that is before one of its committees. On 5 May 2016 the committee's report was tabled, recommending that the bill be passed. The opposition reserved its position. Four days later, on 9 May 2016, the parliament was dissolved ahead of the federal election. On 1 September 2016, during the first sitting week of the new parliament, this bill was reintroduced. Despite it being the same bill and having had a comprehensive Senate inquiry conducted into it just a few months before, the opposition again insisted that the bill be referred for another Senate inquiry. This inquiry reported on 7 November 2016, and again recommended that the bill be passed. Mr Speaker, you really do need a world-class capacity for hypocrisy to on the one hand systematically use every possible parliamentary device to slow the progress of a bill, and to on the other hand stand up in the debate on the bill and criticise the government for the slow progress of the bill. You really do need a world-class capacity for hypocrisy, but happily it seems the shadow minister is well-equipped with that capacity.
The government has always made clear the importance and urgency of the reforms contained in this bill. What is absolutely clear is that the delays to this bill's passage at every stage have been as a result of the actions of the Australian Labor Party. If the opposition had any understanding of the media industry and any regard for the future of Australian content and Australian jobs, they would have given support to this bill and it would have passed in March. That we are now in November and still seeking to secure this bill's passage is entirely a function of the actions of the opposition. As a result of the opposition's decision to make itself irrelevant, the government is engaged in discussions with crossbench senators, with a view to securing passage of these important reforms through the parliament. The government will continue to engage constructively with the Senate.
To conclude, this bill is about striking a balance. Media regulations need to ensure that our domestic media companies have the capacity to invest in news production and quality journalism and compete with international media players. None of us will benefit if major Australian media companies go out of the business because of outdated rules. Media regulations must also ensure that appropriate protections remain in place to safeguard media diversity and ensure that all Australians have access to a range of views and opinions on major issues of the day. The government believes that this bill strikes the balance, allowing media businesses to operate more flexibly in the market and continue to provide high quality news and entertainment services to Australians, particularly those in regional areas. I call on all members to support the bill.