House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017; Second Reading

12:20 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Australia's media industry is under sustained and significant pressure as digital technologies upend established business models and intensify competition for audiences and revenue. Last year, the government secured passage of legislation that will enable Australia's media companies to deal with these challenges and better compete in what is now a global media environment.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017 implements two measures developed as part of the government's broadcasting and content reform package.

The first is the establishment of a register of foreign ownership of media assets to be overseen and administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. The register will enhance the transparency of foreign investment in Australian media companies and the levels and sources of such investment.

The second measure relates to applications for community radio broadcasting licences. The bill will introduce the new local content criteria that the Australian Communications and Media Authority can consider in assessing such applications, giving applicants the opportunity and incentive to deliver more localised content.

The government also intends to move an amendment sheet to add a third schedule to the bill. The third schedule amends the local content obligations that will apply to regional commercial television broadcasting licensees following a relevant change in ownership, known as a 'trigger event'. The amendment addresses an anomaly arising from the application of the regional local programming requirements to a specific licensee in regional Western Australia. For historical reasons, the licensing arrangements for the two commercial television broadcasting licensees in regional and remote Western Australia—GWN7 and WIN—differ significantly from ordinary practice.

Although they broadcast to a geographic area of an equivalent size, GWN7 presently holds four licences—three of which are subject to additional local programming obligations—while WIN only holds one. The unconventional licensing arrangements means that GWN7 would be subject to three times the local content obligations than WIN would face if WIN's sole commercial television broadcasting licence in regional Western Australia was affected by a trigger event. Schedule 3 will equalise the respective obligations of GWN7 and WIN by inserting provisions in division 5C of part 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act, which alter the manner in which local content points may be accumulated by a commercial television broadcasting licensee for the three licence areas that cover the regional areas of Western Australia.

The measures contained in this bill represent the next steps in the government's commitment to implementing holistic reform to the Australian media industry.

I commend the bill to the House.

12:24 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor does not oppose the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017, which contains measures negotiated over a year ago between the Turnbull government and Pauline Hanson's One Nation, but Labor condemns the Turnbull government for its lack of principles, its complete dysfunction and its utter disdain for evidence based policy and the public interest which brought about the measures in this bill. This is the reality: the measures in this bill were negotiated by One Nation and this government in exchange for One Nation's support for the damaging repeal of the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule last year. That backroom deal included a grab bag of measures, including those contained in this bill, as well as the launch of a full-scale attack, both financial and ideological, on the ABC.

Unable to get its media ownership changes through on merit and refusing to accept that the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule was actually contrary to the public interest, this government turned to deals with Senators Pauline Hanson, David Leyonhjelm and Nick Xenophon to scrape together the votes in the Senate to junk a key media diversity safeguard. Standing for nothing but self-interest, the Turnbull government pandered to the top end of town, as is their wont, by repealing the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule and then stooped to agreeing to attack the public broadcaster to serve that end. It is a sorry state of affairs.

Labor opposed the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule on principle and evidence and condemned the Turnbull government for using the public broadcaster, the ABC, as a bargaining chip to get it done. Labor understands that high media ownership concentration is an enduring concern of the Australian public and that we need diversity in the control of our media to support the effective functioning of our democracy. Labor opposed the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule because it was not in the public interest to permit Australia's already highly concentrated media landscape to become yet more concentrated. The evidence shows that Australia's media is already amongst the most concentrated in the world and that traditional media—newspapers, commercial television and commercial radio—continue to be the main source of news and current affairs for Australians. Furthermore, the majority of the top 10 news websites accessed by Australians are either directly or jointly owned by traditional media platforms. In regional areas, media diversity was already at or below the minimum floor required by the rules, yet the Liberals, the Nationals and One Nation voted to make it worse. In regional and remote areas, the level of diversity was either at the minimum level or below it, with 42 per cent of licensed areas at and 28 per cent of licence areas below the minimum floor.

While the majority of voters disapproved of changing media ownership laws to allow a single company to control a newspaper, TV network and radio network in the same area, the Turnbull government went ahead and changed the laws. With the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule and the first media merger announced since its repeal now under consideration by the ACCC, Australia's media is primed to become even more concentrated. Sadly for regional Australians, indications are that the Nine Fairfax takeover is likely to be anything but positive for jobs and local news in rural and regional Australia. As reported in The New Daily on 26 July in an article entitled 'Nine hints it will shut down regional newspapers in Fairfax takeover':

Nine chief executive Hugh Marks has hinted the media giant will consider closing or selling Fairfax's regional newspapers when it assumes ownership of the business later this year.

…   …   …

In an investor presentation on Thursday, just hours after the dramatic announcement, Mr Marks was asked what the multibillion-dollar takeover deal would mean for Fairfax's regional papers.

Mr Marks said it would be "no surprise" that Nine would focus "on what we see as the high growth components of what this deal provides".

…   …   …

Fairfax's regional paper business has shrunk dramatically in recent years, and last year was by far the weakest performing arm.

Similarly, an ABC news article entitled 'Regional newspapers' place in merged Fairfax-Nine company questioned' stated on 26 July 2018:

Country Press South Australia president Ian Osterman, who is editor of the independent Mount Barker Courier, said the merger would remove regional newspapers from the "management epicentre".

"There's always been some criticism of Fairfax in the past that it was city-centric and Sydney-centric, and the regional newspapers in its stable were left out of the decision-making," he said.

"With Channel 9 having a 51 per cent share in this new company, it's going to further remove regional newspapers."

Fairfax has 160 regional publications and community-based websites, including the Newcastle Herald, The Border Mail in Albury-Wodonga, The Courier in Ballarat and the Illawarra Mercury in Wollongong.

Mr Osterman said regional newspapers were going to be a small fraction of the merged enterprise, and that "has some danger signs".

The Nine/Fairfax takeover is being scrutinised by the ACCC, but, as Labor has pointed out on many occasions, the ACCC is not required to apply a public-interest test to media mergers. As an economic regulator, it is not the job of the ACCC to look at issues of pluralism, informing a view on whether a merger will result in a substantial lessening of competition in a market.

The journalist union, the MEAA, has said that the takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine Network should undergo a far more detailed examination by the ACCC than that currently proposed. The MEAA has written to the heads of Nine Network and Fairfax, urging the companies to seek formal authorisation of the merger from the ACCC—a far more rigorous process than the current 12-week, informal merger review.

In this context, we have seen yet more evidence of consolidation in Australia's media market, with the recent announcement by WIN to close its Tasmanian news bulletin. The Tasmanian presenters of WIN have signed off for the final time, as fears grow that a move to present bulletins from New South Wales will lead to audience decline. Nine Network jobs have been slashed as part of a move to present Tasmanian news bulletins from WIN's Wollongong studios. The newsroom has been halved from 18 down to just four journalists, four camera operators and a news manager.

It's here that I'd like to turn to this government's attacks on the ABC. Sadly, for all Australians, the attacks on the ABC are well underway. The Turnbull government has launched the biggest attack on ABC independence in a generation with its deal with One Nation, but it is little wonder when you consider that the Minister for Communications has been a member of the IPA for quite some time. In response to questions on notice, it was revealed that the minister has not only been a member of the IPA for a decade but has also made private donations to the IPA. The IPA is an organisation which has advocated—and I'll name just a few of the special ones—privatising the ABC and SBS, immediately halting construction of the NBN, privatising the CSIRO, defunding Harmony Day and abolishing the ACCC and the ACMA. Since 2014, ABC funding has been cut by $366 million, and 800 staff have lost their jobs. This is despite the Liberals' pre-election promise of no cuts to the ABC or SBS. In this year alone, the Turnbull government has cut $83.7 million in ABC funding, launched two damaging public broadcasting inquiries and has three bills before the parliament to meddle with the ABC charter—all inspired by their deal with Pauline Hanson's One Nation.

The ABC belongs to the Australian people. It is not the minister's or Senator Pauline Hanson's to trade, yet, in August 2017, the minister used the ABC as a bargaining chip in their deal with One Nation to get the two-out-of-three repeal across the line. As I said, that deal includes no less than three bills to change the ABC Act and charter, as well as a damaging so-called competitive neutrality inquiry designed to undermine the ABC in the online environment. The Australian Financial Review has referred to this as:

… deal for the biggest assault on the ABC's independence in decades.

On top of that, the ABC is under attack with a pre-emptively announced cut of $83.7 million to the ABC ahead of this further efficiency review into public broadcasters, which is due to report later this year. I note that the ABC managing director has stated publicly:

The impact of the decision could not be absorbed by efficiency measures alone, as the ABC had already achieved significant productivity gains in response to past budget cuts.

She has also said:

The decision would make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations.


Stable, adequate funding is essential if we are to continue to deliver for Australian audiences.

These cuts have been referred to as 'payback' by conservative commentators and 'vindictive' by others. Even Andrew Bolt has said that it's now 'open war' between the government and the ABC. The $83.7 million cut and the efficiency review in the 2018 budget come on top of successive budget cuts by the Turnbull government.

At a time when the ABC is undertaking its biggest restructure to adapt to the digital age, the Prime Minister has launched the biggest attack on the ABC that we've seen. In 2014, the Liberals cut the ABC budget and ran an efficiency review that pushed the ABC to close down short-wave radio, a move that hurt, and continues to hurt, regional and remote Australians. In 2016, they cut local news-gathering initiatives, and there is a question mark about this funding going forward. It begs the question: how many times do the Liberals and Nationals think they can cut ABC funding without it hurting rural and regional Australia? Now, with yet another efficiency review on foot, we wonder what will be cut next. The government that cut the ABC budget and shut down the Australia Network is now running a review into 'soft' power. This government is nothing but dysfunctional and short-sighted, and cannot be trusted with media policy.

Earlier this year, the Liberal's federal council voted overwhelmingly to privatise the ABC. And, in stark contrast, at its state conference on 3 July this year, New South Wales Labor voted unanimously in support of a motion that Labor would never do so. That's because we believe that the ABC is one of the most important institutions in our democracy.

The difference could not be clearer: Labor believes in public broadcasting and those opposite do not. That is why Labor will stand up for the ABC and fight against the conservatives' ideological war against our public broadcasters. Only Labor will reverse the Turnbull government's $83.7 million of cuts and guarantee funding certainty over the next ABC budget cycle. Not only is the bill before us today yet another example of the cosy relationship between the Turnbull government and Pauline Hanson's One Nation it does precious little to fill the void left by the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule.

Turning to the foreign media limits contained in the bill, this bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to establish a Register of Foreign Ownership of Media Assets to be administered by the ACMA. The Howard Liberal government abolished foreign media ownership limits in 2006 in recognition of the need for foreign investment to support media diversity in Australia. In 2007, Senator Helen Coonan published an article in the UNSW Law Journal, summarising the 2006 Howard government media reforms. On foreign ownership and control, it stated:

The removal of all media-specific foreign ownership and control limits is consistent with the BSA’s object to facilitate the development of an efficient, competitive and responsive broadcasting industry in Australia. The repeal of the restrictions will achieve this by improving access to capital, increasing the pool of potential media owners and acting as a safeguard on media concentration. Removing the foreign investment constraints will open up the capital market for television broadcasters and print media, improve access to technology and managerial expertise, and, particularly in print media, increase the possibility of greater diversity through new market entrants. Compliance costs will be reduced through simplification of regulation and through removing the need to monitor foreign interests for the purposes of compliance with the BSA.

The recent CBS acquisition of Network Ten demonstrated the power of the two-out-of-three rule in fostering competition and diversity—just prior to its abolition—as well as the utility of foreign ownership as a safeguard on media concentration by improving access to capital and increasing the pool of potential media owners.

This bill will provide some further information about foreign ownership of the media in Australia, which is already considered to be a sensitive business. Current law and regulation provides for a number of checks and balances on foreign ownership of the media in Australia. Under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act and regulation, investments by foreign persons in excess of five per cent in an Australian media business must be notified to and approved by the Treasurer. However, the details of the proposed or actual investments, or the foreign persons involved, are generally not publicly disclosed. Under ASX requirements for disclosure of relevant interests in listed entities, about five per cent are made public, but they don't indicate whether the shareholder is a foreign person. Further, under the Broadcasting Services Act, the reporting regime requires disclosure when a person comes into a position to control or ceases to be in a position to control a regulated media asset. However, these disclosures don't specifically identify foreign persons and generally wouldn't require disclosure of interests less than 15 per cent. The bill introduces some additional disclosure requirements on top of existing requirements and sources of information under the foreign acquisitions and takeovers regulation, the ASX requirements and reporting administered by the ACMA.

I'd like to turn to the issue of community radio localism measures. The community broadcasting sector needs all the help it can get, given the Turnbull government has been so inconsistent with the sector on certainty of funding for community radio and access to spectrum for community television. Community radio services play an important role in informing local communities and providing community members with the opportunity to have their views heard. The bill adjusts the criteria against which licence applications and renewals are assessed. The amendment is designed to encourage community radio broadcasters to provide greater coverage of local issues and to provide greater opportunities for local participation in producing and hosting radio programs. Labor, along with the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, the CBAA, supports the intent of the bill to strengthen localism in community radio broadcasting and understands the need for the proposed changes to strike a balance between providing clarity to the community broadcasting sector while avoiding overly prescriptive or burdensome requirements. Labor notes that CBAA is concerned with the wording of the bill as it currently stands, and we encourage the government to address CBAA's concerns to ensure clarity and certainty for the sector.

I would like to turn to local programming requirements for regional commercial television broadcasting licensees. Labor do not oppose the government's amendment to this bill as contained on sheet EK129. Last year, Labor supported the proposal to bolster local content following a trigger event but took no comfort in the fact that those provisions do little to promote diversity. We are mindful of the compromised position of Australians in regional areas in terms of access to a diversity of news and current affairs content in both the traditional and new media environments.

Schedule 3 of this bill outlines some amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act to address an anomaly in the treatment of television licensees in Western Australia, as set out in the amendments I just mentioned. These amendments will equalise the local content obligations on the regional Western Australian licensees—GWN7 and WIN. For historical reasons, GWN7 currently holds four licences which cover specific regional areas of Western Australia while WIN holds only one licence which covers all of Western Australia. This is important in the context of the trigger events for media ownership. A trigger event occurs where a change in control would result in a person controlling television licences that, together, service more than 75 per cent of the Australian population. The anomaly in Western Australia that these amendments are seeking to address, as described, is that, if a trigger event were to occur with the current licensing arrangements, the local content requirements for GWN7 would be triple that of WIN. Labor does not oppose the amendment to even the requirements in Western Australia between these two entities.

In conclusion, Labor will not oppose this bill. However, we note it is yet another example of the cosy relationship between the Turnbull government and Pauline Hanson's One Nation party which does precious little to fill the void left by the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule.

12:45 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017, is made necessary because, in 2006, the then Howard government removed all of the foreign media ownership controls that then existed in legislation. So it is made necessary because of the actions of the former coalition government. It's also made possible, I've got to say, because of the actions of this government in removing the protections against further concentration in media ownership in this country. As the member for Greenway has pointed out, the bill arises because of a series of deals that were done between the then Xenophon group of senators—there are fewer of them today than there were back then—and the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. On its face it's driven more by xenophobia than good policy. We know the author of the deal last week was railing against a certain despicable speech by a senator from the other place, at the very same time as introducing a bill which would create a plebiscite on immigration in this country.

It's the same sort of dog-whistling which informs certain parts of this bill. At the same time as she criticises foreign interference in our media, in fact, in every other aspect in our country, she champions the actions of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin—a man whose regime is probably singularly responsible for the greatest piece of foreign interference in a democratic process and media operations around the world. The inconsistencies in the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party in this area of policy are manifest. In making this deal, the former Senator Xenophon and the Pauline Hanson's One Nation senators have created a situation which almost certainly will lead to fewer jobs in the media and fewer media outlets in Australia than before. It may be the case, as many proponents of the bill have argued, that some of these changes would have occurred anyway. What is certain is that, because of this package of bills, those changes will occur: there will be fewer jobs and fewer media outlets in this country as a result of the legislation.

I'm very concerned about the future of a group of newspapers from southern New South Wales, including the Illawarra Mercury and the Southern HighlandsNews. They publish on a daily basis in the case of the Illawarra Mercury. They are great community newspapers championing community issues. They don't always agree with me, but they have been a source of quality journalism, breaking stories of regional, state-wide and national significance, for over a century. I want to see newspapers like this continue. From the Illawarra all the way down to the Victorian border, newspapers such as the South Coast Registerprovide a very important community function. As a result of the merger of Channel 9 and the Fairfax group, the future of these newspapers hangs in the balance. As the member for Greenway set out in her address on this bill, there is a question mark hanging over these regional publications.

We warned of this. We warned of this as the original package of bills was being debated in the House. We told National Party MPs and regional Liberal Party MPs, 'If you vote for this legislation, there will be fewer journalists working in your electorates and there'll be fewer publications and fewer outlets telling the stories about your electorates to your communities.' Yet they voted for it. So if these changes occur—as we fully expect they will—they have nobody to blame but themselves.

We are supporting the measures within the bill. They do no harm, as far as we can see—unlike the original package of bills, which we did not support. These consequential amendments arising out of the deal with the crossbench senators do no harm, and we will support them. They are only made necessary because of changes that were made in 2006 by the then Howard government.

We already have one of the most concentrated media ownership landscapes in the world. This government is responsible for ensuring that it becomes even more concentrated.

The bill before the House will provide some further information about foreign ownership of the media in Australia, which is already considered to be a sensitive business and, therefore, reportable. In 2006, as I pointed out, the Howard government abolished foreign media ownership limits in recognition of the need for foreign investment to support media diversity in this country—something which Labor does not oppose. The recent CBS acquisition of the Ten Network showed the power of the two-out-of-three rule, just prior to its abolition, and the utility of foreign ownership as a safeguard on media concentration by improving access to capital and increasing the pool of potential media owners for Australian media outlets.

Current law and regulation provide for a number of checks and balances on foreign media ownership of the media in Australia. For example, under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act and regulations, investments by foreign persons in excess of five per cent in an Australian media business must be notified and approved by the Treasurer. However, the details of the proposed or actual investments or the foreign persons involved are generally not publicly disclosed. In addition to that, under the Australian Stock Exchange's disclosure of relevant interests in listed entities, about five per cent are made public, but they don't indicate whether the shareholder is a foreign person. Under the Broadcasting Services Act, the reporting regime requires disclosure when a person comes into a position to control, or ceases to be in a position to control, a regulated media asset. However, these disclosures don't specifically identify foreign persons and generally wouldn't require disclosure of interests of less than 15 per cent.

This bill will make available some further information about foreign ownership of the media in Australia, which is already considered to be a sensitive business. It does this by introducing some additional disclosure requirements on top of these existing requirements that I've spoken about and sources of information under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Regulation 2015.

There are also a series of measures in here, in proposed schedule 2, concerning community radio. They are described as a package, the community radio localism measures. Whilst we do have some concerns, Labor will be supporting these measures. We encourage the government to respond to some of the issues that have been raised by the community radio sector. But, on its face, the amendment would encourage community radio broadcasters to provide greater coverage of local issues, which can only be a good thing, and to provide greater opportunities for local participation in producing and hosting radio programs. The amendment would require the ACMA, in assessing licence applications, to consider the extent to which the proposed services will provide material of local significance. 'Material of local significance' would be defined as 'material that is produced in, hosted in, or relates to the licence area of the proposed licence'. Labor thinks that this is a good provision, and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, the CBAA, supports the intent of the bill to strengthen localism in community radio broadcasting. The Community Broadcasting Association is concerned that the wording of the bill, as it currently stands, may not be clear enough to address some of their concerns, and we encourage the government to respond to these concerns.

I also want to talk about proposed schedule 3 of the bill, which outlines some amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act to address an anomaly which pertains only to Western Australia and regional broadcasting in Western Australia. These amendments will equalise the local content obligations on the regional Western Australian licensees GWN7 and the WIN TV network. For historical reasons, GWN7 holds four licences which cover specific regional areas in WA, while WIN TV, the WIN network, holds one licence which covers the entirety of Western Australia.

The provisions within this schedule, which have Labor's support, will equalise the arrangements imposed upon both of these television broadcasters in the event of a trigger event pertaining to media ownership. A trigger event, of course, occurs where a change in control would result in a person controlling television licences that together service more than 75 per cent of the Australian population. These local content requirements attach to each licence area. As I said, because GWN7 currently holds four licences across the area, as opposed to WIN TV, which holds one licence in the equivalent area, they would be treated differently for no good public policy reason. So schedule 3, which obtains our support, deals with this anomaly. If it is passed through both places, they will be treated equally in the event of a trigger event.

Of course, these provisions as they pertain to broadcasting do not stand alone when it comes to government actions and government attacks on broadcasting throughout this country. The attacks through budget cuts on the ABC and the SBS are impacting on the capacity of these broadcasters to fulfil their charters. Seventeen million Australians consume some form of ABC content every week. It is by far and away one of Australia's most trusted brands, much more trusted than any of the personal or political brands of any of us in this place. Yet it is seen to be almost a rite of passage for those who come to this place as a Liberal or National Party MP or a Pauline Hanson One Nation senator to attack and seek to undermine, by every means possible, the operations and the reputation of the ABC and those who work for it.

These attacks must stop. We have a quality national broadcaster—again, a broadcaster with whom we don't always agree, and it doesn't always agree with us. That doesn't mean that we should not protect, with our last fighting breath, the capacity of the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service to fulfil their mandate in producing quality independent journalism in the national interest. If from time to time they disagree with a government or a political party, that is their job. It is their job to produce quality, independent journalism and broadcasting content in the national interest.

I use this opportunity on a bill which concerns broadcasting to again call upon those members opposite to consider and to reflect upon their unrelenting campaign, culminating in a motion at their most senior policy-forming forum not three months ago to set a target of privatising the ABC. I call upon them to reflect upon their actions. It is not in the national interest, and it is certainly not in the interests of all of those MPs who purport to represent regional areas, that the ABC be privatised. That way lies a future where stories from and about regional Australia are no longer told to all Australians.

With those comments in mind, I commend the legislation to the House.

12:59 pm

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

My first career was in commercial media in the late 1980s—actually, the mid-1980s. I am fudging on my age already! From 1985 to 1988, I was in this place—in the Old Parliament House—as a political reporter. At that time, I experienced the impacts of aggregation and the consolidation of media ownership as a young journalist and also from the perspective of being a political reporter. My radio station, 2UE, was bought by Kerry Packer, sold to Alan Bond and bought back by Kerry Packer. The upside of having a very close relationship, as a 2UE journalist, with Channel 9 was that, from time to time, I got to pick the brains of the likes of Laurie Oakes and Peter Harvey. I was also lucky to benefit from Peter Harvey's generosity in tipping me off to the fact that, as a journalist, at 1 o'clock one morning I should be outside Parliament House waiting for the then minister for sport John Brown rather than being tucked away at home in my unit. And landline phone calls—we didn't have mobiles—was the way we got information through then. That was a time when journalists were on the ground. They were able to get places, but we stood and waited a lot—as still happens now. It was a time of some diversity of media but a time of change. I lived through that. I was then fortunate enough to spend three years as a foreign correspondent in the US and the UK, working for Australian commercial radio network Austereo and also for British commercial radio station LBC. So I bring the experience of two different overseas markets to this place as well, and to this legislation.

What remains with me, the feeling as a journalist, is that the more the media concentrates, the fewer big owners there are, if you annoy one employer in the sector, there aren't an awful lot of employment options for you. That was certainly the case in the 1980s and, sadly, it is even more the case now. It is one of the reasons why the ABC, and its independence, is so important to providing a different voice that is not left to the whims of media ownership and why it is so disappointing to see those opposite continuing to undermine not just the funding of the ABC to be able to do independent journalism across all its platforms but also its independence.

I retain a very strong scepticism for any legislation that is the result of a deal with One Nation, that is agreed to in exchange for support to scrap a two-out-of-three cross-media ownership change. The way it came about does not send positive signals for the media sector. Even before the repeal of the constraint of the two-out-of-three media ownership rule, Australia had one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. And now we have seen media diversity further undermined thanks to that change.

I remain concerned about the shrinking of newsrooms for journalists. From a merger, where two newsrooms become one, it is my experience that the more journalists there are at a media conference listening with different perspectives the more likely we are to be able to get to what is really going on in any given situation. You would have to think that the ability of foreign investment in an Australian media business does actually expand the available capital for that industry, as we have seen with Channel 10. So Labor will not oppose this bill relating to a register of foreign ownership of media assets, which is already highly regulated and, certainly, considered a sensitive area—and rightly so. I also note that this bill covers new assessment criteria for community radio. Of all the measures in it, that is what I would like to turn to now—the measures that look at radio localism for community radio.

Like many radio journalists—and I am not sure if my colleague sitting alongside me has the same experience—I got a lot of my experience before getting my paid job by volunteering in community radio. Around 35 years ago, I was cutting tape and editing documentaries while finishing my degree at what was then the Institute of Technology in Sydney and working hard at 2SER FM, which continues to be one of Sydney's leading community radio stations. It's a vital component of our broadcasting landscape not just for aspiring journalists and program makers but for those who have a passion for niche topics. I recall that Phil Lasker, who's now at the ABC, discovered the joys of radio thanks to a collection of Polish jazz that he acquired that got him airtime on 2SER FM. Community radio has been a launching pad for a lot of journalists to further their craft, understand radio and get the experience they needed before they could get a paid job. For those reasons, I pay particular attention to things that happen around community radio.

In my electorate, community radio plays an important role in informing communities and providing members with the chance to have their views heard. This legislation is all about adjusting the criteria which licence applications and renewals are assessed against in order to match community expectations of that local community radio service. The amendment encourages community radio providers to have greater coverage of local issues—that in itself is a good thing in many cases but is not always the sole purpose of that community broadcaster, although in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains this is a very welcome move—and to provide greater opportunities for local participation in producing and hosting programs.

The legislation requires that, when assessing licence applications, the ACMA will consider the extent to which proposed services will provide 'material of local significance'. Material of local significance can be defined as material that is produced in, hosted in or relates to the licence area of the proposed licence. In principle, that sounds great, but there are concerns about the wording that is being used in this legislation. Along with the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, we support the intent of the bill to strengthen the local bit in community radio but we are concerned about the wording. It's very broad and open to interpretation. I note the sorts of broadcasting that might be impacted by this depending on how it is interpreted—for example, RPH radio, which is radio programming for Australians with a print disability. Does it really matter if any of those criteria are met for that particular broadcaster? What is the impact of enforcing that? There are questions that are open to interpretation here.

They're the sorts of concerns that we have about this bill. I have two community radio stations in my electorate: Radio Blue Mountains, which as the names suggest looks after the Blue Mountains side, and Hawkesbury Radio. Radio Blue Mountains provides a wide range of programs on everything from business to environmental issues to disability issues. There are some live broadcasts from community events, and it looks at politics both local and on a wider scale. It covers a variety of music styles—jazz, country, rock, dance, blues and classical. All types—you never quite know what you're going to get when you turn on. A shout-out for Retro Rehash, which is making sure we get a great music program on a Saturday.

Unsurprisingly, Radio Blue Mountains steps up in emergencies—the Blue Mountains has its fair share of bushfires, storms and winds—and provides an extra layer of local information in times of bushfires or any other disaster. This is a community radio station that operates on the smell of an oily rag, as most of them do, and works hard to meet the audience expectations of the upper Blue Mountains community. It's also providing training. I would hope that this legislation won't change what it does, because it is already considered to be meeting the community's requirements.

I turn to Hawkesbury Radio. I've had an insight into the world of community radio licences through a decision by the ACMA to suspend the licence of Hawkesbury Radio a year or so ago and then share the temporary licence amongst three broadcasters, giving them each a chance to demonstrate that they have met the criteria to be eligible for the permanent licence. I wish all the broadcasters well in what they're doing.

I just want to be clear about what I expect to see in a local community radio station: genuine local community involvement in that station, with an output that reflects the diversity of the Hawkesbury community. The challenge I think we have is that, the way I'm seeing it, the ACMA does not have the resources to turn on that radio station and listen to it 24 hours a day. It's an unrealistic thing to expect. So they're driven by complaints and feedback from the community, and I really hope that they engage strongly with the community to find out the views of local community members about which of these stations is best fulfilling the needs as part of their determination along this pathway.

I have a strong view that community radio should allow the exploration of local issues that might otherwise not make it onto a more national media scene. There should be a range of perspectives offered. We should be able to see young people involved and community interest groups involved; all those things would make a very rich and vibrant broadcast across seven days. When you only have one main local weekly paper published in your area, you actually need community radio to provide a different voice or, ideally, voices.

I will continue to pay attention to legislation that comes before this place around community radio and, more generally, around media legislation. Our voices are shrinking. The diversity of voices is shrinking. We have fragmentation and we have all sorts of changes, but above all we need to have strong, independent journalism that puts proper scrutiny across things that happen in this place and other places. With those comments, I commend the bill to the House.

1:11 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017 as, like the former speaker, I come from a media background. It was not in radio—I'm from a print journalism background—but I do remember university. I'm of an age when radio broadcasting was all about splicing up little bits of tape. To edit, you had to get a physical bit of tape, cut it up, sellotape it back together and spool it. That's the sort of generation I come from—not like today where it is all digital and much easier.

I rise today to speak on this bill as I too believe in the value of a strong media sector and recognise the importance of diversity in media ownership. I know that a lot of people say: 'There's no media ownership problem in Australia. Look at the internet; anybody can be a media proprietor on the internet.' You've got a multiplicity of channels. You've got YouTube and community stations on the internet, but the fact is that the fragmentation of the media has been disastrous for journalism in this country and for what I like to call the 'credible voice'. There used to be a time when I and, dare I say, you, Deputy Speaker Georganas, were growing up that just about every family in Australia would turn on the six o'clock or seven o'clock news. There was this shared community of news. It didn't matter whether you were Labor, Liberal, Communist—whatever you were. There was a shared set of information that everybody got. Perhaps some people would watch 60 Minutesthat was a very-high-rating current affairs show—and others would listen to talkback radio. I'm not one to dismiss the value of choice, but there were a smaller number of channels owned by a greater number of people in corporations, so there was actually probably more diversity 30 years ago with fewer channels than there is today in terms of credible voice.

As I say, any blogger can get onto the internet in front of a microphone and rabbit on to the world with what they want to say, but who's listening? When you want to reach a greater number of people, that's where the media diversity ownership question is so important. That's the problem with getting rid of the two-out-of-three rule. It allows for fewer corporations. They are corporations these days, they're not individuals. It used to be that the local used-car salesman or a local former mayor would open up a newspaper, or a community station or a local TV station. They were people born of, and who lived in, those communities. Individuals used to own media outlets. Now it's corporations and private investment firms—groups that have no intrinsic knowledge or interest in media. They just see the balance sheet.

I think that getting rid of the two-out-of-three rule is going to be very, very bad for media diversity in this country. I think that's what's happening with Channel Nine and Fairfax is exactly what we all anticipated would happen. We're seeing a hundred years of tradition with Fairfax going down the drain. We're seeing journalists losing jobs. We'll see fewer journalists funnelling opinion, analysis and stories through fewer voices. It's going to be very bad.

One of the other key issues I've got is that it used to be unacceptable for a news outlet to represent the private or commercial interests of its owner—at least, overtly. It used to be unacceptable. It was regarded as highly unethical for a private owner to push their private agenda, their corporate agenda, through the news mechanism that they owned. Indeed, Fairfax had a very proud history in this regard. Fairfax had a charter of independence for its journalists. They were completely separate, so the owners couldn't dictate to the journalists what to write. There was a charter of independence. That's gone now. With the death of Fairfax, that charter of independence has gone. What we see with some newer entrants into the media landscape—and I won't name them, but I think we probably know who they are—is that they are strongly pushing the private corporate interests of their corporate owners ahead of the news agenda. They are shaping the news agenda to fit their private corporate interests, and that is very dangerous territory to be getting into. They're not even hiding it anymore. They're not even pretending: it's absolutely overt. That's a very dangerous direction to be going in.

Given the role of the media in our society—particularly when it comes to the coverage of politics at the local, state and national levels—and the existing concentration and lack of diversity in Australia's media ownership, it's important to ensure that smaller numbers of owners do not have undue political influence or control over the political agenda and public discussion, or have the capability to disenfranchise alternative, opposing or minority views. I'll come back to the point I made earlier, that it used to be that owners were residents in their local communities. Generally, they've always been wealthy or middle class. The people who own newspapers, television stations and radio stations, have always been relatively wealthy in their communities. But they were born of their communities and they had an interest in the issues in their community. As their outlets were gobbled up—at that stage, by smaller state-based interests, then gobbled up by bigger national-based interests and now gobbled up by big international global interests—we saw that commitment to local news diminishing at a rate of knots. We've seen the closure of local newsrooms. In the drive for higher profits we've seen the closure of newsrooms and what is called the 'synergy' of newsrooms.

In my state of Tasmania, we've seen this just recently. WIN News are not producing the TV news bulletin from Tasmania anymore. They've announced, as of this week, I think, that it's now going to be presented by their headquarters. I'm not sure whether it's in Bendigo or in Sydney. I think it's in regional New South Wales that they have some sort of headquarters where they do this from. The journalists are in Tasmania and they cover the stories. They ship those stories off to the mainland and then the news is presented from the mainland.

You might say, 'That's an efficient use of resources', but the problem is it means fewer staff in Tasmania and, critically, it's a diminished service. That's because at that headquarters, where they're doing it in regional New South Wales, they aren't just reading the news for Tasmania; they're reading the news for a number of other bulletins as well, and to fit into the roster the Tasmanian news, which doesn't hit the airwaves in Tasmania until five or six o'clock in the evening, is actually read out at two or three o'clock in the afternoon. Then it just sits there until it's time to be aired. So half the day's news doesn't get covered. It used to be that if there was a late-breaking story you'd rush into the newsroom with your material, you'd madly type it up and you'd get it on air. You can't do that now, because they don't have the facilities or the ability. This is what happens when the bottom line dictates the news judgement. It's very bad for journalism. That's just one of the results that happens when you consolidate your media assets in such a way that you don't really care that much about local news production or local news content; it's really just part of your business model.

Media in Australia is not just like a factory producing widgets. The media in Australia is about news, current affairs and the production of drama. That's another way that we reflect our society upon ourselves and tell our own stories. All of these things are critical to a properly functioning society. They shouldn't be treated in the way that other sectors of the economy are treated. It's more important than that. It's part of our culture. I think we need to treat media with much more respect. At the moment, treating it with just an economically rationalist argument about the bottom line is very bad. This government, in the way it treats the media, particularly with its awfully cosy relationship with One Nation—it's very dangerous territory the way it's treating the media in this country. As the member for Whitlam mentioned, the jihad on the ABC, with the government and One Nation joined at the hip in waging war on the national broadcaster—it's all part of this agenda. It's very dangerous.

The topic of media ownership and diversity is not a new issue in Australia. The concern in conversation on this started with the arrival of television when, in 1953, then Prime Minister Menzies, the father of the Liberal Party, gave Australia's first television licences to the men—they were men—who already owned the country's newspaper companies. So right from the get-go we've had media concentrated in the hands of the few. To be fair to Menzies, he would have come under a fair bit of pressure from the then almighty press barons. The same people kept the ABC in the freezer for decades, because those press barons also prevented the national broadcaster from establishing its own news service independent of them. Not many people may recall this, but the ABC used to be forbidden from having a role in the press gallery and from actually producing its own news. The ABC used to only be able to report news that came from the newspapers. Over the air, it would be 'Such-and-such newspaper reported today'. They were prevented for a long time from having their own independent news service. I shudder to think where this country would be today without an independent news service produced by the ABC. Imagine if the ABC today had to rely on the news that it presents coming from The Daily Telegraph and The Courier-Mail and Sky News? What a disaster it would be for this country. I think it's a disaster; perhaps those opposite have a different view.

In the 65 years since Menzies granted those licences, the parliament has modified the law numerous time, sometimes to stem the power of the media barons. I know some people are critical of former Prime Minister Keating. He made his famous statement, 'You can be a prince of the print or a queen of the screen, but you can't be both'. He tried to stem the power of the barons by saying you can either own broadcasting assets or print assets but you can't be in both. That's since gone. We know there's got to be change and progress, but the progress all seems to be going the same way under the Liberals. It all seems to be about concentrating media ownership in fewer and fewer hands, which makes fewer and fewer people more and more powerful. That's not a good recipe for democracy. It's not a good recipe for democracy when you have fewer people and fewer corporations getting more and more power.

Each time, we're told that companies have to get bigger to compete with international competitors, whether it's Time Warner, Disney, CNN or MSBN. To be honest, I don't even know if some of those that I've listed are now under the same ownership. For all I know, two or three of those could actually be under the same corporate ownership, I just don't know—I haven't kept up with it. I don't see the need for companies to get bigger. I don't see how Australian companies in the Australian market need to concentrate to the degree that those opposite dictate in order to remain competitive.

Something that we don't talk about too often is the nexus, the link, between journalism and advertising. It's always been the case that advertising revenue pays for journalism. The ads come in and that's what pays for the journalism. The only reason the press barons had journalists on staff was to fill the space and convince people to buy the paper, because there was something to read, so they'd see the advertisements. It was a symbiotic relationship, but that's been broken with the internet. The internet has broken that relationship, which is a great shame. The ads have gone online, but quality journalism hasn't followed. We commend this bill to the House. We won't stand in the way, but we do think there are some issues still to be resolved.

1:26 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to share my respect for the role the media plays in our democratic society, the importance of encouraging diversity of voices and my absolute passion for radio, particularly community radio. It was in the community radio area of the media that I worked immediately before being elected to this place by my community.

Today the House considers the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017 motion for second reading. Much of this bill speaks to the points I've just mentioned, and much of the current sorry state of the Australian media landscape can be sheeted home to the Turnbull government.

In 2006, the Howard government abolished foreign ownership and control limits At the time it was hoped that this move would bring more owners and capital into the Australian media market. It was thought that this could even encourage new players in print. Overall, it was seen as a safeguard to media concentration. Fast forward 11 years to 2017: the Turnbull government has negotiated with One Nation to secure its support to repeal the important two-out-of-three, cross-media ownership control rule. We never thought we'd see the day, but here it is. This is, as I speak, leading to an even greater concentration of media voices. We need look no further than the proposed Nine Network takeover of Fairfax for evidence of this: a television company swallowing what was historically a print based company. Fairfax is not just any print company: it has long been hailed as one of the great bastions of respectable journalism in Australia.

I must say, I do agree with former Prime Minister Paul Keating who, in response to news of this merger, described it as 'an exceptionally bad development'. In his opinion piece, which was broadly published in the wake of the Nine/Fairfax announcement, Mr Keating said:

The absence of those legislative barriers, in the media free-for-all the Turnbull government is permitting, will, because of the broadly maintained power of those outlets, result in an effective and dramatic close down in diversity and, with it, opinion.

As the elected representatives of a democratic society, I believe we must rail against this. In other parts of society, we encourage diversity. We seek input from various stakeholders when we face a multifaceted problem.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, when the member for Paterson will be able to seek continuation.