House debates

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016; Second Reading

10:07 am

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Continuing on from my speech last night, I would like to start by just stressing how important this piece of legislation, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016, is as part of a forward-looking agenda of the Turnbull government. When you look at the challenges facing the media landscape across the world, one of the great challenges it faces is making sure that the industry can consolidate, can focus and can afford to be able to continue to produce high-quality content. That is only going to be achieved by removing barriers, regulations and restrictions that stop the media sector from flourishing, thriving and consolidating its investment to build the content that is needed into the future. That is extremely important not just for the survival of the industry and particularly around making sure that we have credible sources of information but also because we want the content that Australia can produce to export to the world.

If you look at the challenges and the opportunities of the 21st century for this great nation, they come from producing service-based content in the media market to be able to export to the world Australian stories, Australian drama and Australian news. That is what people want in Australia: to be able to see themselves reflected in media. But they also want to be able to export it to the world so our stories, our narrative and our perspective can be consumed by people all throughout the world. That is both a laudable objective and key to what this bill has the potential to achieve as part of the challenges facing the media sector.

The objectives of this reform are to enable media businesses to compete at an appropriate scale in an increasingly diverse international media environment. We know full well the challenges of technology and how that is increasing the sources of diversity and competition in the marketplace, something that I am very supportive of and very much encourage, but we should not ignore the fact that it has an impact on the challenges of the industry in Australia.

This bill will also reinforce continued diversity of news sources and information within the media industry, and that is why I support it. This reform is an opportunity to advance Australia beyond a framework that was designed in the analog era of media, and that is the problem with the opposition to this bill. It is based in a 1950s-style analog mindset rather than recognising the evolution, the diversity and the dynamic nature of media in the 21st century. The predictability of media sources meant that regulation in the past was able to be proximate to the number of diverse media sources and the structures that those media companies operated by, but, in the modern world, we live in a significantly different era. The volume of news sources enjoyed by Australians has expanded rapidly in the past 20 years. We have access to online content and subscription services as well as the traditional platforms of television and of radio. These digital platforms are not currently subject to operational or investment restrictions.

The objective of media regulation today should be to affirm media diversity, but it is not currently working. Instead, the restrictive regulation prevents local news sources and outlets from providing effective coverage while stifling their efforts to keep pace with the change the industry is experiencing on the ground. This bill primarily seeks to repeal two control and ownership rules that no longer make sense in the digital media environment of the 21st century: the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the two-out-of-three cross-media-control rule. These rules are antiquated anachronisms and do little to support media diversity. Their removal will allow regulated media companies to achieve greater scale in their operations and, subject to the general law, to restructure their businesses to make the most of opportunities as they emerge.

The 75 per cent audience reach rule prevents a person, either in their own right or as a director of one or more companies, from controlling commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined reach exceeds 75 per cent of the Australian population. This rule effectively prevents any major commercial television network—that is, Seven, Nine or Ten—from merging with or acquiring the regional television networks of Prime, WIN and Southern Cross or vice versa. In the digital media environment, the 75 per cent audience reach rule is simply redundant. The digital era has allowed content to be seen by viewers all over Australia and, of course, internationally, something that we should encourage. The consequences of these restrictions mean that television broadcasters have very little capacity to compete in the modern media environment.

The two-out-of-three rule also has harmful consequences. It prevents mergers or changes in control that involve more than two of the three regulated media platforms in any commercial radio licence area. The distinction between online media and traditional media platforms has become increasingly hazy. We know that. Anybody on the other side of this parliament who has consumed media would know that that has changed over time, yet only one platform remains regulated. Again, it is an anachronism of the past to do with an early 20th century mindset. Viewership from different media sources is as fluid as ever. For traditional media outlets to be restrained while online platforms are free to adapt and to emerge is both uncompetitive and unsustainable and does not reflect the reality of the environment that Australians are choosing to consume their media content.

It is important to note that the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule would have very little impact on cross-media ownership in Australia. Most of the licence areas do not contain all three platforms and therefore do not prompt the use of the rule. In a large sum of the remaining areas, further media transactions of any sort will still be prohibited due to the diversity floor requirement of a minimum of four voices under the five-four rule, which states that at least five independent media organisations must be permanently operational in metropolitan commercial radio licence areas and four such groups in regional commercial radio licence areas.

Each of these reforms will be instrumental in unshackling the traditional media outlets and allowing them to properly and fairly compete with their digital counterparts—something that the opposition, I would have thought, should support. The net result is a more flexible media market environment that encourages good journalism and investment in good journalism through product differentiation and delivers high-quality news and entertainment services to Australians.

The media landscape, as we know, is rapidly changing. It is therefore crucial that the law of the land keeps pace with the change that is already upon us. Over the past 15 years, as viewership shifted to digital mediums and traditional media assets declined, we have seen the emergence of a number of online giants who enjoy a massive market share of advertisement spending. Online platforms have grown from having a 6.1 per cent share of the Australian advertising pie to achieving the largest share of advertising revenues, capturing 36.2 per cent in 2014. Over the same period, television shares declined to 30.7 per cent while radio shares fell to 8.2 per cent. The share of newspaper advertising has fallen from 37.5 per cent to 15.7 per cent. Analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers has shown that these trends will cause a concerning depreciation of revenue for free-to-air television stations in real terms. If we are to continue to enjoy a wide range of broadcast services with the content that Australians want, it is vital that our traditional stations are given the ability to simply be free to compete with other new sources of media.

Print media readership has also declined and rapidly changed over time. The fragmentation within the radio sector is evidenced most significantly between our regional areas and cities. Due to the vast difference in market size, metropolitan commercial radio services attract larger audiences than their regional counterparts. On top of this, there is also the growing divide between AM and FM stations. But perhaps the most recent digital disruption of recent years has been within the audio visual market. Video streaming devices are proliferating around the world at an incredible rate, and I am a part of the audience and consumer drive towards that. And a large part of that, I might add, is for Australian content—wanting to see high-quality productions from traditional media outlets moving into the digital environment so that I can see the future of Australia and see our stories.

The Australian launch and rapid consumer uptake of streaming service Netflix in March 2015 resulted in 11.4 per cent of Australian households having access to a prescription only seven months later. That means 2.68 million Australian's aged over 14 now have access Netflix and can stream media content on demand. That is an overwhelmingly positive outcome but, given the ability of competition to pressure companies into offering more for less, we must ensure our traditional platforms are on a level playing field. Because, when it comes down to it, we want Australian content to be on online subscription services and for them to produce the content that Australians want to see. We must ensure that whether it is through audio or through visual media, Australians are able to have the content that they seek and for it to be available in a sustainable way, in a way that Australians will invest in it compared to overseas counterparts. This reform is so critical because it provides the foundation for the continuation and investment in Australian stories, Australian music and Australian content so that this country's past can be recorded, its present can be projected to the world and its future can be captured for the benefit of all Australians.

10:18 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great pleasure to be speaking on a bill, which, in its title, promises great things. The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016 contains three schedules. The first repeals what is referred to as the 75 per cent reach rule. The second, schedule 2, repeals the two-out-of-three cross-media ownership and control rule. And the third schedule provides a new division in the bill to introduce new local programming requirements for regional commercial television, and it revokes current programming requirements in the same schedule.

This bill has a grand title, as I have said. When we saw the title, we expected great things. We thought that it could be at long last the coalition government is going to focus its wandering attention upon the important task of comprehensive media reform in Australia. We were told that the Prime Minister himself with the original author of this material but could not get it through the cabinet in the previous parliament. But now he has the opportunity to paint with a broad brush the sort of media reform that we are calling for in this country but, when we go through the details of this bill, it is sadly missing.

The industry is crying out for reform—reform that will tackle the issues of convergence, reform that will bring our broadcasting legislation into the internet and live-streaming age and reform that will tackle the issue of the silo of regulation between telecommunications, between broadcasting and radio communications. This complex system of regulation needs to be updated. The bill we have before us does absolutely none of that. You would have thought that a government so seized with the issue of freedom of speech would turn its mind not just to the message but to the medium through which freedom of speech is transmitted. We find none of that within the bill.

It has long been recognised that the existing media ownership and diversity rules are based on distinctions between traditional broadcasting and print media that no longer exist. Today our media operates across a range of platforms. You only need to pick up your iPad and look at any major daily newspaper to find a combination of embedded video and multimedia technologies, which in many respects are hard to distinguish from the mediums that are broadcast over television signals.

The Abbott-Turnbull government has done nothing in the last three years on media regulation and ownership policy. It was virtually silent on the entire topic during the election campaign, but now Mr Turnbull and the minister want to rush changes through the parliament on the basis that they are urgent. I remind the House that it is not four days since the minister responsible made the announcement that there was no possibility that they were going to get this regulation through the House this year. In fact, they were not even going to put it on the agenda because they were far too busy. We were very critical of that approach, for reasons I will spell out, but now it seems that they have been panicked through that criticism. Concerned that they are going to be seen by many within the community and the industry as having done nothing, they have rushed this bill into the House in the dying days of this year's parliamentary sitting.

The reality for the urgency is the interests of a number of media players. At the recent inquiry into this bill, Professor Michael Fraser told the Senate that there is a lot of political horsetrading with powerful media interests and that has meant that we have had these small piecemeal approaches to legislative reform. Representatives of Seven West Media told that same inquiry last month:

Media policy is littered with trade-offs over the years. It is very hard to make changes in one area without that having impacts in a whole range of related areas.

We have to ask ourselves: what are the trade-offs being made for these changes? It is a valid question that Seven West Media asked.

This bill is a huge disappointment to the sector that it seeks to regulate. The minister said that the Turnbull government's failures on media reform are Labor's fault. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the parliamentary equivalent of saying, 'The dog ate my homework.' Despite Minister Fifield proclaiming the importance of media reform, he has failed to deliver on any part of it. The minister knows that he could get the long-awaited and much-needed provisions that repeal the 75 per cent reach rule through both Houses of Parliament. In fact, if could happen this week. There is no reason why we could not facilitate the expeditious passage today and tomorrow of the 75 per cent reach rule provisions contained in schedule 1 of this bill. There is no reason why that cannot happen.

The only reason, if we get up from this place in a few days' time and the 75 per cent reach rule continues to exist, will be because of the intransigence of those opposite, the laziness of the minister and the incapacity and incompetence of the government. I want to make that very clear: if the 75 per cent reach rule continues to exist in three days' time it will be because of the incompetence of the minister and of this government.

Labor has repeatedly indicated its support for the removal of this rule, which stops a person being in a position to exercise control of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licence area population exceeds 75 per cent of the population.

The reason that there is unanimous support for repealing the reach rule is quite simple: with the advent of streaming capacity—the ability of any licence holder to stream all of their content over the internet, not just to 75 per cent of the population but to 100 per cent of the population, in an unregulated fashion—makes a mockery of the 75 per cent reach rule. So of course we support its repeal. When a media company can today reach 100 per cent of the Australian population through streaming over the internet it makes no sense to persist with a rule that does shackle media companies in their commercial arrangements but does nothing to present diversity of voices in respect of the ability of companies to broadcast a signal to 100 per cent of the population. Indeed, it has been argued by some media companies that live streaming is not even covered by the Broadcasting Services Act so they are free to ignore the legislative restrictions in any case. Clearly, the reach rule is long past its use-by date.

Labor acknowledges the particular challenges faced by regional broadcasters. I come from a regional electorate; I have the headquarters of one of the largest media broadcasters, the WIN Corporation, based in my area in the Illawarra in New South Wales. We understand the problems that they are facing. I see the member for Ballarat, also a member who represents a regional electorate, very keenly focused on these issues as well. We on this side of the House—and I know also that you, Mr Deputy Speaker Mitchell, representing a regional electorate—are keenly focused on these issues.

Today, in an act of bipartisan cooperation, we can see reform which will make an enormous difference to this sector and to this industry. We can do that by the end of this week. Labor has offered the minister a pathway to securing some reform. If the government persists in ensuring that the other two provisions of the bill must be passed as a package then this will not occur. Let me explain why.

In Labor's view, schedule 2 of the bill, which abolishes the two-out-of-three rule, would lead to an increased concentration of media ownership in Australia. The government quite simply has not made the case for the repeal of this provision and Labor cannot countenance supporting such a provision that is so far from our national interest. And I want to talk about media diversity in this country. Among comparable democracies, Australia has the least diversity in its newspaper and media. This is a matter of deep concern to Labor MPs and senators. In our democracy we take great pride in our free press and in our free access to multiple sources of news and information. This free access to information is a basic tenet of our democracy. It is the right of citizens to know what is happening in their name in the parliament and elsewhere, and to have the ability to speak out freely on information which is unrestricted by government interference. Our democracy, therefore, is predicated on the availability of a diversity of voices.

Concentration of media ownership is the enemy of this diversity. Concentration of media ownership means that certain corporate interests may have louder voices in our information landscape and in our democracy than others. That is not in the national interest. If all of the information that we have comes from one media business then there may be stories that we simply do not hear about. There is no doubt that there is a vast range of voices in the new online space—more news and information is available to us—and quality journalism based in fact and information should be distinguished from the vast output, the wall of noise, that often populates and passes as content on the internet. The producers of such content are not bound by the code of ethics that governs the people who report our news in this place and elsewhere.

The primary argument in favour of repealing the two-out-of-three rule is the rise of these online sources that are competing for both news and advertising revenue. However, traditional media players still dominate the production of news information consumed by Australians. There may be more places to access news, but seven out of the 10 top news sites in Australia are still owned by the traditional media companies; it is simply the same voices on different platforms. That is not media diversity, and that is why Labor is unwilling to give the green light to more concentration of media ownership. And it is why Labor rejects the abolition of the two-out-of-three rules.

We understand that the media industry is facing challenges—this impact, and the forecast decline of traditional media, is irrefutable. However, it does not necessarily follow that the technological developments have negated the need for Australia to maintain rules around ownership and control of broadcasting licences in order to satisfy the objectives of diversity in the Broadcasting Services Act. The big disruption to broadcast media is coming from Google and Facebook. Neither of these companies practices journalism as we understand it nor creates much original content, and these companies do not pay licence fees to operate. Some have described their roles as parasitic, as they provide access to the journalism and content created and paid for by others. I have seen evidence from the Australian media companies that say that 70 to 80 per cent of total Australian digital advertising revenue is going to these very same platforms—Google and Facebook.

Similarly, evidence to a recent Senate inquiry by media companies claims that Australia's commercial free-to-air broadcasters have had a $4.2 billion decline in their market capitalisations in the three years since 2013—that is more than 50 per cent of their combined market value. By contrast, the market capitalisations of the big tech companies are growing. However, the many challenges faced by all aspects of the broadcasting sector and the appropriate regulatory arrangements to meet these disruptive challenges now and in the future are not served by this narrow bill.

I am reminded that disruption is not new in the media landscape. The owners of newspapers in the 1920s were not enthusiastic about the arrival of radio. They claimed it was likely that broadcasters would pirate print and news stories without providing compensation to their sources. And so it was with the arrival of television to the broadcasting landscape; there was a lot of reticence from radio and newspaper proprietors that this was going to be an unwelcome entry into the market. But time moved on, there was a rationalisation within the market and regulation moved to adjust to the new media landscape. It is our position that we need a thorough reform, and this bill is not that.

10:33 am

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise this morning to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill. This bill will amend the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 to repeal outdated media ownership laws and control laws to better reflect the changing digital media environment, with three separate things which will change.

First is the repeal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule; second is what is known as the two-out-of-three cross-media ownership rule; and third is the introduction of new programming obligations for regional commercial television broadcasting licences where a changing control, known as a trigger event, results in a licence forming part of a group of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licence area population exceeds 75 per cent of the Australian population.

The first schedule of the bill is the 75 per cent audience reach rule. This currently prevents a person in their own right, as either an owner or a director of one or more companies, from being in a position to exercise control of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licenced area population exceeds 75 per cent of the population of Australia. This rule has had the practical effect of preventing mergers between any of the predominantly metropolitan commercial television broadcasting licences such as Seven, Nine or Ten and any of the regional commercial television broadcasting licensees—being Prime, WIN and Southern Cross—because such a transaction would result in a person controlling commercial television licences whose combined licence area population substantially exceeds the 75 per cent threshold. Clearly, such a provision in the laws is completely redundant in today's digital media age, where someone can have access simply online to 100 per cent of not only the Australian population but, effectively, of most of the world's population.

The second change is to the two-out-of-three cross-media rule, which prohibits a person from controlling more than two out of three regulated media platforms—that is, a commercial television broadcasting licence, a commercial radio broadcasting licence and associated newspaper—in any one commercial radio licence area. Again, this is a redundant provision, given the change in the media technology.

I myself, and I am sure many in this parliament, have noticed that, when we go to hand out our newsletters at railway stations during election campaigns, we rarely see someone carrying a traditional newspaper. In fact, I saw and said, 'Good morning,' to at least several thousand people at local railway stations over the recent election campaign, and I think I could count on one hand the number of people carrying a newspaper under their arm to read on the train. Being in Sydney, those newspapers were simply The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph or The Australian. But on their mobile devices, they in fact had access to almost every newspaper in the world—whether it be TheNew York Times, The Washington Post, South China Morning Post, The Straits Times from Singapore; anyone can access any of those newspapers online. So it clearly shows how such legislation once was perhaps fitting to ensure diversity, and how diversity of opinions in our media landscape are no longer.

We need to continue to monitor our media landscape, because diversity of opinions and a variety of ideas—the contest of ideas; people putting up different ideas—across our media are essential for our democracy. We have concerns about that with the growing amount of what is called fake news across the digital spectrum—not only the digital spectrum; also traditional media outlets. I would like to give a couple of examples: during the US presidential election campaign, there was a news report in the major metropolitan papers throughout Australia. It was also reported on some of our current affairs programs. It was alleged that a group of a thousand people, pro-Trump supporters, were chanting disgraceful words in New York: 'We hate Muslims. We hate blacks. We want our great country back.' When I heard that on one of the current affairs programs being stated as a fact, I thought: that just simply does not seem right. I could not imagine people in New York chanting those obscenely offensive words. But, yet, it was reported as news across many different platforms and it turned out to be completely and utterly fake.

Another example is the recent coral bleaching we have seen on the Great Barrier Reef. We have seen stories printed in our newspapers saying the reef was dead or that 70 per cent of the coral reef had died off. Without in any way minimising the seriousness of the recent bleaching on the coral reef—

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Pauline went to a place where it wasn't happening.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I see the member over there interjecting. I hope this may be an opportunity to educate him, because I am sure he may have been influenced by some of this fake news. It wasn't actually 70 or 60 per cent of the reef that was killed off—

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order: the speaker is straying a great deal from the question of media reform. It is not a debate which will allow him to discuss any story he has read in the newspapers this year.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Further to the point of order: one of the crucial points, which was raised by the previous speaker, is diversity in the media. Diversity in the media is important, because of the variety of fake news so, examples of how different stories are reported are clearly relevant to this bill.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it might be best that we stick to the bill.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Stick to the bill—which is the importance of media diversity. Therefore I would like to give examples of why that media diversity is so important and how different stories give different points of view—some which can be fake to get to the truth—and why this bill is important and, it is clearly allowed under the rule of debates to give examples.

The example that I was giving was of the story about the bleaching of the barrier reef. While it was reported across many media outlets that two-thirds of the reef had actually died off, it was only two-thirds of what is called the far northern parts of the reef. The reef is divided into three parts: a central part, a southern part and the northern part. Yes, those stories that were reported were true that two-thirds of the northern part of the reef had died off. But the central part had only six per cent coral bleaching; and the southern part was less than one percent. So it is very important that we have diversity of media ownership, that we have the two-out-of-three rule and that we have the 75 per cent audience reach rule. It is very important that, within those rules, we have full diversity because, without it, people are simply being influenced by fake news.

Another example of media ownership—also going back to the US presidential election: we saw during the election that those speaking against Trump were telling us that his election, the election of a President Trump, would have a huge detrimental effect on the economy. That was reported in multiple news outlets across many areas, which clearly exceeded the 75 per cent audience reach rule. But what we have seen since the election is the exact opposite: we have seen a boom in the share market, and yesterday the OECD reported that they have actually upped their forecasts of global growth. Global growth at 2.9 per cent—the OECD are now reporting—which was the previous forecast, is now up to 3.3 per cent for 2007; and up to 3.6 per cent in 2018.

In the US, their previous forecast of 2.1 percent—

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can you speak about Australia?

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am more than happy to come to Australia. We are talking about the growth in the US which we had reported back in September at 2.1 percent. They are hoping that it will go to 2.3 per cent in 2017 and maybe they might get to three per cent in 2018. So it is the complete opposite of what was reported in the media, which goes to the importance of this bill: media diversity.

I will take the interjection from the member opposite: let's come to Australia. So that is the US growth. They are hoping that they might get to three per cent in 2018, which would be the highest growth in the US since 2005. Guess what, member over there? Australia's growth is at 3.3—you asked me to bring it back to Australia on that particular point; I am more than happy to—so when we talk about economic growth, it shows how well Australia is going. This is an example of why we need great diversity. It is clear the member over there simply either does not understand or he has been reading from media outlets that tell him Australia's growth is not going well. If he did his homework, he would realise that Australia's economic growth at 3.3 per cent is one of the highest in the world.

Another example of why the 75 per cent media reach is out of tune and needs to be changed can be seen in an article by Terry McCrann that was published in the Herald and The DailyTelegraph yesterday. He was talking about a story that had been reported widely, in The Economist, on the BBC and SBS and by literally hundreds of news outlets across the world—so easily covering that 75 per cent rule or the two-out-of-three media ownership rule; the control rule. McCrann said in the article that last month the Paris-based International Energy Agency, in its latest World Energy Outlook, stated that 'renewables have surpassed coal last year to become the largest sources of installed power capacity in the world.'

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Again we have the anti-climate change debate.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Again, I may be able to educate the member over there, because I am sure that he has read that story: 'Renewables have surpassed coal last year to become the largest source of installed power capacity in the world'—reported in The Economist, reported on the BBC, reported on SBS, reported on the ABC and reported across many media streams online.

Mr Dick interjecting

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Oxley will get his turn soon.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In contrast, Terry McCrann, in his article, said:

THE first and most important thing to understand about the global warming true believers and the pushers of so-called 'renewable energy' is that they lie.

They lie effortlessly, seamlessly, continuously and without the slightest sense of shame. They lie deliberately and carelessly and casually …

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Fenner on a point of order.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, fascinated as I am to hear the member's views on the anthropogenic global warming scam, I do again make the point that this is not an opportunity for him to raise with the House anything that he has read in the newspaper this year on the spurious pretence that that has to do with diversity.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order: this bill goes to the 75 per cent audience reach rule and it goes to the two-out-of-three cross-media ownership rule, and it is clearly within the standing orders to give examples of current media stories to show how they fit in with those rules, and that is exactly what I am doing.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order, but I would suggest to the member for Hughes that he stick to the content of the bill so that we can have a nice, pleasant Wednesday morning.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I had hoped that I would have the opportunity to further educate the member for Fenner in these last few minutes, but the point I was making is that this story that renewables had surpassed coal had gone across countless media outlets—far exceeding the 75 per cent audience reach rule or the two-out-of-three cross-media ownership rule. But, when you actually look at the evidence, this is simply an example of fake news.

If we are talking about electricity generation, from the OECD's own report we see solar at less than one per cent of energy generation—actually, 0.8 per cent—and we see wind at three per cent, compared to coal at 41 per cent. That is just electricity generation. If we go to total power across the world, we see wind at 0.45 per cent and we see solar at 0.1 per cent. So this is another clear example of false news and why we must all protect media diversity in our market. We must have as many independent voices as possible putting independent views across our media aspect.

10:48 am

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

The government's recent reforms to broadcasting legislation have been welcome. Recently I voted in support of reducing the licence fees on Australian free-to-air broadcasters. These are broadcasters who invest heavily in local Australian content, employ Australian workers and serve as a fantastic training ground for Australian talent. I note that my Nick Xenophon Team Colleague, Senator Stirling Griff, moved amendments to abolish licence fees entirely but that the major parties rejected those amendments. Given the incredibly high licence fees that our free-to-air broadcasters face, I was surprised to see that the major parties showed no consideration for these amendments, especially when they continue to let other companies pay no licence fees or taxes.

As I have stated previously, the biggest competitors to our commercial broadcasters are now multinational content companies such as Netflix, Apple and Google. These companies pay no licence fees and do not invest in local content. The number of Australian jobs they provide are minimal. Facebook, for example, employs roughly 75 people in Australia. The NXT have made it quite clear that our position when it comes to these multinational corporations is to impose a 'turnover tax' on these companies to make sure they pay their fair share.

I urge the government to look to the United Kingdom, where a stricter line was taken after it was revealed that Facebook paid only 4,327 pounds in corporate tax in 2014, despite Britain being one of the company's biggest markets outside of the United States. Recently, Facebook announced that it will pay back over 200 million pounds in tax to the UK government. Given where Australia is with its current budget deficit, and considering the revenue lost with the much-needed reduction in licence fees, forcing these multinational tax avoiders to pay their fair share could deliver a significant windfall. Earlier this year, The West Australian newspaper reported that Facebook paid just $814,000 in tax in Australia in 2015, despite its gross revenue being over $30 million. This is staggering in itself but, given that the investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that Facebook earned over $500 million from advertising in the Australian market alone during the same time, some serious questions have to be asked about its disclosure practices and the tax that it pays.

So, while I am very supportive of the reduction in licence fees, there are some aspects of this current legislation that deserve further consideration. The majority of stakeholders that I have met with on this issue support the removal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule, which prohibits a person from holding a commercial TV licence which covers more than 75 per cent of people in Australia. Given the current state of the online media sector, with news from across the world available at the click of a finger or a swipe of a finger, this rule effectively works as a barrier to longstanding commercial broadcasters and disrupts their ability to compete with online content providers.

My biggest concern with this legislation is that it proposes to repeal the two-out-of-three rule, which will remove the limitation that precluded one person or company from owning more than two out of the three traditional media platforms in a certain area—these platforms of course being television, radio and newspapers. The removal of the two-out-of-three rule opens up the possibility of mergers and buyouts, and the added corporate efficiencies that come with them. While I understand the need for all companies to be as efficient as possible, the real effect of this will be that, as mergers happen, local branches will merge with companies and will scale back their regional workforce. This means there will be fewer local journalists to cover local issues, and this will impact regional and rural communities the hardest.

I will give an example to illustrate my point. Mount Barker sits in the heart of my electorate, nestled in the Adelaide Hills. It is serviced by the Mount Barker Courier. The Courier is an independent, family owned and operated newspaper that has been publishing local news for over 125 years, winning many state and national awards in the printing industry. The district council area of Mount Barker is a region with approximately 30,000 people and is growing rapidly. It is roughly 40 minutes to an hour from Adelaide, depending on where you live within that region, and as a consequence many people choose to commute to Adelaide each day for work. Many have no other choice, I might add. However, Mount Barker has news stories and community interests that are very different to those on the Adelaide Plains, and these interests can be lost on people that do not live in the hills. Whether they be local sporting results, updates on infrastructure developments or local interest stories of Adelaide Hills citizens, this gap is filled very admirably in local media by the Mount Barker Courier. My concern is that, given the geographic proximity to Adelaide, a merger under the proposed legislation would see the local media reporting specifically on Adelaide Hills issues removed. I fear the impact of this would be a decline in rural communities knowing what is going on in their communities.

I understand there is going to be required minimum local content included as a part of this legislation, but this will only do so much to alleviate a problem that can be easily foreseen. In my electorate, there are five high-quality regionalised local newspapers that service our community admirably. Each service has its own niche. I have talked about the Mount Barker Courier, which services the Adelaide Hills. A 20-kilometre drive south of Mount Barker, which takes around 30 minutes—unless you are behind a tractor, when it takes a lot longer!—is Strathalbyn, which is serviced by The Southern Argus. Just 30 minutes south of Strathalbyn, you enter the readership of the Victor Harbor Times, which provides content specific to the southern communities of Goolwa, Victor and Middleton: the Fleurieu Peninsula. After a short ferry ride from Cape Jervis, you hit Kangaroo Island, where locals read The Islander with great interest every week. I must not neglect to mention the Adelaide Hills Weekender, which services a number of towns throughout our region. As you can see, we have regionalised, high-quality newspapers and I want to ensure their longevity and that they will not be compromised. All of these newspapers are geographically close to each other and independent of the metropolitan area of Adelaide, but they each service their own specific communities. My concern is that, with the lifting of the restrictions on media ownership, papers such as these will be under the threat of merging and regional communities like mine will have media distributed to them from people who work in the cities. At the very least, the local flavour that adds so much to these outlets will be lost.

The removal of community minded media outlets has already begun in South Australia, with a long-time favourite, our local Channel 44, being forced to transition from free-to-air broadcasting to purely online delivery as part of the Prime Minister's decision in 2014, in his capacity as Minister for Communications, to clear broadcasting space for the commercial networks. Many of the viewers of Channel 44 are elderly and they will not be able to watch their favourite channel anymore because they possibly do not have the internet or a computer at home. I think this is a great travesty for Channel 44 and for community television more broadly.

Removal of the two-out-of-three rule could lead to a smaller number of media owners in Australia, which in turn leads to less media diversity. Media diversity is a fundamental part of our free and democratic nation. The public deserve the right to have news and current affairs delivered to them by different sources, as it creates a more informed and engaged nation. An engaged nation is a great nation, and we should not allow any legislation to lessen the media diversity in our country. We should make sure that we look out for our local radio stations, our local newspapers and our local television broadcasters. I think everyone in regional Australia will join me in stating how important they are to our local communities.

I welcome the broadcasting reforms that the government has already passed, although I believe they should have gone further. Allowing our homegrown broadcasters to be competitive with the international giants is a step in the right direction. I hope the government will follow the lead of the Nick Xenophon Team and examine the tax paid—or the lack of tax paid—by companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple. My colleagues and I are still considering the legislation, and my Senate colleagues will have greater time to consider the bill. Today, I will give my cautious support to this bill, and that will allow my Senate colleagues to consider the bill in further detail and move any amendments we consider appropriate in the upper house.

10:58 am

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, if there was ever a reason why we need more media diversity in this nation, it was the member for Hughes's contribution in this place. Apparently, as a result of the so-called reforms, we are going to see fewer fake Donald Trump rallies. We are, apparently, going to see that only one-third of the Great Barrier Reef has been destroyed and that the climate change sceptics will be able to get away with more.

This government is not reforming; it is tinkering with an important part of Australia's media diversity. I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016, but it is hardly media reform. The 75 per cent reach rule was first enacted in parliament by the Hawke government in 1987, at 60 per cent, then changed to 75 per cent in 1992. The two-out-of-three rule has been implemented to protect diversity of media outlets in the sector and to prevent concentration of the media market. As we just heard from the member for Mayo, in regional South Australia those media markets which are concentrated need these provisions in place to protect that diversity.

The Centre for Policy Development has found that Australia now has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world. Since their election, the Abbott-Turnbull government, despite the Prime Minister being a former communication minister, have been doing absolutely nothing. There has been no review and no attempt at coordinated legislative and regulatory reform of the sector.

We heard a lot of mumbo jumbo from the member for Hughes, and a bit of voodoo economics for good measure. But, despite this being a critical piece of reform, we have had two or three speakers on this from the government. It is so important that the minister has even refused to pick up the phone and call the shadow minister, and has refused to engage on the issue. We know that this is not genuine or meaningful reform. Do not take my word for it; rather than the nonsense and the carry-on we saw from the member for Hughes—talking about Donald Trump, talking about climate change, talking about anything other than actual media reform—I want to put into the record what the experts and what the industry, more importantly, have said about this so-called reform. By reading the submissions to the Senate inquiry, you only need to look at the Seven West Media contribution, under the heading 'The Dangers of a Piecemeal Approach.' I will read the submission into the Hansard:

We see great danger in addressing these matters in a piecemeal manner.

… … …

And in the current case of changes to the 2 out of 3 rule, we have pointed out that these changes only comprise a small sub-set of the complex set of related media ownership rules. … we risk making changes at the behest of a few players with specific deals in mind and creating uneven outcomes in the competitive marketplace.

… However we have pointed out that the current approach is unduly narrow. It risks legislating a single media ownership deal because other media ownership rules such as the minimum voices test or the limits on ownership of television and radio licences in each market, have not been reviewed as part of this process.

The member for Hughes read into the record some media commentary, fake or otherwise. I could not really follow what his argument was.

I will refer to how Minister Fifield has handled this issue. I only need to read in The Australian last week:

The end-of-year awards season is almost here but there's already an odds-on favourite for the title of the most ineffective politician in the land.

Take a bow Mitch Fifield

We know that the minister, of all the ministers in this government—and that is a pretty low bar to set—is grappling and struggling with his portfolio, but the industry itself has serious concerns about the pathway that this government is heading down with the removal of the two-out-of-three rule. Reading through the proposals which are being put forward today, Labor does support, and has been on the record as supporting, the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule, and the shadow minister, the member for Greenway, made that clear yesterday in her contribution.

However, we will not and cannot support repealing the two-out-of-three rule. I note that the minister lauds that this reform will bring the media ownership laws into the digital era. The problem is that these legislative changes fail to recognise that traditional media news sources still exist. They are still there, despite the member for Hughes saying that people are not walking up to him with newspapers. We understand that even though there is this wonderful invention, as we heard, the internet, the traditional media sources are still dominant in the sector, and this dominance permeates the online media market as well. Newspapers have not faded away into irrelevance after the advent of radio, and radio did not switch off because of television. We know that this illogical argument by the minister simply does not stack up.

But, more importantly, the core of the debate is the removal of the two-out-of-three rule. As Labor senators noted in their dissenting report to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquiry, it is clear that the removal of the two-out-of-three rule has no justification. There is no argument being put forward by those opposite for the removal of this key safety net to ensure diversity and to prevent the further concentration of the media sector. The question is whether this is an effective tool for achieving diversity in the media sector, a question which appears to pretty much remain unasked by the minister and by the member for Banks in his contribution yesterday. I do not know whether it is just laziness or arrogance; I am not sure.

But the media sector is not like any other sector. Australia has, as we know, as I have said, one of the highest market concentrations of any media market in the world, and the last 20 years have seen a significant reduction of competition and the diversity of voices and viewpoints. It is a matter of public policy to ensure a greater reluctance towards mergers of media outlets and additional scrutiny and interpretation of market rules in the context which is needed, being the Broadcasting Services Act and its objectives to guarantee market diversity and recognise that the media sector is not like any other sector in the economy. It plays an important public interest role to encourage diversity and control of the more influential broadcasting services, to promote the role of broadcasting services developing and reflecting a sense of the Australian identity, to promote the availability of audiences throughout Australia of television, radio programs, particularly about local regional significance. This is balanced against the need to provide a regulatory environment that will facilitate the development of a datacasting industry in Australia that is efficient and competitive, and responsive to audience and user needs. So this should not be new to the minister or government members.

The objective of the Broadcasting Services Act, and the purpose of this legislation, is as a special legislative regime to guarantee diversity in the media landscape in the public interest. But what is clear is that the doors will be flung wide open for mergers and acquisitions of media outlets and the further convergence of media landscape, if we accept the government's proposal for the removal of the two out of three rule.

I would also like to reflect on the online media market. One of the central arguments that the government has put forward is that, somehow, this reform is justified by technological changes or, somehow, by digital disruption. However, we all know the media sector is no stranger to disruption, and nor has it remained unregulated. But the problem with this idea that the minister has cooked up with—I repeat—no review and no approach to genuine holistic reform is that the technological developments of the new digital era do not automatically give cause for this government to simply remove the need for Australia to maintain rules around ownership and control of broadcasting licences. The case simply has not been made. The argument is flawed.

I will put on the record, just as the member for Whitlam did earlier today, that seven out of 10 of the top online media sources are major traditional media companies. Although the internet undeniably creates more content, the majority of that content still comes from traditional news sources. The University of Canberra's digital news report and consumer study indicated that well above 70 per cent of Australians who access news digitally still cite a 'mainstream news source' as the main source of news. This research is across all age brackets, with almost 50 per cent of 18-24 year olds preferring to digitally access, through the web or on social media, a traditional news source, and nearly 90 per cent of those over 50. So, yes, as the minister has made us all too aware we have heard the argument about Google and we have had Facebook. But that does not mean that you cannot look at the Sydney Morning Herald, the Courier Mail in my home state, or The Australian. In fact, Chris Mitchell, a former editor-in-chief of The Australian says:

The truth is that newspaper editors still drive the national media agenda. Their ideas are followed by news directors in the electronic media and on social media.

Even the minister's own department has said:

… the proliferation of online sources of news content does not necessarily equate to a proliferation of independent sources of news, current affairs and analysis.

It is notable that eight of the top 10 news websites in Australia in 2013, in terms of average unique daily users, are owned by those major mastheads or their publishers, and there is a notable clustering of users within the top two or three news websites.

I also want to touch on the aspect of regional access in the digital divide. We have heard it said a lot that this is the reason we need to ensure these rules are brought in. But if this government is hanging its hat on access to the NBN or if it is hanging its hat on what a great job it has done in providing regional Australia with quality telecommunications, they are kidding themselves. In fact, in their submission to the Senate inquiry the NSW Farmers Association said that traditional media platforms still have strong reach in the regions and 'regional internet remains very poor in comparison with urban populations'. We all know that is the case. We live in the real world where those opposite sometimes reside in a fantasy.

The ABS has highlighted that there is a gap between regional centres and major cities, with households in major cities with internet access being 88 per cent, compared to 82.3 and 79 per cent of households with internet access in inner and outer regional areas. In my own community, in the Ipswich City Council region and on the outskirts of Brisbane, I know just how poor in quality the access is to internet services and to the NBN broadband services that there are. The 2014-15 Roy Morgan Single Source survey indicates that non-urban areas have a higher representation of older Australians. So the Prime Minister's mishandling of the NBN has not helped this divide.

The University of Canberra's digital news report and consumer study research indicates 'news about my region, city or town' being rated in the highest categories of interests in types of news accessed by Australians. So the evidence is clear. Clearly, the government has chosen to ignore the research that came forward and the industry that provided evidence on this piece of legislation. The fact is that most Australians, and in particular regional Australia, ensure they get most of their news information from traditional media sources. As the NSW Farmers Association told the senate inquiry into this bill:

… we pointed out in our evidence to the Committee, we fear that the definition of 'local' may shift as the footprint of a broadcaster …

…   …   …

Our members make regular complaints to us about the loss of local media programming, or about its quality–they seek real local voices who understand them and their industries.

What that says to me is that we are already losing regional local content. We are already seeing a reduction and these reforms will only make things worse.

Do we need genuine reform and meaningful reform—principles based reform, which this government has simply failed to do with this bill. Australians want a diverse media sector and Australians deserve better than the bill being proposed by this government.

11:13 am

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to make a contribution on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill. My colleague the member for Greenway has outlined why Labor supports the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule, why we oppose the abolition of the two out of three rule, and why Labor is seeking to separate this provision from the bill.

The way we access media is changing rapidly. Over the last fifteen years the internet has revolutionised the way we access news and entertainment. It is right that the parliament considers ways to reform and enhance our media in this rapidly changing context. However, this bill, and the attitude of the government that introduced this bill, demonstrates that they are completely out of touch with the challenges that face Australians who live outside the major capital cities. That is what I want to address in my remarks today, following on from the excellent contribution from the previous speaker. They do not understand what is going in our regional cities and in our rural and regional areas or why this bill, in its current form, is inadequate for dealing with those challenges.

Firstly, I want to draw to the attention of the House the significant problems that many of my constituents have in accessing free-to-air television, and the need for media companies to invest in and improve services in regional Australia. Over one-quarter of the people in the electorate I represent, Shortland, are over the age of 60. This group overwhelmingly relies on traditional mediums of communication such as television, radio and newspapers, for its information. It is relevant to highlight that many of my constituents, particularly in that age bracket, but also young families and singles, have serious issues with their television reception. This is regularly raised with me when I talk to my constituents.

Since the transfer from the analogue to the digital system, many constituents have received even poorer service. For many constituents, particularly seniors in my community, the television is a fundamentally important part of their lives. It is how they access news and entertainment and know what is happening in our community. Poor television reception has a significant impact on their daily lives. Many of my constituents have told me that they have problems with particular stations cutting out regularly or not working at all. In fact, many people have told me that they have completely given up on accessing free-to-air television. Yet, they cannot afford pay TV or other measures like that. They have invested thousands of dollars in new aerials, in rewiring their antennas and in all sorts of methods of trying to fix the television reception, but, for many parts of my electorate, they still cannot get free-to-air television. In the year 2016, that is simply not good enough.

My electorate is not in an isolated part of rural and remote Australia. The southern part of Shortland is just a bit over an hour's drive from the Sydney CBD. I cannot reinforce this point enough. We have a situation where people living just one hour's drive from Australia's pre-eminent major international city are having significant problems watching television. I want to emphasise that this is not a 'first world problem'. Whether they are pensioners or young families, watching television is an important part of the daily lives of my constituents. It is important from a democratic point of view. For many families in my area, and, in fact, all of Australia, the way they access their news remains free-to-air television. The nightly news, whether it be five o'clock, six o'clock or seven o'clock, is the way they understand what is happening in our country and what is happening in this place. It is an essential part of gathering the information they need to make democratic decisions in this country. This is an issue of fundamental importance to how our democracy operates.

The bill we are discussing now will have significant impact on the profitability of media companies. Changing the system around the reach rule and, if the government is successful, the two-out-of-three rule, will impact our media industry structure and will impact on their profitability. I will repeat my very firm view that media companies have an obligation to invest in regional communities like the one I represent—to invest in the infrastructure and the broadcast towers—so that my constituents, and constituents like them around the country, can access their television services. Government also has a role. Government should be co-investing with these media companies to make sure that my constituents have access to free-to-air television.

Secondly, in discussing broadcast and media reform, it is very much in the context of the internet revolution we have seen over the last 20 years. This highlights the importance of the internet, and the National Broadband Network in particular, to how my constituents access news, education and entertainment. The thesis behind this bill is that the current media landscape—the current media companies—are under significant threat from the rise of the internet. That is true to some extent although many of my colleagues, in particular, the member for Whitlam, have pointed out that the old, traditional media companies still dominate the most visited websites in this country for people accessing news. So, it is not quite the one-sided story that people hear. Nevertheless, it is true that this bill is constructed in the framework that the rise of internet access is undermining the business model of traditional media.

Yet this is not particularly relevant to parts of my electorate because the rollout of the NBN by the Abbot-Turnbull government has been such an absolute farce. For example, the suburb of Belmont in my electorate had the second-highest level of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman regarding the NBN over the last year, and five of top ten suburbs for complaints were in the Central Coast or Lake Macquarie regions. Let me repeat that: a suburb I represent had the second-highest number of complaints regarding the NBN and five of top ten suburbs listed by complaints in the entire nation are in the Central Coast or Lake Macquarie regions, which are areas that I represent or are very close to my constituency. Over the past year, my office has been contacted on an almost daily basis by constituents complaining about the transition to the NBN. Many of those people have been left without a telephone connection for weeks at a time. Many have had alarms, both health alarms and security alarms, cut off for considerable amounts of time. One constituent who owned a boat business slept in his office for a month because his back-to-base alarm was cut off and he was worried about the potential theft of millions of dollars of stock.

It is important to note that the architect of this farce is the Prime Minister. His expensive, second-rate, fibre-to-the-node network is having a huge impact on my community. In fact, many of my constituents are finding that, even when they finally get their connection to the fibre-to-the-node NBN, their speed is as slow as they were experiencing on ADSL and, in some cases, even slower. The Prime Minister and his colleagues consistently and arrogantly boast about the success of the NBN rollout. I would invite him to visit Belmont and meet with my constituents who would tell him how terrible their experience has been.

This is at the heart of this bill. We cannot talk about increasing the profitability of traditional media companies to make sure that they survive the onslaught of the internet-based competition they are facing if the constituents of my electorate and many regional parts of the country do not have adequate NBN services. If we are reducing the diversity of traditional media landscape—which is what this bill effectively seeks to do through the reach rule and, if the government is successful, the two-out-of-three rule—on the basis that Australians can access other diverse sources of news online, they need access to online services. They need access to high-speed internet to access those news services. This is the lie that is at the heart of this bill and is one of my many concerns about this whole debate around telecommunications in this country.

Nevertheless, if the government agrees to our sensible amendment, Labor will support this bill. This point was made by the member for Greenway. Broadcasting reform is important, and accessing free-to-air television is fundamentally important. Nevertheless, it is a disgrace that so many of my constituents are unable to access quality free-to-air television in their homes or access decent internet speeds. I will continue to campaign on behalf of my constituents.

11:22 am

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia's media sector does not sell widgets. It shapes our culture and it moulds our national identity. Our media provides a bulwark against the otherwise unfettered power of the state. But, left to its own devices in a free market, the media sector can be just as tyrannical as any nation-state. As companies devour each other to increase market share and audience reach, the owners of the few remaining corporations, whether individuals or boards, wield ever more power because of their ability to shape what is said, seen and heard over their networks. And, as the corporate stakes get higher, when government decisions can make the difference between mere billions in profit or tens of billions, the temptation to wield that power, to influence the making of decisions most profitable to the corporation's own interests, becomes irresistible.

It is for this reason that media requires being treated differently to other companies on the market and why this parliament, which embodies the collective will of the citizens of this nation, is charged with ensuring our media sector remains both viable and diverse. It is with both viability and diversity in mind that Labor supports abolition of the 75 per cent audience reach rule but opposes abolition of the two-out-of-three rule. This is a sensible outcome that meets the needs of broadcasters in the internet age while also protecting the public interest in ensuring some level of diversity in Australia's already too-concentrated media market.

I am disappointed that this legislation is the best the coalition could come up with after three years in government. This so-called media reform bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016, offers mere tinkering around the edges of a rapidly evolving sector that requires significant policy attention. It is not major sector reform. The government have had three years to take action and have done nothing to date. Now, as usual, they bring it on in a rush, demanding it be passed because it is suddenly so urgent.

Australia's rapidly evolving media sector deserves to be taken more seriously by the government. Any so-called media reform bill should have at its centre the national interest, not the interests of powerful corporations whose focus is on squeezing out the competition and maximising profits. I do not hold it against corporations for seeking an outcome that best serves their own corporate interests. They are entitled to lobby for laws they believe will best enhance their bottom line. But I do hold it against this government, and this minister, for failing to better balance the public interest against the self-interest of corporations. The public interest requires regulatory processes and industry structures that support strong and independent and diverse media outlets. The public interest requires investment in regional media infrastructure and services, and the public interest requires a minister and a Prime Minister and a government with the will and the strength to stand up to the self-interest of corporations and occasionally say no. Notably, this bill fails to provide any assurance of greater local content, including in regional areas.

More and more, across every sector, we are seeing regional communities hollowed out, with services either disappearing or being centralised in big towns and cities and then provided on a drive-in drive-out basis. I have seen this happen in my electorate of Lyons. Services are taken out of communities to meet an economic bottom line that looks good on paper but ignores the people who live in the town and the community. With media, we are hearing fewer local voices over the air and seeing more syndicated material. Again, I do not blame the corporations. Syndicated content is cheaper to produce and license. Without robust regulation that legally demands local content, corporations seek to save every dollar they can and they will cut where they are allowed to do so. I recall the words of comedian Chris Rock, who said—and I will not try the accent:

I used to work at McDonald's making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? "Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it's against the law."

It is the law that provides the minimum standard beyond which companies may not go. Companies will do what they can within the law to maximise their profit and their market share. It is up to us as the representatives and the guardians of the public interest to act and to set boundaries that are in the public interest. If we want more local content over our airwaves and on our screens, we need to legislate for it. If we want to protect diversity, we need to legislate for it.

But what about the internet? Well, if there is anyone who should not mention the internet it is those opposite. Despite the best efforts of the government to frustrate Australians' relationship with 21st century broadband, the internet is being used by communities in my electorate precisely because of the failings of corporate-owned media to offer local content. As the many members of this place who are my age or older will remember, there used to be local newspapers everywhere around Australia. Radio stations, and even TV stations, used to be owned locally. Local stories got told on locally owned media. Those days are largely over, and social media accounts run by local community groups are filling the gap to some extent. In my largely regional electorate, Facebook pages centred on particular communities are popular and serve a useful information-sharing function. One proved invaluable, for example, during the Dunalley bushfires nearly three years ago. Another, in Bridgewater, brings folks together during clean-up events. But such sites are generally run by volunteers and share community information and events but do not carry journalism. Social media is no substitute for professional news and current affairs broadcasting, and nor, for that matter, for the production of dramatic content that tells our local stories.

We have all heard the complaints about the Americanisation of our media and our culture, and much of it is inevitable, given the popularity of American movies and music. But surely we should be doing all we can to provide Australian voices, and, beyond that, localised voices, on our TV screens and over our radio airwaves—and not just one Australian voice, as one corporation might see it to be. We are a diverse community, and that diversity must continue to be reflected in our media.

Yes, there is news on the internet, but it is the traditional players who continue to dominate—the same traditional players who stand most to benefit from any relaxation of the two-out-of-three rule. News Corporation and Fairfax mastheads continue to be the most popular commercial offerings.

The government argues we do not need the two-out-of-three rule because the internet provides diversity. After all, there are—to name a few—Crikey, New Matilda, the Conversation, the Guardian and more. But I have got news for the government. If one corporation dominates print, radio, TV and the internet, we do not have real diversity, irrespective of how many small players there may be. If one political party holds the vast majority of seats across the various governments of Australia, and a grab-bag of small parties and Independents hold the remaining handful in perpetual opposition, would the government argue that we have democracy?

I suppose it all depends on your perspective. My perspective is rooted firmly in my largely regional electorate. We are relatively well served, with Tasmanian news offered by two commercial TV outlets, Southern Cross and WIN, and the ABC. With radio we have a number of commercial stations offering local programming and bulletins, and the ABC, which also provides morning talkback and a 'country hour' every day. I would hate to guess what would happen if the two-out-of-three rule were abolished and we were to see more concentration in that market, because, as good as the commercials are in Tasmania, they do focus on the more heavily populated cities and suburbs. That is where the audiences are, so I understand that.

Might I say that regional Tasmania would be absolutely stuffed without the ABC. I know the ABC is not part of this bill, and the shadow minister and shadow Treasurer may groan at this, but I would love it if Labor could go to the next election pledging more resources for our national broadcaster. They have been cut to the bone in Tasmania and are operating on the smell of an oily rag, but the ABC crews do manage to tell Tassie's story every day. And right now ABC staff are giving up their own time for the annual giving tree, which provides donations to families and kids facing an otherwise bleak Christmas, and I take my hat off to them.

But I come back to my point about the importance of regional focus in Tasmania. Only last weekend I visited the community of Bronte Park, the gateway to the central highlands of Tasmania. Because of the topography, folk in this community cannot get any local TV signal; they never have. All they can receive is satellite from a mainland-based service. Of course, if they had decent broadband they might be able to stream a local TV service, but that is out of the question, given the awful—or even non-existent—internet service they get.

People in regional communities like my electorate deserve better than being forced to receive all their information essentially from the one source, no matter what that source is. The challenges faced by all aspects of the broadcasting sector, and the appropriate regulatory arrangements to meet the disruptive challenges now and in the future, are not served by this narrow bill.

Labor will develop a comprehensive, principles-based approach to sector reform and is prepared to work with the government to achieve this. If they support our amendment, then we are halfway there.

Economic reform of current licensing arrangements is clearly the priority of the sector and should be addressed before any reform to industry structure. We understand that Australian media companies are concerned about their viability in the face of licence fees and local content requirements which are not borne by online competitors such as Google, Facebook and Netflix. And, having come from the media myself in a previous life, I know that the fracturing of advertising content and the fracturing of audiences across the sector has just been devastating. The once-coined 'rivers of gold' from the classified sections of print newspapers are no longer there; that has all shifted to the internet. The relationship between advertising and journalism is broken. People used to read newspapers; that would fund the journalists and then the newspaper would be funded by the advertising revenue. Well, the advertising revenue has now shifted to the internet.

So who is funding journalism? That is a very critical question. And, frankly, that is one that I would have loved this bill to have addressed, because the future of journalism in this country is really under threat. Just today I have learned that the Mercury newspaper in Tasmania is facing another round of cuts. Some might say it is inevitable that print newspapers and print journalism in Australia are going to face cut after cut, year after year, as audiences decline as they move to the internet. But the fracturing of audiences for the old technology involved in print journalism is undeniable. We need to find ways to better fund journalism and better ensure that the local Australian voice is heard and does not disappear from our TV screens nor our radio stations.

11:36 am

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to speak on a bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016, that relates to an issue that for many years I had a vested interest in as a journalist. I followed closely the pressures applied to government by media proprietors whenever media reforms were on the agenda. While we have indicated our support for schedule 1, the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule in this legislation—which was, in fact, our proposal originally—I have concerns about schedule 2, the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule.

There is no doubt that getting the regulatory settings right in the broadcast and media sector is a challenge. The disruption that is occurring in the sector is significant. As a former news journalist, I worry about the consequences for reporters in a market that is increasingly fragmented and where jobs are contracting. Any reform needs to be done based on the principles of: independence in media and higher standards; diversity in content, including in ownership of companies and industry structure; making sure there are regional services and regional content; and supporting jobs and local Australian content. This government has not bothered to do the work in four years to come up with any substantial reform, and that is why we have this bill before us.

Why do I not want to see the two-out-of-three rule dumped? The two-out-of-three rule restricts a single owner from controlling a free-to-air TV station, newspapers and radio stations in the one market. You can have two of them but not three. Firstly, a history lesson: this rule came in in 1986 with the first serious media reforms since television was invented. Prime Minister Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating introduced this rule to ensure that no single player dominated a market. As Keating so beautifully said, 'You can be the queen of the screen or the prince of print, but not both.'

I was a journalist back then, working in the Canberra press gallery for commercial radio 2UE. That period was a time of big change. Kerry Packer bought 2UE and 3AK from the Lamb family. So I found myself joining the Packer stable. Only a year later Packer sold to Alan Bond for a record price. So not only did I report extensively on those reforms but I was caught up in the massive changes that occurred. Now, as then, the aims were to ensure that there was viability and, we believe, diversity.

While the reach rule has been made obsolete by the advances of technology—which means you can stream things from a whole lot of devices and the lines between platforms are blurry—as far as the two-out-of-three rule goes there are still good reasons to think more carefully about the implications of abolishing it. And I do not believe the government has thought very carefully. Seven West Media's submission to the Senate inquiry into this bill is particularly telling. They said:

No clear consumer benefit from merger and acquisition activity that may follow removal of the 75% reach rule or the 2 out of 3 rule has been articulated. And previous M&A activity from the 2006 changes did not deliver more or better services to Australians. In fact, these changes will arguably see greater consolidation, less diversity and less local content than ever before.

This is a very telling statement from a key media player.

We do need to ensure there is a diversity of Australian voices. Traditional media still dominates as a source of news information, and the concentration of ownership is intensifying. Don't believe me; listen to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, whose words seem to be quoted more often on our side of the chamber these days than on the other side. He said:

In my term, there were seven print proprietors. Now there is one and a bit. We have the most concentrated media in any democratic country, anywhere in the entire damn world. That is dangerous.

These days, seven of the 10 top news websites are owned by the traditional media companies. You do not just read the Daily Telegraph, you click on, you stream news clips from Facebook or Twitter. The distribution is different, but the content is the same. It is terrific to see alternative voices like Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, but the only new entrants to the list of top-10 news websites outside the traditional media are Britain's Daily Mail and the Australian version of the British-owned Guardian. And you have to feel for New Zealand, where it looks likely that the two Australian-based groups that own the two main New Zealand titles, Fairfax and APN News and Media, will actually join forces. They will be even more restricted to a narrower number of voices.

As a former journo, the real problem for me with restrictive ownership is that you cannot afford to take chances. The fewer owners, the fewer people you can annoy as a journalist. I experienced this concern myself when owned by Packer. In fact, I recall that my radio station had only recently been taken over by him when Lionel Bowen, the formal Attorney-General, dismissed allegations made to the Costigan royal commission against Kerry Packer, who had been identified with the codename 'the Goanna'. This was by no means a difficult story to report. It would have been much harder if the Attorney-General had found the other way, but as a young, green journalist in my early 20s I had to report this. You tread really carefully when it is your boss. And it was my boss I was writing about. I remember being more cautious than I would have been reporting on just about any other individual. I can only imagine how much more risk adverse you are in your reporting if you know that there is no-one else to employ you.

But journalists are there to break stories. They are there to report things that someone does not want said. That is their vital role in our democracy. The Democrats might have coined the phrase 'keep the bastards honest', but the media has been doing that from day 1. A well-functioning democracy has, at its heart, an informed constituency. It is a journalist's job to find and verify information in the public interest, rather than just rip and read from media releases. Sure, the technology means that citizen journalists can be local news gatherers. But there is none of the rigour of a trained reporter, and it can lead to huge gaps in subject coverage and be really hit and miss.

I remind myself that these proposed changes are happening at a time when there are ongoing cuts to journalists at every major media outlet. It is estimated that around 700 journalist jobs were lost in Australia during the GFC between 2008 and 2009. This was followed by the loss of another 2,500 journalism jobs between 2012 and 2015. Since then, hundreds more jobs have gone. Earlier this year Fairfax cut about 100 full-time equivalent positions in its metropolitan daily news and business divisions in Sydney and Melbourne. A year ago it was 55 from News Corp. Fairfax's regional publishing business, ACM, is moving ahead with a common newspaper template, with opportunities for content sharing. Journalists spared from the sackings are required to do more with less, including taking photographs, subediting their stories and uploading them online. All major media companies, including Fairfax, News Corp, West Australian Newspapers, AAP and major regional publishers, have slashed their workforces. No community has been spared.

A survey by New Beats found the average age of journalists made redundant—and most job losses have come through voluntary redundancies, which appeal to more senior journalists who have worked with an employer for many years—was just over 49 years. They had worked in journalism for an average of 26 years each. So that is a lot of journalism experience walking out the door. There are implications of these changes: they undermine the diversity of local reporting and its accuracy, and they narrow the voice and threaten democracy. I would have to agree with my union—yes, I am a proud member of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. The MEAA does not support the removal of the cross-media control rule, because it sees the bill's dominant focus as relieving regulatory burden on media entities rather than benefiting media diversity.

It is not just journalists that I worry about; I worry about local businesses. I noticed in an editorial in The Australian that the removal of the cross-media ownership law may be the way that local content offerings can be improved for regional areas, because a proprietor who owns television, radio, print and internet assets in an area could 'deepen and expand local content and news.' But my concern about this is that if you are a small business operating in a regional area, if you are a big business in a regional area, if you are a local government agency operating in that region or if you are a local community group operating in that region, again, you have only one organisation with which to build a relationship. If they take a dislike to your business, then there is no other medium in which to get the facts out. Right now, if you get bad press, you can turn to another medium whether it is the local commercial radio station or TV station and present a different side of the story. But if you have the one owner—the one organisation, the one editorial controller—there is no second bite and no way to correct misinformation or to provide extra information to a commercial audience.

The decline of journalist jobs in this commercial media sector, whether it is print or broadcast, places even greater importance on Australian taxpayers' continued support for strong public service journalism. Therefore, the other issue for me is that this coincides with attacks on the national broadcasters: the ABC and SBS. These organisations provide essential diversity—different voices in a whole range of ways—and yet they too are being undermined. The ABC plays a unique role delivering local Australian news across the nation's states but it too has suffered recent substantial funding cuts and journalism job losses.

In 2014, a $200 million federal government cut reduced jobs and editorial output in state newsrooms, regional newsrooms and international bureaus. As a result, over the last decade, audiences have witnessed the loss of much specialised TV, radio and digital content, both at home and in our Asian region. Of course, the cuts have not stopped since then across the ABC, with a whole range of editorial roles simply disappearing.

The ABC said that more than $6 million would be axed from the ABC news division annually over the next three years following the 2016 budget, along with millions of dollars worth of cuts to the ABC's online and mobile capacity. There was the axing of the ABC Fact Check unit and other editorial redundancies at the ABC in the lead up to the last federal election. Journalists from the Fact Check unit and national reporting team were sacked, resulting in a loss of quality journalism and talented journalists, with impact on newsrooms around the country. The MEAA warns that this will place news services at the ABC under extreme pressure. Even after these cuts, the Director of ABC News, Gaven Morris, has warned of more challenges to continue delivering original and investigative journalism, and local and regional news gathering.

Like some ABC employees, I am not the first to be concerned that the changes constitute 'a serious breach of the ABC Charter and a disservice to the Australian audiences that the ABC is funded to serve'. In my electorate, the Blue Mountains Friends of the ABC, one of the most active groups of that volunteer organisation, recently held their AGM and these issues were top of mind, not least the latest ABC Radio National cuts.

As we consider changes to the way media companies operate, we cannot ignore that change is occurring. I have found it interesting to hear the other side say how unnecessary the two-out-of-three rule is. In the same breath they have trumpeted the need for diversity yet the only diversity I can see coming is more US programs and news dumped on us.

In the broadcast media sphere, US owned Netflix announced it will undercut local competitors—Presto, jointly owned by Foxtel and Seven West Media; and Stan, a Fairfax and Nine Entertainment Co. partnership—to stream video content directly to Australia. The potential dominance of foreign owned media is concerning given that we once had specific laws to guard against it so that we could protect Australian news content and its democratic function and hear Australian voices. Isn't it strange that in 2016, when local newspapers are experiencing financial pressures, there is little examination about what these offshore arrivals mean for Australian audiences and Australian news content, particularly in terms of local news?

We are seeing here legislation that is simply attempting to tinker with the rules rather than really respond to the seismic shifts that are happening. On this side, we are committed to genuine reform. Labor wants to see a comprehensive inquiry into ownership, concentration and competition in the Australian media market, because there has not been one in nearly 20 years. It needs to be done independently.

Whatever changes this parliament agrees to will have wide-ranging implications for decades to come, not just for my children but for my grandchildren. You have to wonder why the government wants to rush this through, particularly given it was not even one of their priorities at the last election. You would think that a former communications minister, now the Prime Minister, would take this stuff seriously. Although, when we see what he has done the NBN, perhaps it is absolutely no surprise at all.

11:51 am

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise with pleasure to support the member for Greenway's amendment to the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016. I do so knowing how hard the shadow minister has worked, in terms of stakeholder consultation, to get across all of the issues that this legislation proposes, and to support the notion that the two-out-of-three rule should be looked at much more carefully over a much longer period of time and with much deeper consultation for all members in this place.

The fourth estate plays a central role in the preservation of our democracy, as does drama, media and entertainment play in the preservation and the continuation of our developing culture. I am proud that everyone in this country is encouraged to vote. On both sides we value the fact that almost everyone participates in our democratic processes. However, these processes need a diverse media in order to inform voters of key issues, challenge their assumptions and hold politicians to account. We need them to report the truth so people can make informed decisions. Having said that, Labor, unlike those opposite, acknowledges the political economy of the media. We understand that some degree of government regulation is necessary in order to protect citizens from abuses of media power. We believe that the two-out-of-three rule needs to stay. A completely unregulated media market is likely to result in a handful of powerful media outlets dominating traditional forms of media.

I understand that the internet means that there are more outlets for media, but the evidence suggests that there are still only a few trusted names in the media space. When media power is consolidated, we run the risk of having our society become an echo chamber. We run the risk of only hearing one point of view. We need a diverse media landscape because that is when the powerful are held to account and the views of people from across the political spectrum are represented. I say this acknowledging the challenges facing the media interest as it stands. There are clearly risks to its future. However, the challenges faced by all elements of the broadcasting industry are not served by this narrow bill.

The regulatory arrangements that need to be made in order to assist the broadcasting sector through this period of disruption are not served by the government's plan. Some elements of media regulation in this country are antiquated. That is why we support removing the rule that prevents a person from being able to exercise control over a commercial broadcasting licence that can reach 75 per cent of the Australian population. In the age of the internet, a kid with a camera can, theoretically, reach 95 per cent of the Australian population. However, this part of the regulation is not antiquated; it is vital. When radio came about, newspapers were initially sceptical, but then they promptly acquired radio stations. Similarly, when television arrived, radio stations and print media were nervous but quickly found a way to move into that space and become viable.

It holds that large media companies still have the time and expertise necessary to produce content that consumers trust and want. In fact, seven of the top 10 news sites in Australia are owned by traditional media companies. This is not necessarily about a decline in readers; it is more about a shift towards the online space, which is admittedly harder to commodified. If local media companies feel it is unfair that competitors such as Google, Facebook and Netflix do not bear the burden of licence fees and local content requirements, then they should join Labor in calling for swift and wide-reaching reforms that will level the playing field while making sure that we do not diminish our democracy or our capacity to tell our own stories.

I will reflect on my time in classrooms at this point, and specifically on sharing with students the Lockie Leonard works of Tim Winton. Teaching Australian literature and film is an absolute privilege, but one of the strongest memories I have from a classroom is teaching Tim Winton's Lockie Leonard series with year 7s. It was an extraordinarily powerful thing when they recognised the Australian voice, the Australian landscape and the Australian experience in the stories—their voice, their landscape, their experience. It changed their writing. It emboldened them and it validated their experience as a legitimate basis for narrative. This cannot be underestimated in the way Australia moves forward. We need to protect our ability to tell our own stories, to share them with our children and to encourage our children to take this up as we move forward.

Let's not pretend that it is easy for new players to step in and become trusted news sources or trusted entertainment and drama sources. You need to spend years developing a brand that the Australian public will respect and listen to. While many Australians might read blogs, on election night they are looking for Antony Green, they want to hear Laurie Oakes' analysis, they will tune in to the ABC, to SBS or to 10, 9 and 7. Why? It is because people trust those media brands. So, when they are looking out for information that they will use to form their opinions on political issues, it is likely that they will continue to look to 'old' media sources. When you give one of those trusted sources unfettered access to the entire media landscape and limit others' access, you prevent other organisations developing their own relationships with the public and with consumers and you prevent their building up trust for their brands in their own sector.

Diversity in this space is absolutely critical. We know that people get cues about where society is headed or where society has been from drama and entertainment. A couple of friends may discuss the latest episode of, say, House Husbands, commenting how a particular character or relationship reminds them of their own or perhaps challenges their own habits or labels. Entertainment prompts people to reflect on aspects of their own lives. It might sound trivial, but something as simple as characters' relationships or the types of characters portrayed in entertainment can have a huge influence on what we perceive to be normal. It is, in many ways, a reflection of ourselves and our customs. If a handful of companies are able to control what we get to see, that could directly affect our culture.

Having said that, the Australian stories are largely told by our domestic media companies. While there is more that unites than divides us, there is still a range of Australian experiences that need space to breathe and be heard. If I think of Lockie Leonard, Tim Winton was telling a particular story—a Western Australian story, and a quintessential Australian story. But I know that if Tim Winton had lived in Melbourne it would have had a different flavour; it would have been a more multicultural story.

We need to ensure that we have the domestic capacity to continue to tell these stories. We need to ensure that we have an industry that makes sure that the emerging Australian story also has space in that field. Australian stories are largely told by domestic media companies. I will say again that, while there is more that unites us than divides us, there is still a range of Australian experiences that need space to breathe and to be heard. Increasing ad revenues from an additional sector of the media is not going to stop people from going online for content. Regarding Australian content, we need to make sure that there is a range of editorial voices telling Australian stories. There is a clear way forward. There is a way to support local media entities while also ensuring our democracy is protected and ensuring every Australian consuming Australian media can see someone who looks like them, sounds like them and has relationships like their own.

I know that Netflix and the unfortunate scourge of illegal downloads mean that more and more people can choose what they want to watch and are no longer beholden to what is presented to them on free-to-air TV, radio and print. The internet is a major disrupter but, if we think about it, ad revenues are falling across the sectors and it has become easier to produce good content online, so allowing the consolidation will not correct the trend—it is more likely to create even larger media empires that have delayed their demise by a couple of years.

In order to protect the local media industry and to ensure local media jobs are preserved, we need a principle-based approach that focuses on independence in media and better standards of diversity in content, including the ownership of companies and industry structures. We need to ensure the provision of regional services and support for regional content, and we need to support local jobs and local content.

Labor sees and appreciates the firms that are failing, which is why we are committed to undertaking reform of licensing agreements to help smaller firms to stay competitive. We need real reform that is in the national interest, not a poorly thought-through scheme designed to help corporate media interests. If you think about the narrowing in this space and what it may mean for the way our population informs itself, particularly around the democratic processes, you will realise that the narrower that editorial voice becomes, the more at risk our democracy becomes. We need to ensure that Australians are hearing from a wide range of voices, not a minimalist one.

This government has clearly not put much thought into this policy proposal. It will not help media companies to innovate and embrace the future; it just allows a few key players to increase their influence at the cost, potentially, of our democratic processes and at the cost of Australia being able to tell its own stories. Here we need a much more thoughtful approach, and I support the amendment the member for Greenway has presented to the parliament to ensure that we have that.

12:01 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I begin by wholeheartedly endorsing the comments by the member for Lalor about the importance of the Lockie Leonard book series in teaching young Australian children about an Australian voice in our literature history of Australia. As a person who has very much benefited from reading that series as a student not long after they were written, I wholeheartedly endorse her comments.

Turning now to the core of this bill, the challenges faced by all aspects of the broadcasting sector and the appropriate regulatory arrangements to meet the disruptive challenges now and into the future are not served by this narrow bill. The bill is not about genuine sector reform. After three years in office, this is a substandard response by government—something which is even acknowledged by stakeholders. Labor will go on to develop a comprehensive principles-based approach to sector reform, and is prepared to work with government to achieve this. Labor also acknowledges the particular economic challenges being faced by regional broadcasters, which is why we are prepared to support the abolition of the 75 per cent reach rule.

Economic reform of current licensing arrangements is clearly a priority for the sector, and must be addressed before any reform to industry structure. The government and a number of media interests continue to express dismay, in fact, at the time it has taken to pass this bill. However, consider this: the Abbott and Turnbull governments did nothing in media ownership policy for almost three years; indeed, they were virtually silent on the topic during the election campaign. Now Mr Turnbull wants to rush some changes through this parliament on the basis that they are, supposedly, urgent, when the reality for this urgency is actually the interests of a number of the media players themselves. Labor has indicated it will support the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule, as I indicated, but we are not yet convinced of the merits of repealing the two-out-of-three rule.

The primary argument in favour of repealing the two-out-of-three rule is the rise of online sources. As I think was so eloquently put by the member for Greenway: 'The government's argument boils down to this: because internet.' They say that they are competing with online sources for both news and advertising revenue. This impact on the forecast decline of traditional media is irrefutable; however, it does not necessarily follow that technological developments have negated the need for Australia to maintain rules around ownership or control of broadcasting licensees. Traditional media players still dominate the production of news and information consumed by Australians. There may be more places about to access news from, but seven of the top 10 news sites in Australia are still owned and operated by traditional media companies. It is the same voices that we had before; they are just operating on more and different platforms.

Western Australia, and Perth in particular, has one of the most concentrated media markets in the country, with Seven West Media now owning the only daily newspaper, The West Australian, and The Sunday Timescovering all seven days of the week—as well as Channel Seven, with a combined newsroom. This is not necessarily a criticism of the work that they do, as one only has to look at some of the great work coming out of The West Australian's press gallery here over the last 12 months in breaking federal stories to realise that Western Australians are well served by our state newspaper. But this does highlight the importance of having alternative news sources available in WA, given that our main local newspaper network, the Community Newspaper Group, is also 50 per cent owned by Seven West Media, with the other half being owned by News Corp.

In its recent review of the Seven West acquisition of The Sunday Times the ACCC noted that Western Australia's news content was highly valued by Western Australian consumers, as national news sources do not cater to the WA news market. I would go even further, and point to the importance of local and regional news sources in ensuring that our local communities can access the news that matters to them that might not be picked up in state and national media. Being so far away from the eastern states, this is particularly important to those people in WA.

Disruption in this dynamic sector, though, is not new. The owners of newspapers were not enthusiastic about the arrival of radio back in the 1920s. They claimed it was likely that broadcasters would pirate their print news stories without providing compensation to the sources. Then newspapers started complaining when the ABC moved away from reporting news as printed in newspapers and started running its own radio newsrooms, competing against the papers in the provision of news—thereby diversifying the sources. Then, as noted by Nick Herd in his book Networking: Commercial Television in Australia, aHistory:

Initially newspaper interest saw radio as a competitor, but as it grew in popularity, they moved to acquire ownership.

With regard to television, he said:

… commercial media of newspapers, magazines and radio were initially apprehensive about the prospect of television, but quickly realised it was something they could not ignore.

Thus we have seen the ever-growing march towards consolidation of our media resources and sources.

Related to the issue of technological developments, Australian media companies are concerned about their viability in the face of licence fees and local content requirements, which are not borne by online competitors such as Google, Facebook and Netflix. However, it is notable that this concern is of course being faced in other jurisdictions around the globe, and other governments are looking seriously at options to secure tax dollars from such entities and using it to produce more local content. The industry is already adapting to the challenges posed by their shrinking advertising revenues compared to their online competitors. On 3 September 2016, for example, it was reported that Australia's three major news publishing groups—Fairfax, NewsCorp, Seven West—were looking at collaborating to compete against their online rivals. The ACCC may say things about that later.

The government believes there is no point with another referral of this bill to a Senate committee. However, the positions of new crossbenchers in the Senate are largely unknown, and their public comments appear to indicate that they have not formed a firm view and are open to persuasion. Senator Lambie was most critical of Minister Fifield's attempts to block the referral, arguing that this is a complex policy area that requires scrutiny—and it does.

These changes are not about genuine reform of Australia's media sector. The Australian media landscape has seen enormous change over the past 20 years. But, after years of telling us that everything was changing, all that Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister Fifield have been able to come up with is some tinkering around the edges of an important but complex regulatory scheme.

The changes proposed by the government are about the corporate interests of certain industry players; they are not about the national interest. The government's reform bill does virtually nothing to put in place a regulatory framework that will deliver for 24 million Australians going forward through the 21st century. Worse still: it does not provide any assurance of greater local content, including in regional areas, which I am sure our friends in the National Party will be most concerned about, as we are on this side. Labor believes that it is critical for Australia to have the regulatory processes and industry structures that support a strong and independent media in the public interest.

Mobile technology and the growth in internet use have completely reshaped how we consume content in these modern times. And, while convergence and globalisation have driven changes to the way content is developed and distributed, as I said before, traditional media players still dominate the production of news of information consumed by Australians. What is required is comprehensive media reform. On that path, I just want to mention that it is critical that we continue to support our local media—both independent and those run by the major media companies.

People in my electorate are particularly lucky to have two local news outlets producing weekly papers focused on the issues that matter to our local community.    I pay special tribute to the independently owned Examiner Newspapers. The Examiner started out as a local newsletter in 1989 and now has a circulation of almost 100,000 across Armadale, Gosnells, Canning and Serpentine-Jarrahdale. The Examiner produces quality local content and, during the Canning by-election, Examiner reporters unexpectedly found themselves at the centre of some very large national media packs—and they did the south-east of Perth very proud.

At a time when traditional media is struggling and the media landscape is becoming more and more concentrated, to have an independent news source going from strength to strength is a testament to the strength of the team at The Examiner. And I would like to give a shout-out also to Heritage FM in Gosnells, which is broadcasting 24/7 community radio to residents across Perth's south-eastern suburbs.

The bill before the parliament is a disconnected and piecemeal package that will benefit certain incumbents. Labor will not stand by and watch this government waste more time with their dithering and pandering to vested interests. Labor will undertake further consultations not just with industry but with stakeholder experts and the community on a comprehensive package of reforms to take to the next election. And we are prepared to work with the government to achieve these outcomes during this term.

Our approach seeks to foster a comprehensive package which ensures the independence of media in Australia with standards; diversity in our content, including in the ownership of companies and industry structure; ensuring the provision of regional services and the support of more regional content; and supporting jobs and local content. However, before any reform to industry structure can take place, there needs to be real economic reform of licensing arrangements.

Australian media entities have submitted that these changes will provide the best incentives to support the creation of local jobs and Australian content, because the economics of local content are being challenged by these new over-the-top providers who do not have to deal with the issue of licensing fees. Indeed, the experience from the United Kingdom shows that reducing licensing fees has resulted in stronger investments in jobs and local content. That is a critical element of what we need to see. It is not just locating the local content but combining it with ensuring that we maintain and create local jobs.

To truly put in place the right media market, there must be an examination of the entire landscape of the media industry in Australia and the key trends that we are seeing not just here but how these are being dealt with around the globe. This government has really shirked its responsibility to do the job right and to look at the entire sector to make sure that we get meaningful change that ensures the protection of the sector, the protection of local jobs, the creation of local content and a diversity of news outcomes for all Australians. Unfortunately, we have not seen that at all in the presentation of this bill by the government.

12:13 pm

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

In beginning my comments on this piece of legislation, I would like to acknowledge some constituents who are with me in parliament today: to the Fraser family, how fantastic it is to have you here—to Brian, Mary and Annie, thanks for making the effort.

I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016 and I will be supporting this bill in the House. Australia's regional media has seen a serious decline in recent years, and the rise of digital media has put pressure on all traditional media focusing companies to seek savings, cut jobs and services, and centralise production in capital cities and larger centres.

In my electorate of Indi, there have been some dramatic cuts to media. In 2015, Fairfax Media cut 62 journalists from its papers in regional Victoria, including 23 staff at The Border Mail in Albury-Wodonga. And, as recently as this month, there has been another reduction of five advertising production positions at The Border Mail, with ongoing outsourcing of work overseas.

These cutbacks mean a loss of extensive corporate and local knowledge from among those staff who leave these publications and diminishing career paths for journalists and media professionals in regional areas. There is also the difficulty of maintaining skills when work pressure is enormous, and we are hearing fewer voices with less experience. For the communities affected, there is a loss of connection with their newspapers and/or masthead and an impact on how many local stories can be told.

In recent years we have also seen a consolidation of resources within electronic newsrooms. Prime has shut broadcasting studios in Albury, Tamworth, Orange and Wagga in New South Wales, while Southern Cross sacked more than a dozen staff in Canberra and undertook to renew services in Tasmania and regional South Australia. Bulletins have been centralised in Canberra, Ballarat and Wollongong. We have seen WIN Television withdraw its licences from the Riverland and Mount Gambier regions in South Australia, leaving these regions without a dedicated local news service. WIN has also closed bureaus in Albany, Geraldton and Broome in Western Australia.

I would like to take this opportunity to do a call-out, a thank you, to local media. I want to pay tribute to the expertise and professionalism of the many who are involved in local media within my electorate. There are so many journalists who continue to tell the local stories within Indi and with whom my office and I have built ongoing relationships as we share the region's issues and positive news stories. So thank you to Jamie Kronborg and Leah Tindill at the Wangaratta Chronicle; to Shana Morgan at The Border Mail; to Jan Deane and Erin Somerville at ABC Goulburn Murray; to Monique Kuzeff at Albury Wodonga News Weekly; to Mark Blackman and Ashlee Charlton at WIN Television; to Josh Matthews and Helen Ballard at Prime; to Paul McSweeney and Andy Walker at Radio 2AY; to Matt Griffith at River FM; to Libby Price at the Benalla Ensign; to Anne Richey at the Alexandra Standard and Yea Chronicle; and to Pam and all the team at Mansfield Courier. That is just a few that I have named. To all the editors, the production staff, the marketing people, the camera people and all the people who, day to day, ring my office and help us to sort things out: we really appreciate your work and we acknowledge your skill and your professionalism.

This bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016 will amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to repeal the two-out-of-three rule, which provides that a person must not be in a position to exercise control of more than two of the three regulated media platforms—commercial television, commercial radio and associated newspapers—in any commercial radio licence area; to repeal the 75 per cent audience reach rule, which provides that a person, either in their own right or as a director of one or more companies, must not be in a position to exercise control of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licence area population exceeds 75 per cent of the Australian population; and to introduce new local programming obligations for regional commercial television licensees, where, as a result of change in control, they become part of a media group whose combined licence area population exceeds 75 per cent of the population.

These changes are aimed at addressing the media control and ownership rules that were developed in an analog era, last century. There is a desperate need for reform of these laws, as my colleagues have said, to ensure that the media laws remain relevant and enable media businesses to compete in a changing media landscape. The proposed changes to the control and ownership rules will, I believe, enable Australian media companies to compete in an environment where new services and platforms are growing rapidly and are not subject to existing regulations.

It has become increasingly evident that the rise of online services has had a significant impact on Australia's media sector. The recent report by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee examining this bill noted how the increase in online advertising services is affecting the advertising revenue on which media companies have traditionally relied. Chief executive officer of the Prime Media Group, Ian Audsley, commented that, while online news sites such as The Guardian, Crikey and may keep consumers up to date with what is happening in our capital cities and around the world, they 'don't tell the residents of Launceston, Mackay or Ballarat'—or many in my electorate of Indi—'about what is happening in their home town.' He told the Senate inquiry that, 'without some form of consolidation' those living in regional Australia are going to see less local information and less diversity in the voice from our regional areas. Professor Rodney Tiffen told the same inquiry that the 75 per cent reach rule 'is not just outdated; it never made sense,' explaining that preserving 25 per cent for others to own 'did nothing for media diversity and little for localism' and 'it is well and truly time for that provision to be knocked back or dispensed with'. I agree.

The WIN network, one of three covering regional Australia in my electorate, alongside Prime and the new configured Nine-Southern Cross partnership, offered its opinion at a previous inquiry, saying that the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule 'is as outdated'. The WIN network further said that, although the aim of the two-out-of-three rule is to protect diversity of voice, in effect 'all it is doing is constraining the three traditional mediums of TV, radio and press'.

CEO with Fairfax Media, Greg Hywood, told the most recent Senate inquiry that the removal of the two-out-of-three rule would be beneficial as, in the face of declining revenues and the implications of this for supporting journalism and local content, companies could consider restructuring to achieve a better financial result. From Fairfax Media's point of view, Mr Hywood said:

… the extent to which these organisations, based offshore, are diverting advertising revenue away from and undermining Australian media companies that invest in local content and journalists and which pay taxes is one of the prime justifications for abolishing the current two-out-of-three restriction.

The Labor Party has indicated its support for removing the reach rule but has said it does not support removing the two-out-of-three rule. It believes doing so would likely reduce the number of owners in the media and risk reducing the range of voices in Australian media. Again I refer to Greg Hywood from Fairfax Media who, when asked about whether the abolition of the two-out-of-three rule could potentially lead to a loss of media diversity, replied:

That horse bolted years ago. I mean there is not anybody that has access to the internet that cannot access instantaneously a range of diverse opinions.

Today I would particularly like to talk about the regional response. I acknowledge the important point made during the inquiry by the New South Wales Farmers association, which highlighted how the media needs of those living in regional Australia differ to those in metropolitan areas. New South Wales Farmers said:

… a lot of submissions took as assumed that the media landscape had changed substantially for all Australians, and therefore that the old style of media ownership did not have the same reach or importance for consumers.

I agree with the association's observation that, while in regional and rural Australia we seek to be part of the digital age, often communications in the bush are more 19th century than 21st century. Traditional media platforms such as newspapers, radio and television continue to have strong penetration in our regions. We listen to the radio, we watch TV and we buy and read newspapers. The Senate committee shared the New South Wales Farmers association's concerns about the ability of regional consumers to access adequate telecommunications services and noted that improved data capabilities will help regional media consumers engage in the online environment. In this area, I would particularly like to acknowledge the work of my local newspapers to pick up the online presence in my electorate and how important it is becoming, with Facebook and Twitter linking into the regional local papers. It is having a huge impact, but not everybody in my electorate has access to the internet and, until that day comes, we need to rely on the newspapers.

Among the recent changes and decline in regional media, there has been much good news. Earlier this year, Nine and Southern Cross announced a new programming affiliation agreement. As a result of this agreement, they have announced that they will broadcast 15 dedicated local Nine News bulletins from early 2017 to regional markets in Queensland, southern New South Wales and regional Victoria. More than 110 staff, including five in each of the centres at Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat, Bendigo and Gippsland, will be employed by Nine in its regional news division. The one-hour Monday to Friday news bulletins will contain local stories focusing on local communities, dedicated local sport and weather reports, together with state based, national and international news. This is a win for regional Australia, with the Nine News brand extending into country areas for the first time, at a time when regional news services have been under significant pressure.

I would also like to talk briefly about the ABC. While operations within the ABC are not the focus of the reforms outlined in this bill, since 2015 the government has imposed cuts on ABC funding of almost $200 million. The ABC has come under fire for cutting regional radio broadcasts and state based current affairs, as well as the closure of regional reporting posts and television production houses in Adelaide and Hobart, further centralising production in Sydney. We have in recent years lost the wonderful Bush Telegraph radio show and the 7.30 program has been nationalised. This year, local radio programming formats were changed so that local news headlines are not broadcast between 9 am and noon. The ABC has confirmed it is pushing content away from traditional radio and television to online content. The problem is that a lot of people in rural, regional and remote Australia do not have adequate access to the internet and we will not be able to zoom in to this new online digital content. So, on behalf of the people of Indi and rural and regional Australia, I take this opportunity to call upon the ABC board not to make its savings on the back of rural and regional Australia. Further, I am asking the ABC to plan its push to digital to match the capacity of its audience to access these technologies.

In closing, the broadly held view is that the media environment has changed so significantly since the introduction of the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the two-out-of-three cross-media rule that both rules are now outdated and do not meaningfully contribute to media diversity. In fact, these rules now act to restrict certain media companies from being able to better service the sector. The abolition of these rules will best serve the industry's future. However, at the same time, we must be mindful of concerns about the character and quality of local content broadcast following any mergers that will take place and the Australian Communications and Media Authority's ability to police compliance with local programming requirements. The bill provides for a review of local programming requirements within two years of the commencement of its provisions. I hope and believe that this will serve as the means to ensure the quality provision of local media and that its coverage of the stories from our regions continues to best service our regional and rural communities.

12:27 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution in relation to the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016, particularly after the contribution by my electoral neighbour the member for Indi. There is only a mountain range between us, but we share many similar interests in the way we service our two electorates. Both electorates typically rely very heavily on the regional media networks to keep our communities informed, particularly during times of natural disaster. The member for Indi, I think, touched on the important role of the local journalists in her community, and equally that applies to Gippsland, where we do depend very heavily on our local newspaper journalists, television services and the regional ABC. As we approach the summer season and the grassed areas of our region have had spectacular growth throughout the spring, the likelihood of a severe fire season is something that I know the member for Indi is conscious of, and I am also in Gippsland. The role that our regional ABC will play, particularly through radio broadcasts, in alerting our residents in times of natural disaster is something that we are greatly appreciative of. Equally I am appreciative of the role that our commercial radio station plays now as an emergency services broadcaster, letting people know of impending natural disasters, particularly during the summer season.

I have had direct personal experience in the local media. I started my career as a newspaper journalist at the Gippsland Times in Sale in the order of 30 years ago. The transformation which has occurred in the media market just in that 30 years has been quite extraordinary to see. The rate of change has been something I guess no-one could have forecast only as recently as 1986, when I started my career. I went on to work in regional television as well, and the transformation in the regional television networks has also been quite spectacular and has given rise to the need for this amendment to the broadcasting legislation. There is a very important role for regional media, as the member for Indi rightly indicated, to hear local voices telling local stories. In our regional communities that role is often filled by the ABC. Only last week I had the opportunity to be in Yackandandah, where ABC Regional—

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

It is hard to say the name Yackandandah without a smile on your face. The member for Lingiari is interjecting in good spirit, and I accept his interjection. I am not sure if Hansard will appreciate it, but it is hard to say Yackandandah without smiling, and it is a beautiful little community—

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

In Indi.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

in the seat of Indi. The member for Indi is interjecting as well; I will give a shout out to her once again. It was particularly good to see ABC Regional's commitment to that live broadcast, bringing the stories of that community to a broader audience. I strongly believe and am confident that the growing strength in ABC Regional is something that will deliver many benefits to our regional communities in the future. There seems to be a renewed passion for telling those local stories to a broader audience.

I want to mention one particular program, the Heather Ewart fronted program called Back Roads, which has been, I think, one of the great successes of ABC Regional in recent times. I congratulate the ABC for bringing that program to air. I congratulate Heather Ewart for her storytelling capacity, for her willingness to go out to those regional communities and tell the stories of local people and bring them to a broader audience. It is a terrific program, and one day I am sure Heather will find a Back Roads T-shirt for me so I can promote the program even more heavily than I already do. It is a great program, and just an example of how we do rely very heavily on regional media and the ABC in particular.

In relation to the bill before the House, as I indicated, the changing nature of the media market in Australia has led to three significant amendments being put to the House today. In relation to the abolition of the 75 per cent audience reach rule, much of the legislative framework governing the Australian media was developed when the industry really only had the three main media platforms. As I indicated previously, I worked in newspapers about 30 years ago and then went on to regional television. Obviously, the radio networks in our communities have been important and will continue to be so in the future, but we have also had the near saturation of smart phones, social media platforms and streaming services, which have made the 75 per cent audience reach rule redundant.

The current 75 per cent audience reach rule prohibits a person, either in their own right or as a director of one or more companies, from controlling commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined reach exceeds 75 per cent of the Australia population. In the digital media environment, I, as a member of parliament, can post a video on YouTube and potentially have 100 per cent reach to the Australian population—not that I am likely to get that sort of coverage from any of the videos I would post. It has become redundant to have those requirements in the digital age. Viewers can already receive myriad online video and audio media services such as Netflix, Fetch TV and the streaming services of the metropolitan commercial television services, which do not have these geographical restrictions placed on them throughout Australia. Two of the three metropolitan commercial television networks are already providing those streamed versions of their services, which are available in regional markets across Australia.

What we are seeing from the flexibility now provided by media is that people will view programs in their own time, not necessarily when they are put to air in the first instance. The term 'live to air' has almost become redundant when the consumers will choose a time that suits them when they catch up with their favourite program. They do not go to the scheduled programming time and watch their program when it suits the networks; they watch those programs when they are mobile, perhaps commuting to work by train, and catch up with their favourite programs in that way. This rule has little or no impact on media diversity, as we are already seeing viewers in regional areas receiving the same number of commercial television services and substantially the same commercial television programming, including news, as their metropolitan counterparts, due to their affiliation agreements.

I am concerned about the reduction in work opportunities for regional journalists, cameramen, photographers and producers. Those of us who live and work in regional Australia need to be particularly conscious that there should still be good career pathways and good career opportunities for regional journalists. I put it to the ABC management, in particular in recent times, that there is no reason whatsoever why more senior journalists and more senior ABC staff cannot be located in regional locations. We are starting to see that in the last couple of years, which has been a good move. I reflect on a member of staff in the ABC Gippsland studio, a gentleman by the name of Mark DeBono, who has had a long and illustrious career in regional media. Mark has had the opportunity to be promoted to a position of management within the regional ABC networks, but still has his home base in Gippsland at the Sale studio.

I think with the diversification of media there are more opportunities for some of these senior journalists to remain in the regional locations. It used to be a rite of passage for regional journalists to go to university or do a cadetship—like I did—move to a regional location, get some experience and go straight back to the city for career opportunities. What I would like to see is more opportunities for those talented and experienced regional media professionals to remain in their own communities and continue to progress through the ranks, and I think the ABC is uniquely placed, amongst all the media operators in Australia, to make that happen in regional Australia. I think the opportunity is there, and it is one that the ABC is closely monitoring.

The other opportunity that exists, with the technology that is available to us now, is for a greater diversity of voices to be heard through ABC investment in technology in those studios that are located right around Australia. There is the capacity for members of parliament, like us, or other leaders in regional communities, to have the opportunity to attend their local ABC and be streamed live, such as on ABC 24, which obviously is a service that requires an enormous amount of content. Rather than attending the studios here in Canberra or in Sydney or Melbourne or in other capital cities, there is a real opportunity here to have those voices heard without necessarily having the interviewee travel the distances they may have had to travel in the past. So I think there are real opportunities for regional media, but it is important that we seek to use those opportunities to help establish a better career path for regional media professionals without the necessity of moving to a metropolitan environment.

In relation to schedule 2 of the legislation, which is the abolition of the two out of three rule, and the legislative framework that referred to newspapers, TV and radio—the old media, if you like, although they still have a very significant role to play in the future—the two out of three rule was really intended to prevent a person from controlling more than two of the three regulated media platforms in any commercial radio licence area. It served to restrict those traditional media companies from optimising the scale and scope of their operations and from accessing the resources, the capital and the management expertise in other media sectors. At the same time, other unregulated platforms are free to consolidate and adapt their businesses as much as they like, although they are subject to wider considerations, like the competition rules. From a consumer's perspective, though, the online media is no longer viewed as something that is distinct from those traditional media platforms. Now we are seeing the consumer, the audience, using multiple sources to obtain information and multiple platforms to discover and to access the news. So I think changes to this rule would have a material impact only in the capital city markets and in a limited number of larger region licence areas, where, for most part, the sources of news and information are multiple and widespread, and maintenance of diversity is generally not an issue.

Turning to schedule 3 of the legislation, which relates to establishing new local content obligations, this is something that several members have commented on. I know that the member for Indi mentioned it in her contribution to the House just a few months ago. This is a critical part for those of us who are interested in making sure that regional Australians continue to have access to the local content and the local news that they do value. These new obligations will apply to regional commercial television broadcasters who are subject to what we describe as a trigger event, where, as a result of a change in control, they become part of a group of commercial broadcasting licensees whose combined licence area populations exceed 75 per cent of the Australian population. These new obligations will apply to licensees as a trade-off for the opportunity they will receive to exploit new possibilities and improve the efficiency of their operations. The bill specifies the minimum amount of local content licensees must broadcast each week to applicable local content areas, depending on the type of licence area and whether a trigger event has occurred.

Again, I see huge opportunities for media owners in a regional setting. The provision of local content, I think, is a critical part of their service to the community, but I think it is actually a bankable service, in the sense that people will watch their networks if they are seeing good local content on a regular basis. As someone who worked at WIN Television 20-odd years ago now, Deputy Speaker, the half-hour WIN news service that is provided in our regional communities—in Gippsland in this case—were very well watched and well regarded in the community. It gave them a chance to see the good news and perhaps sometimes the bad news that was occurring in the community. It ensured that people felt they were staying in touch with all the issues in their community. There is a need for local communities to feel part of the bigger mass of the region and I think the regional television networks and regional radio play a very important part in that regard. In Gippsland, we still have local radio stations 1242—GOLD—and 3TR actually doing local football matches during the home and away seasons. That is a real addition to the community's appreciation of sport in the region. So I think these local content rules are important and a valuable addition to the legislation before the House today.

In closing, I commend the bill to the House. I think it is a much-needed step in the right direction. I remain positive about the role of the media in a regional sense and I look forward to support across the chamber for these commonsense and worthwhile amendments.

12:42 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016. The bill proposes to repeal two of the control rules that apply to commercial television broadcasting, commercial radio broadcasting, and associated print newspapers.

Labor believes that it is critically in the public interest for Australia to have the regulatory processes and industry structures that support a strong, diverse and independent media. This is particularly important for the diversity and content requirements for regional and rural areas, such as my area on the far north coast of New South Wales.

In regard to the bill, Labor has indicated its support for the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule. It was in fact a Labor proposal to remove what we now see as a redundant rule. But we do not support the repeal of the two out of three rule. As our shadow minister, the member for Greenway, pointed out in her contribution, Labor has made it very clear that we remain to be convinced of the merits of repealing this rule. In fact, Labor senators said in their dissenting report to the Senate committee that we are unconvinced that the two out of three rule, which is the cross-media ownership restriction that prohibits mergers of more than two of the three regulated media platforms—that is, TV, radio and associated newspapers—in a particular licence area, should be repealed.

Turning to the provisions of the bill, schedule 1 of the bill proposes to repeal the sections of the Broadcasting Services Act that set out the conditions of the 75 per cent reach rule. This rule prevents a person, either as an individual or as a director of one or more companies, from being in a position to exercise control over commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licence population area exceeds 75 per cent of the population of Australia.

Schedule 2 of the bill proposes to repeal the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule, which is also set out in the Broadcasting Services Act. The two-out-of-three rule prohibits a person controlling more than two of the three regulated media platforms—that is, a commercial television broadcasting licence, a commercial radio broadcasting licence and an associated newspaper—in any one particular licence area. We are not convinced as to the merits of this specific action.

Indeed, schedule 3 of the bill also contains licence conditions for local programming obligations that would apply to regional commercial television broadcasters in the event a change in control occurs—what is referred to as a trigger event. A trigger event will occur where a person starts to be in a position to control a commercial television broadcasting licence and immediately after that event is in a position to control two or more commercial television broadcasting licences, including at least one regional commercial television broadcasting licence, in a combined licence area population exceeding 75 per cent of the population of Australia. In those circumstances, the event is a trigger event for each regional commercial television broadcasting licence in the group and each such licensee will be subject to additional local programming requirements under proposed sections for regional aggregated commercial television broadcasting licensees, which will commence six months after the trigger event. Those are the schedules of the bill.

When we look at issues relating to the regulation of the media, the federal government has played a role in the regulation of broadcasting in the media since the 1930s. Since those times, and in any particular changes that have been put forward, predictably the industry have always raised their concerns that they do not particularly like any sort of media control and they want to have less regulation. We are also aware that many sections of the broadcasting industry have been lobbying for the removal of certain rules, which they consider outdated and which they argue prevent mergers and economies of scale which will assist them to remain economically viable in the changing and challenging modern media environment. But we in Labor maintain that regulation is necessary and reform is necessary. What we need to see is a comprehensive reform based on the evidence that it is necessary. There does need to be some sort of regulation, but we need to see, across the board, more comprehensive media reform. We are not seeing this.

I can appreciate that the industry objections have increased, particularly with the rise of the emergence of the internet. It is a new media landscape. We all acknowledge that. There are new media technologies and there are increasing convergences of various media platforms. We have had the entire broadcasting and media industry really change in the last five, 10, 15, 20 years. But it is important to remember that when we hear people talking about the increased role of the internet and the greater role that it plays in many facets of our society—in this instance in terms of broadcasting and media—it is in some ways quite a false argument. We refer to regional areas, because of the fact we do not have access to the internet and access to the national broadband network in many parts of rural and regional Australia.

In my electorate, for example, there are many areas that are still waiting very long times. We have said on this side of the House on many occasions that the rollout of the NBN by this government has been incredibly chaotic. We have to be quite careful when people are talking about the rise of the internet, because there are many people in regional and rural Australia—indeed in many parts of metropolitan Australia too—that just do not have access to the internet. So it is indeed a very false argument.

When we look at the history of regulatory controls we see that prior to the introduction of the 75 per cent rule by the Hawke government in 1987 broadcasters were not permitted to own two television stations or radio licences in the one market and ownership or control could not exceed 60 per cent. The Hawke government's report into the broadcasting media recommended that the government encourage local ownership, control and presence and prohibit the buying and selling of licences for purely investment purposes.

When we look to some of the media reforms and we relate them to this government, who have been in power since 2013, we have seen that they have done nothing effectively and nothing comprehensively when it comes to the media sector. There should have been a thorough review of the entire broadcasting sector, but that did not happen. The last time we saw such a thorough review was around 2000, by the Productivity Commission. It had a strong evidence base for a holistic review of the sector, and corresponding legislative and regulatory reform came out of that.

But none of that has happened under this government. It certainly did not happen under the former communications minister, who is now the Prime Minister. We did not see any effective media reform or regulatory changes, on top of not seeing any effective rollout of the NBN. I do not think we are going to see anything else as this parliamentary year draws to a close in terms of any commitment from this government to effective evidence based reform of the media sector.

In the current climate, the large media providers continue to remain a primary source of news and information for the majority of people. It is not in the public interest to remove regulations which are likely to encourage mergers of existing media outlets and the consequential impacts that this would involve. These impacts will lead to less, not more, media diversity in the long run. This is because one owner will be able to control radio, television and newspapers in local areas. Despite minimal local content requirements that may be in place, there will be at the larger companies fewer independent voices and fewer local journalists employed to report on and investigate local issues. This will potentially create a less transparent and informed society. We want to see, particularly in those regional areas, more voices, greater input, greater transparency and greater diversity. That is what we aim for.

Let us not forget, when we are talking throughout this debate, that seven of the top 10 news sites in Australia are still owned by the big traditional media companies. That is the reality. The industry, however, asserts that certain media regulation is unnecessary and is preventing media entities from realising the economies of scale needed for them to survive in the modern media environment. This alone does not necessarily negate the need for Australia to maintain rules around the ownership and control of broadcasting licensees in order to satisfy and ensure diversity. We have to have that in place to make sure we have that diversity and transparency.

Despite all the concerns, the controlling influences are in the hands of the traditional media players who, as I have said, still dominate the production of news and information accessed by Australians. There are certainly many more places to access news than five or 10 years ago. There is absolutely no doubt about that. But despite all of that, with seven of the top 10 news sites in Australia still owned by traditional media companies, it is still very, very concentrated. So we have to make sure we include that when we talk about the challenging and changing media environment and the role that those traditional media companies still play. Labor is aware of the impact of convergence and globalisation, but we remain committed to ensuring Australia maintains regulatory processes and industry structures to support a strong and independent media in the public interest. That is what drives it to make sure we have that diversity.

I referred earlier to the Senate inquiry into the bill. It was quite rushed and was completed before the election was called. This was duly noted by Labor in a dissenting report. The inquiry provided scant analysis of the most pertinent issues needed to inform this debate and these questions still remain today—we still want answers to them: what are the potential consequences of the removal of the two-out-of-three rule? What are the potential models of activity as a result? And what would be the likely effect on the ability to make and broadcast diverse Australian content, including Australian news? We still have those questions unanswered.

The Australian media landscape has seen enormous change over the past 20 years and the government would have us believe that some of the reforms they are putting forward in this bill are about genuine reform of the sector. They are, in fact, not that. They had an opportunity to do that but it just really has not happened in this case, or in the term of this government or the previous one. The bill before us is a disconnected and piecemeal package that maybe will just benefit certain incumbents. The changes proposed by the government are about the corporate interests of certain industry players and not in the national interest in terms of what the public wants to see—diversity and transparency. This is especially so in those regional and rural areas, like the one that I represent. The bill does not really put in place an effective overall regulatory framework that will deliver for everybody; it just delivers for some groups.

We believe that it is critical for Australia to have the regulatory processes and industry structures that support a strong and independent media in the public interest. And we believe that only a comprehensive, principles-based approach to media reform will succeed in giving all Australians that fair and equitable access to a variety of locally and nationally produced media content, which is indeed what people do want to see in their media.

Labor's approach seeks to foster a comprehensive, principles-based approach with a focus on: independence in media and better standards; diversity in content, including in the ownership of companies and industry structure; and ensuring the provision of regional services and the support for regional content—that is an issue that I will always talk about in this House, that focus on regional Australia. It is also focused on supporting jobs and local content—we recognise how important that is.

I would also note in my contribution the outstanding role of the ABC and SBS in regional and rural Australia, and also right throughout the country. Again, I condemn the government for their continuous cuts in these areas, because the services they provide are absolutely important for regional Australia. There should be a greater investment in their services, not a cutting of those services. We want to see a greater role that is played by them. They are often the lifeline in regional areas, and we should always support them; we should not continue to see cuts by this government.

As I have said: it was Labor's proposal to remove the now redundant 75 per cent rule. We have indicated that we certainly support the move to do that. Whilst it is true that the industry is going through large structural changes—and we acknowledge that, and we acknowledge the challenges ahead—we still remain unconvinced of the merits of repealing the two-out-of-three rule and thus cannot see the merit in changing that.

As we have said consistently, our policy position is based on the evidence; and the evidence is clear that Australians are concerned about these issues and that they are concerned about the potential of the diversity and content of their media outlets. They do want to see those in place. I certainly know that it is great to see the diversity of a whole range of different media outlets and the role that they play in my area in expressing the local news and local content. It is a lifeline to my electorate, which is a very diverse area. We do have a variety of different outlets, and whether they be radio, newspaper or television, they do reflect a lot of the diversity of our area. I certainly would not want to see that changed, and I know that locals feel the same way. They particularly want to see a lot of independent, transparent and comprehensive news. That is what we have, and I would certainly like to see that in place in my area and right throughout the country as well.

As I have said, Labor has many concerns about this bill. I think this was a real opportunity to have a more comprehensive reform package, and the government have really walked away from that—it was just all too hard. It could have been a much more thorough review. We certainly believe that it is valid to do that. In conclusion, we certainly have not seen it from this government; we have just seen a very piecemeal approach to the current media landscape.

12:56 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is pretty trite to say that there have been pretty significant changes in the media landscape since the regulation that currently applies was passed in the first place. You only need to look at the likes of WikiLeaks, for example, in the new sphere to see what a big impact something that sits outside what one might have called the traditional or 'old' media formats can have. Certainly, if we look at television, many people do not consume television now at the time that the television networks broadcast it but consume it on demand.

But at the same time a number of truths still hold true. When we look at the news space, even with moving online we see that a lot of the presence online in the news space is of organisations and companies that have built up significant amounts of resources offline. Even some of the new entrants that are online-only in the news space are reliant on existing resources coming from elsewhere as well. There are many notable exceptions, but on the whole it is fair to say that simply the fact that there are new means of distributing and publishing news has not necessarily resulted in a massive flourishing or redistribution of who owns what in the industry.

This is so in TV as well. You just need to look at the fact that the existing networks are the ones who are taking up a huge amount of the online space. Yes, there are alternatives—YouTube and the like—but it is the traditional networks who are stepping in and taking up a big amount of the online space. So new forms of technology do not necessarily mean new forms of ownership or new forms of diversity.

That is why this Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016 is so disappointing. With this proposed legislation, the government has missed an important opportunity to provide meaningful reform of the Australian media landscape and has instead settled on a simplistic deregulatory approach that will do nothing to improve media diversity. In fact, it might result in a concentration of media ownership at time when we need the opposite.

All witnesses to both iterations of the Senate inquiry into the versions of this bill, in May and October this year, agreed that the media landscape is changing rapidly, and that online delivery of content is one of the key drivers. And pretty much everyone agrees that regulations drafted in the pre-internet age have not kept up with the pace of technological innovation or with changing habits of content consumption. Indeed, content creation by the public is also something that is not captured by existing regulation. What is also clear is that Australia has one of the most highly-concentrated media ownership structures in the world. That makes support for public, community and independent broadcasters and publishers all the more important. But instead of grappling with these complex issues in meaningful ways, after nearly three years of consideration the government has done really nothing more than take the path of least political resistance—the bare minimum that the handful of commercial broadcasters and publishers could agree on—which is to propose the abolition of two regulations that were originally intended to protect media diversity.

Despite the emergence of online content and news delivery forming the basis of the government's rationale for this bill, nowhere does the bill provide any form of support for these emerging forms of diversity. Indeed, the government's attacks on the funding and independence of respected public broadcasters like ABC and SBS have been subjected to sustained criticism from the Greens and from the whole community, and rightly so. Ongoing neglect and crippling funding shortfalls for community radio and TV broadcasters have severely limited the potential of these important sources to provide the kind of media diversity that the government is telling us this bill will bring about. And responses to the large-scale structural changes to the global media environment canvassed in the 2011 convergence review remain entirely unaddressed in this legislation.

What is also clear from people who have fronted the Senate inquiry and, indeed, from the commentators is the self-evident assertion that access to fast broadband services to deliver new sources of on-demand content remains dramatically uneven across the country. If anything, the digital divide between those with access to rapid telecommunications services has worsened under the Abbott-Turnbull government's hopelessly incompetent handling of the National Broadband Network. This has put fast broadband out of reach for millions of Australian households. So even if a flourishing mix of local and international content were being produced for consumption, access for millions of Australian households will be out of the question for the foreseeable future.

If the government had come along and said: 'There's been a significant change to the media landscape and a lot more is being delivered online. We need to tackle that, including by making sure in the same way that people have access to free-to-air television, by and large, we are going to make sure they have access to online content. In the same way that we support public creation of content and free-to-air television, we're going to look at how we might do that in the online world,' then they might be starting to tackle some of the big issues. But the government is not going that; the government is just saying, 'What do the big commercial networks want?' and come in and ask for a change. In fact, when you look at one of the measures that is going to be removed, it is going to increase concentration of media ownership in this country.

The bill should not pass in its current form. The two-out-of-three rule should remain, at a bare minimum. Until such time as there is a plan to protect healthy media diversity in an era of changing technologies, the two-out-of-three rule provides a flawed but necessary bulwark against further consolidation of media ownership in Australia. The Greens do agree that the abolition of the reach rule could be supported, but not at a cost of the two-out-of-three rule. So until such time as the government is prepared to directly engage with those larger issues at play, the bill as a whole represents a step backwards. It exemplifies the approach of this government more broadly: upholding the interests of commercial players at the expense of the public interest and dressing up a counterproductive deregulatory agenda as though it represents genuine reform. It is the view of the Greens that this bill should not pass the parliament, at least until the two-out-of-three rule abolition provision is removed from the legislation.

1:04 pm

Photo of Ann SudmalisAnn Sudmalis (Gilmore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I sit in this room and listen to some of the comments being made about changing the media laws, they refer back to the Howard years and to this government, and somehow or other there were six years missing in there when nothing happened. That was nothing to do with the coalition. I kind of wonder what divided and what went invisible at that stage.

There is already a concentration of media without considering, would you believe, the population numbers. We only have 24 million people in this nation. You cannot have 150 media suppliers when you only have 24 million people. It simply is not economic. Naturally, that is an economic consideration that is very often missing when it comes from the other side.

Going back to this actual legislation, why the heck would the government mess around with media legislation if it were not in the best interests of the general population—those people who are going to vote for us afterwards? Especially not when, in my view, the media often acts as the unelected fourth level of government. When the bill was first floated all my local media reps, whether they were stringers, managers or interviewers, asked me to stand up on their behalf because they believe this is great change. We talked at length about how this was absolutely critical to maintaining regional news. As a regional MP, that sort of news is essential for my community to hear what I have to say for them. Then they can have their say back to me, which is always a good thing as well.

I know that many in Gilmore are not yet using the internet or Facebook for their news, so the TV is still our primary provider of news. It has done an amazing job over many decades, and I have a great deal of respect for most members of our media. I find them to be fair about issues, for the most part. They are not always on my side, but they at least give me a chance to have my say and put an alternative point of view forward. I do not always like the clips they show, but that is okay; that is the way it is. I support the legislation as it will retain many regional jobs and we will still get great regional news.

There have been three parts to this change. It is about proposing a market aggregation. This process has been happening since the 1980s, with a gradual change here and a gradual change there. This is not actually a new concept; it has been going on for a very long time. A lot of the legislative framework is already there, but that was determined a long time ago—about the time when I was about five and this great big box came into the lounge room. It was about six feet by four feet by however much. It was Easter time. It was our first TV. I played with the box. I was not really interested in the TV, because I was only little. This legislation has been around for a very long time. It is time to tweak it. It is time to fix it. It is time to sort it. Indeed, later on, when there is different technology, it will need to be tweaked and changed again. With only three media platforms—newspapers, TV and radio—the legislation was appropriate; but with smartphones, social media and streaming services, it absolutely isn't. It is totally unfair. This includes the '75 per cent audience reach rule', which prohibits either a person in their own right or as a director of one or more companies from controlling commercial television broadcasting licences, which actually caused grief in my area. It meant that those other services were supplying the news, the items and the articles for many of my people who could not get it. I think it is a grand idea to change it. In the digital media environment, this rule is redundant.

Digital media can reach anywhere, wherever you have a phone or wherever you have reception for it or wherever you are connected to the internet. You can get anything from anywhere. There are no limits. Viewers can already receive heaps of video and audio media services, including even the streamed versions of the metropolitan television services. I am not much interested in what is going on in metropolitan news, but sometimes I need to know what is going on in the cities as well. I am much more interested in what is going on in my area. Two of the three metropolitan commercial stations already provide streamed versions going across Australia. We have already got quite a coverage going on. Viewers in regional areas already receive the same number of commercial television services and substantially the same commercial television programming, including news, as their metro counterparts. I would much prefer to have our regions retained. Any merger between metro and regional commercial TV broadcasters, should this occur, would generally involve the replacement of one television voice with another, due to the fact that metro and regional networks generally operate in separate licence areas. Media transactions would still be subject to general competition laws, and the government will ask the ACCC to update their media merger guidance accordingly.

Together, the repeal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the two-out-of-three rule will reduce the regulatory burden on the media industry. It will allow the media business to operate more flexibly in the market and help ensure it can continue to provide high quality news and entertainment services to Australians. The two-out-of-three rule restricts traditional media companies from optimising the scale and scope of their operations and from accessing resources, capital and management expertise in other sectors, which of course any business needs to be able to access, especially these days when things are expanding so much. You need to be able to tap into other areas to get all sorts of help in many different ways. At the same time, other unregulated platforms—YouTube and Facebook—are free to consolidate and adapt their businesses as much as they like, subject to wider considerations like competition rules. From a consumer perspective, online media is no longer viewed as something distinct from the more traditional media platforms. Audiences in Australia and overseas now use multiple sources such as news organisations, and multiple media platforms such as online social media, television, radio and newspapers to discover and access news. I know for one that most of my family, my young kids, access their news on Facebook. Heaven forbid, I am a bit worried about that. I would hope they go to some more reliable sources as well.

Changes to this rule would only have a material impact on the capital city markets in Darwin and Hobart. Most of the other places are generally going to be in advance of that. In most regional and remote markets, the removal of the two-out-of-three rule will have minimal impact. In 62 of the 99 regional and remote radio licence areas in Australia, which is 63 per cent, the current media outlets do not include operations from all three regulated platforms: commercial television, commercial radio and associated newspapers. The removal of the rule would therefore have no bearing on cross-media ownership in these markets. In 10 of the remaining 37 licence areas, further media consolidation of any sort will be prohibited, because they are all at or below the diversity floor of a minimum of four voices under the 5/4 rule. Only in 27 of the 99 regional and remote radio licence areas, which is 27 per cent or just over, could any acquisition or merger activity take place as a result of the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule. So it is basically just under a third. Media transactions will still be subject to the ACCC. Together, these two different changes will help ensure that these businesses can continue to provide high quality news to all of us.

I think the last measure, that of establishing new local content obligations, is probably the most critical for any regional MP. This measure is needed to make sure that regional Australians, such as all my people in Gilmore, can have access to the local content and the local news that they value. They are a bit like me; they are not that keen on news from Sydney. They want to know what is happening in their local area, particularly as summer is coming and bushfires are coming. People need updates and warnings; it has to be local. The new obligations will apply to regional commercial television broadcasters, subject to what is called a 'trigger event'. This is where, as a result of a change in control, they become part of a group of commercial broadcasting licensees whose combined licence area population exceeds 75 per cent of the Australian population. These new obligations will apply to licensees as a trade-off for the opportunity to use new possibilities and improve the efficiency of their operations. The bill specifies a minimum amount of local content which licensees must broadcast each week to applicable local content areas, depending on the type of licence area and whether a trigger event has occurred. Points are pretty hard to get, so this is important. Where there is no trigger event, licensees in aggregated markets must continue to meet the 720-point requirement over a six-week period.

So the public can rest assured that there is still going to be an enormous amount of local content, especially when you look at how many points that broadcasters can achieve by putting in certain content. They get three points—just three points—for broadcasting during the eligible periods, which is when more people are looking at it, instead of the two- to four o'clock in the morning period. For broadcasting something that has not been previously broadcast, they get three points. If it is absolutely local content, it is three points. If it is local news, it is three points. If it is only just a little line item in the news, it is just two points. If it is any other material for a regional area, it is just two points. Seven hundred and twenty points is a lot for a regional TV station to get, so we can rest assured that we are going to get our local content. Licensees in non-aggregated markets will not be subject to any local programming obligations, which seems pretty fair to me.

Where a trigger event has occurred, affected licensees in aggregated markets must meet a higher, 900-point requirement over a six-week period. Affected licensees in most non-aggregated markets must then meet a 360-point requirement over a six-week period. These will absolutely ensure that local programming is in nearly all regional licence areas following a trigger event, including where there is none currently. That means if they are walloping in a whole stack of other stuff that has nothing to do with the local region, at the moment they do not have to. It suits them better though; they get better advertising revenue. This bill will also introduce an incentive for local news content to be filmed in the local area, which will be built into the new points system. I have to tell you, as a regional MP, I really appreciate that because running a bit of film from some other area and then having my voice over a news item does not work particularly well for my people.

Licensees will be required to submit two annual reports on their compliance with new obligations, commencing 18 months after the trigger event. So there is actually going to be some follow-up to make sure they are doing the right thing. Additionally, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be required to undertake a review of the effectiveness of new local programming obligations two years after their commencement. This is quite an amazing change, and the reviewers, the managers and I feel that it is such a great thing for our local region.

I need to have local news stories. When I put out an idea that I am going to have a forum for youth in my area, I use the local paper and the local radio stations. That is how I get the message out. Sometimes I do paid advertising, but sometimes it is on the news. If there is a special event, like funding for Jindelara, which is going to have accommodation for children with disability, or when we have a birthing facility in Ulladulla, my local people need to see that news. If it is Yumaro, who are getting some funding for their disability structures; or if it is my local cadets, who have been given a grant; or Riding for the Disabled, who are getting a grant—all of those stories need to be run by my local media. They usually like to be involved in it, because they personally like to run local stories. My stringer, Michael, has a favourite project, which we have managed to get $300,000 for. As part of the river wash every time the Shoalhaven river floods at a particular bend, there is the loss of about a metre or a metre and a half of shore. It is a favourite project of Michael's. He keeps saying, 'When are we going to get this done?' If we keep having a storm event every six months, which has been happening currently, then that river is going to wash out part of the 'sand track', as we commonly call it where we live, and that will cut out off the alternative South Coast route to get down for holidays. We are concerned about that. The community learned about the $300,000 commitment from the government to fix that breach in the river, and we can manage that. Eventually we will get the Green Army in there to plant, and it will be absolutely fabulous. I am so proud that that is happening. I could not get those messages out to the community without my local media. I think they do a phenomenal job and we need to support them in every possible way that we can. This legislation does exactly that. We will retain our local media content and our local people will be very, very happy to see the reports on the news of storm events, shark sightings when we have to get new shark nets out, bushfires and even car accidents that are blocking off the highway. If you or your family are intending to travel and you are tuned in to your local radio or tuned into your local TV at home, you can ring your family and say, 'Don't bother coming down to the coast for a couple of hours, it's blocked.' A couple of years ago, when there were fires at Jerrawangala and the highway was cut, people would say, 'Don't bother coming up from Milton, you can't get there, and don't bother trying to get south.' So, thanks to the local media.

1:19 pm

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016, and I thank the member for Gilmore for her contribution. This bill will remove two media control rules currently in broadcasting legislation. These are known as the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the two-out-of-three media control rule. The bill will also require those regional commercial television broadcasters, which are subject to certain media control changes referred to as trigger events, to provide additional levels of local content to local areas in regional Australia—the member for Gilmore was stressing the importance of regional content for regional areas.

Reform is necessary and, indeed, well overdue. The existing media control and ownership rules were developed when the media industry was dominated by just three established types of media—commercial television, commercial radio and associated newspapers. The modern media environment is significantly different as viewers move to online and mobile. Newspapers were the first to bear the brunt, with print readership plummeting over the past decade. News Corp and Fairfax have together cut thousands of jobs since 2012. In 2015-16, Fairfax reported a net loss of $893.5 million on the back of writedowns of close to $1 billion in the value of their publishing assets. Traditional television businesses are also in trouble. The audience for commercial television has been in decline since 2003, and there has been a drop of six per cent in revenue for the metropolitan broadcasters and 10.9 per cent for regional broadcasters between 2010-11 and 2015-16. Costs are also increasing.

As we look around the chamber, how many of us go back to our office or back home to sit down in front of a television to watch the six o'clock news? Normally, we either get the press clippings in the morning, already sanitised for us on what they think we need to know, or we watch things on our iPads or highlights of the news. We cut out the advertisements. Very few people these days sit down to watch the news.

Traditional television businesses are also in trouble. Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment and Prime Media Group recently reported falls in their operating profits in 2015-16 of 10.7 per cent, 7.1 per cent and 17.2 per cent respectively, continuing a trend of year-on-year profit erosion for all commercial broadcasters that has been evident, with few exceptions, since 2013-14. Clearly, that situation cannot continue.

These trends are forecast to continue as online sources of news and entertainment and businesses like Netflix capture viewers away from traditional media. Far from protecting Australian businesses and ensuring diversity for consumers, our media control rules now impede the capacity of local businesses to continue to provide quality professional journalism. Regional broadcasters and publishers are in particular trouble from high costs, falling revenues and online competition.    None of us will benefit if major Australian media companies go out of business because of outdated rules. There will be fewer Australian jobs, less quality journalism, fewer Australian stories, and likely less regionally focused news. As one of the most diverse countries, it is important, as the member for Gilmore said, that we do get that regional focus for regional centres.

The 75 per cent audience reach rule effectively prevents the owners or controllers of any one of the major metropolitan commercial networks—Seven, Nine and Ten—from gaining control of, or merging with, any one of the regional commercial networks, notably Prime, WIN and Southern Cross Austereo. It prevents people from controlling television licences that together reach more than 75 per cent of the population. This rule now has no practical value for the following reasons.    Firstly, viewers everywhere already get mostly the same television programs. This is because regional networks for the most part transmit programs from metropolitan broadcasters under commercial deals. Getting rid of the 75 per cent rule will not change what audiences see. Second, viewers can also receive streamed versions of two of the three metropolitan commercial networks' services, including in regional markets across Australia, online. Broadcasters also provide catch-up services which are available to national audiences. Through streaming, catch-up and other online services these broadcasters can already reach 100 per cent of Australians. Third, viewers can already receive a large number of competing online video and audio media services, including Netflix, Stan, Presto and Fetch TV, which are not limited by regulated audience restrictions.

To take a hypothetical example, removing the rule would potentially allow Nine and Southern Cross Austereo to merge, or for one party to take over the other. This would have little or no impact in terms of media diversity. With some exceptions, Nine and Southern Cross do not operate in the same areas. The combined Nine-SCA entity would replace the respective Nine and SCA services in each area, so viewers would continue to receive the number of television stations that they currently do, and Nine and SCA already share virtually all of their TV programs.

The two-out-of-three rule prevents a person who controls two regulated media platforms in the licence area from acquiring control of a third platform in the same licence area. For example, if the same person controlled a radio station and a newspaper in the licence area, they could not also control a television licence. The rule has only a modest impact on media diversity, particularly in the majority of regional and remote areas. In some two-thirds of regional markets no change is possible. In these areas either there are not three regulated media platforms, so the two-out-of-three rule is actually irrelevant, or no further changes are possible because other media control rules prevent new transactions.

The impact of removing this rule will therefore be limited to the metropolitan larger regional licence areas. For example, it might allow Fairfax Media to seek to acquire commercial television licences in Sydney or Melbourne, where it currently controls a commercial radio station and an associated newspaper. In Sydney and Melbourne there are multiple sources of news and information—nine voices in terms of the traditional regulated media—so any such transactions would not substantially affect diversity. There are also many other online media events such as The Guardian and The Huffington Post, news content aggregators such as Google and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Many Australians are turning to these nonregulated media platforms for their information needs. Any changes would also have to pass the test of Australia's competition laws. These operate independently, so just because a media transaction would be allowable under media control laws does not mean it would automatically be accepted under competition laws.

The new obligations will apply to regional commercial television broadcasters who, as a result of changing control, become part of a group of commercial television broadcasters who together reach more than 75 per cent of the Australian population. This change of control is referred to as a trigger event. Continuing the above example, if Nine and Southern Cross merged, the resulting Nine-Southern Cross group would exceed the population limit, and therefore the merger would not be a trigger event. Regional broadcasters in eastern Australia are already subject to local content rules. The trigger event will impose new rules on top of these existing rules, and the existing rules will continue to apply if there is no trigger event.

The additional local content obligations are aimed at ensuring that the removal of the 75 per cent control rule does not result in changes that reduce the amount of local content, for example by the merged businesses stripping costs by reducing local content production. Indeed, it goes further by increasing the amount of local content required to be provided where a trigger event occurs. Some areas, such as regional South Australia, will have regulated local content obligations for the first time.

The Turnbull government is committed to reforming legislation in areas where archaic regulation is holding Australian businesses back. This bill is yet another step in removing restrictive and redundant regulation and ensuring independent sources of news, current affairs and similar programming continue to be available to all Australians, particularly those in regional areas.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 1.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.