House debates

Monday, 25 November 2019


Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2019; Second Reading

6:04 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2019 and foreshadow that I will move a second reading amendment.

This bill contains a collection of proposals to reduce the regulatory burden on the broadcasting and telecommunication sectors. As noted in the explanatory memorandum, the bill proposes to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011, amongst other pieces of legislation.

Some of the measures outlined in this bill propose to allow the minister to appoint an industry based numbering manager in place of the ACMA, provided certain safeguards are met; remove duplicative reporting requirements for licensees to notify the ACMA of certain changes in control of regulated media assets; allow NBN Co to dispose of surplus assets whose sale is currently constrained by the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011; provide a consistent classification arrangement by removing requirements for certain television broadcasters to apply different classification standards for films when developing industry codes of practice; remove the requirement for the ACMA to consult with an advisory committee before declaring a submarine cable protection zone, given the ACMA has a legal obligation to consult anyway; and to remove the ability of the ACCC to issue tariff-filing directions to certain telecommunication carriers and carriage service providers.

As some might be aware, this bill is not new. Indeed, the bulk of the measures in this omnibus bill were, by and large, introduced on 2 December 2015. The bill was supported in the House, and during debate in the Senate a Labor amendment was passed to expand the financial and deployment forecasts reported by NBN Co. After the bill returned to the House, the government never brought it to a vote and allowed it to lapse at the 2016 election. The then minister, Mitch Fifield, resurrected this bill to the House of Representatives on 27 March 2019. It took him six months after the election to dust off the brief, but eventually he got there. After the initial introduction it took the government a further 12 months before it reached a second reading debate in the House. Talk about enthusiasm; they couldn't wait to get this one passed! The bill then entered the Senate in March 2018 and sat idle for the remainder of that term of parliament—a big year for that bill. It was never brought to a vote and, as a result, lapsed at the May election.

So here we are, in the last sitting period for 2019, four years after the bill was first introduced—we should get it a cake!—debating it for the third time. It makes you wonder why this has taken so long. I suspect the origins of this bill provide an important clue. At a time when the government should have been focused on proper reform in this sector, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and his then parliamentary secretary were too busy focusing on the wrong priorities. Mr Turnbull almost exclusively dedicated himself to stuffing up one of the most important things in the portfolio, the NBN and holistic media reform, and left it to his then parliamentary secretary, now the minister, to manage the relevant aspects of the overall fizzer that was Tony Abbott's dereg agenda. So uninspired was the bill that over a span of two electoral terms, Mitch Fifield did not even see fit to bring it to a final vote. I genuinely cannot even recall the last time a stakeholder asked me where the measures in this current bill are up to.

The reason I am running through the history is that it points to a broader issue in the comms portfolio. This bill is symbolic of the small-mindedness that dominates the Liberals and their communications agenda. It is nearly 2020 and the first two pieces of communications portfolio legislation this minister has to offer is a window-dressing ABC bill trying to distract from the government's cuts to public broadcasting, and this essentially do-nothing deregulation bill that was drafted in 2015. Maybe those opposite can call it their five-year plan. It really makes you wonder what the point of the Morrison government is.

Speaking of the government's window-dressing on the ABC, we're beginning to see the implications of their funding cuts. After years of cuts at the hands of the Liberal-National government, and with a further three years of cuts ahead of it, the ABC has decided to end its 67-year run as the official non-commercial Olympic Games radio broadcaster, citing budget pressures. It is sad and disappointing that the ABC will not pursue radio broadcast rights and live coverage for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and that 'competing budget priorities' are responsible for the end of an era in Australian sports broadcasting. When the government cuts the ABC, Australians miss out. This government broke its promise not to cut ABC funding. It has since cut $366 million from the national broadcaster. The ABC warned the latest round of budget cuts, totalling $83.7 million over the next three years, would make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations, but the Prime Minister locked them in any way. Now it looks like Australians will miss out on much-loved content that is part of Australia's media, sporting and cultural identity.

This deregulation bill before us is arguably the last ember for the red tape bonfire initiated by Tony Abbott many moons ago. In the context of the comms portfolio, one only has to look at how much regulatory burden the coalition government has introduced on the telco sector in the past two years. Worse still, much of the regulation in the consumer sphere has been a direct consequence of the government's failings on the multitechnology mix of the NBN.

It's worth noting that this bill isn't the only thing in the comms portfolio which has been sitting around for years. Spectrum reform, launched with great fanfare back in 2014, has fallen on its face. The August 2015 joint announcement between Malcolm Turnbull and the now minister stated that the government had considered and decided to implement the recommendations of the spectrum review, and set out an implementation timetable. After helping start it off over four years ago, the current minister is seemingly back at square one, asking basic questions, such as: 'What benefits will the proposed reforms deliver? And are wholesale changes the way to go?' One would assume that the government had a well-considered view on such questions before deciding to commit four years of significant public sector and industry resources to a wholesale spectrum reform process. What we have seen is a government that has consistently lacked a coherent agenda and, as a consequence, which doesn't appear to be in command of the processes it has commenced.

I'll move on to the individual measures in this bill. One schedule of this bill proposes changes that would allow the transition of telephone numbering to an industry managed scheme. Self-regulation is an important feature of the telco sector, and has been for a long time. Where appropriate, it allows industry to take responsibility for its own affairs, in turn potentially reducing the regulatory burden and administrative costs, and, in turn, leading to consumer benefits. Numbers are an important scarce resource. Like spectrum, numbers are used but not consumed. The management of telephone numbering has matured over the years, and this presents an opportunity for industry to play a greater role in managing the telco numbering scheme.

A move towards self-regulation naturally raises the question of whether there is a risk of misalignment between the objectives of regulators and policymakers and the commercial incentives of industry. We have considered this question, and are satisfied that the legislation before the House sets out sufficiently clear principles and contains adequate reserve powers should the Commonwealth need to re-intervene.

One point I do want to stress is the important connection between the integrity of our numbering system and scam calls. Communications technology and digital platforms have made it cheaper and easier for scammers to operate. The telephone line has now become an option of choice for scammers. Everyone agrees that telephone scams are not just a nuisance: they are an assault on the integrity of our numbering system; an incursion on the privacy of Australians and the right to enjoy their homes; and they are criminal in their intent.

As I noted earlier in the year in an opinion piece, it has always struck me as odd that criminals based overseas can effortlessly use Australian telephone numbers they don't own to generate calls and to rip people off. The explanations for this vary but, clearly, the international standards and interconnection arrangements that underpinned voice calling were not adequately designed to safeguard against this problem. In the absence of such arrangements, domestic interventions to protect the integrity of the telephone-numbering system and to reduce the impact of scams are beginning to look increasingly desirable. Encouragingly, other jurisdictions are showing that progress is possible and, hopefully, any transition of numbering towards a self-regulatory model could provide even greater operational and technical flexibility to improve the integrity of the numbering system, in turn making it harder for scammers overseas.

In summary, this is a straightforward bill that forms part of a rudimentary housekeeping exercise. As such, Labor will not oppose this bill. But the reality is this: these amendments actually do little to reduce the cost of regulation on the broadcasting or telecommunication sectors. As I noted earlier, the government has actually spent the last three years increasing the regulatory burden on telecommunications companies, and this bill does nothing to reverse that trend. While earlier deregulation bills actually did deliver more significant cost savings for industry, in comparison this bill looks by and large inconsequential. What we would like to see is the government developing a genuine and timely reform agenda to advance the interests of citizens, consumers and the communications sector. That is why Labor will move a second reading amendment to this bill. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that it is nearly 2020, and the first two pieces of communications portfolio legislation presented by Government in the current Parliament are:

(a) a window-dressing bill about the ABC designed to distract from the Government’s funding cuts to public broadcasting; and

(b) a do-nothing bill about deregulation, which was originally drafted in 2015;

(2) notes that it has been more than four years since the Government commenced a spectrum reform process that has yet to deliver any outcomes; and

(3) calls on the Government to develop a genuine and timely reform agenda to advance the interests of citizens, consumers and the communications sector".

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

6:13 pm

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

( I second the motion. The Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2019 is one of the last flames from the deregulation bonfire initiated by Tony Abbott many years ago. The government first announced this bill in December 2015 and declared its commitment to remove outdated regulation. So we find ourselves here, four years later, debating what is effectively the same legislation in the House of Representatives for the third time.

Labor supports sensible amendments to remove unnecessary administrative requirements imposed on industry to repeal redundant legislation and spent acts. While this bill does have some utility, its value should not be overstated. This is a straightforward bill that forms part of a rudimentary regulatory housekeeping exercise. These amendments do nothing meaningful to reduce the cost of regulation on the broadcasting or telecommunications sectors. While earlier deregulation bills delivered more significant cost savings for industry, this bill is by and large inconsequential in terms of the true reform task facing the sector. Shrinking news outlets outside the major cities; a growing concentration of media ownership; digital platforms fracturing audiences and soaking up traditional revenue streams; and social media giants that facilitate disinformation—these are the real challenges facing the media landscape in Australia.

It is clear that Australian media is facing a crisis, and nowhere is media more threatened than in the regions. Earlier this year we saw the closure of several WIN regional newsrooms and the end of production of five local news bulletins. Last year WIN TV moved its Tasmanian news bulletin to its Wollongong offices, cutting staff from 18 to nine. At the time, it was explained that the decision was based on the commercial viability of funding news in those areas. We know that there are several factors that mean there has been a reduction in demand for local news bulletins in regional areas. The advent of digital media caused audiences to fragment. That meant the importance of an audience for regular broadcast news bulletins declined, reducing the amount that could be charged for advertising.

The industry had not fully adjusted to those changes when social media came along and it saw a lot of the remaining advertising revenue diverted from news media to the new platform. Between January 2013 and June 2017 the total advertising market in Australia grew by 11 per cent. But that growth was almost entirely away from traditional media. Digital advertising grew by 87 per cent in this period. That's extraordinary. At the same time, advertising revenue in television fell five per cent and print advertising revenue saw a 46 per cent drop from $373 million in 2013 to $202 million in 2017. Yet it is TV and print that continue to employ most journalists in this country.

Additionally, changing consumption habits and increased competition from digital content providers that don't face the same regulatory conditions challenged traditional media further. A recent inquiry into digital platforms by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that virtually no media regulation applies to digital platforms. This creates regulatory disparity between some digital platforms and some more heavily regulated media businesses that perform comparable functions and, arguably, a much more important social and community function. The disparity exists due to the failure of current regulatory frameworks to keep pace with changes in technology, consumer preferences and the way in which media businesses now operate. Over six years, this government has been asleep at the wheel. Digitisation and the increase in online creation and aggregation of news and media content highlight the inconsistencies in the current sector-specific approach to media regulation in Australia that gives rise to an uneven playing field between digital platforms and some news media businesses.

In its report, the ACCC recommended that media regulatory frameworks be updated to ensure that comparable functions are effectively and consistently regulated. Program supply and infrastructure costs also mean that regional media needs to constantly review its operating model to ensure the ongoing viability of business. The crisis in the media's business models is being felt most acutely at the local news level. The availability of local news in the regions of Australia has sharply declined over the past five years and is likely to decline further. The decline is across the board, though it's more marked in the outer suburbs of metropolitan regions and in rural and regional areas.

For many Australians, sadly, it's now easier to find out what is happening in the White House than what's happening at the local school, or why the potholes in the road haven't been fixed. Data collected by the ACCC shows that between 2008 and 2018, 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across Australia, representing a net 15 per cent decrease in the number of these publications in just 10 years—and I know newspapers are not necessarily the remit of this place, but if you wouldn't mind indulging me, Deputy Speaker! These closures have left 21 local government areas without coverage from a single local newspaper.

In December 2018, the former Fairfax regional newspaper network became part of the Nine media company, and as part of that deal for the SMH and The Age, the regional paper network was sold to Anthony Catalano and the Thorney Investment Group. This includes 160-plus regional titles and around 130 community based websites and agricultural publications. Two of them are in Tasmania, The Examiner and The Advocate, and we're hopeful that under the new ownership they will continue. As the Australian Communications and Media Authority observed in its 2017 Local content in regional Australiareport, the profitability of regional broadcasting is declining under the same pressures that are affecting media across the Western world, fragmenting audiences and the shift of advertising revenue to social media platforms.

Local journalism matters and local news is vital to communities, particularly rural and regional communities. Without it, institutions become less accountable—frankly, so do politicians—citizens are disempowered and power transfers to those with the ability and motivation to manipulate public opinion. This month marks 30 years of the Fremantle Heraldwhere I got my start as that paper's first cadet—a fearless, independent and locally owned paper that has survived recessions, disgraceful anticompetitive behaviour by its corporate rival and very touchy councils that withdraw advertising over unflattering stories. If more papers were like the Fremantle Herald, locally owned and locally operated, born in and of their communities, then the Australian local media landscape would be a much healthier place. Indeed, in 2016, a study by the Pew Research Centre found that in the United States civic engagement is strongly tied to local news habits. Those with stronger news interest consumption and better attitudes towards the news media, were considerably more likely to feel attached to their communities and to always vote in local elections.

In my own electorate of Lyons, there are at least 15 community papers and newsletters. We don't have the weekly letterbox papers like on the mainland; most papers are owned and run in Tasmania by non-profit groups, including online centres and councils. Of those that are businesses, there's the Font PR owned Derwent Valley Gazette, The Sorell Times, the Tasman Gazette and the East Coast View. And there are the Northern Midlands Courier in Longford and The Coastal Column in St Helens. They operate on wafer-thin margins and the blood, sweat and tears of their owners. Mark Thompson, the former director-general of the BBC and current chief executive of The New York Times, suggested recently that closures of local newsrooms and newspapers will only increase without a dramatic shift in policy and investment:

A society which fails to provide its different communities and groups with the means to listen and come to understand each other's pasts and presents should not be surprised if mutual incomprehension and division are the consequence. If you doubt that any of this connects to real world politics and national wellbeing, you need to pay more attention.

One of the long-term effects of declining local news will be more fractured communities that are less informed, leading to less ability to forge a national consensus. For example, WIN has begun to fill its air time by broadcasting content from the 24-hour news channel, Sky News, across all its markets nationwide. Whilst Sky offers a reasonable news service during the day, Sky News After Dark, modelled on Fox in the US, is a very different beast—populated nearly exclusively by hard Right ideological commentators who have no regard to facts. I admit here, I've never done drugs, but on the odd occasion when I stumbled across Sky 'after dark', I wonder if that's what tripping out feels like—a discombobulation of body and mind.

We should expect to see a decline in civic health in areas where there is a lack of local news. A 2016 study by King's College London found that UK towns whose local papers had suffered closure showed a 'democracy deficit' that resulted in measurably reduced community engagement by local people and a heightened distrust of public institutions. It's odd that, in a world where the repository of the world's collective knowledge is literally at our fingertips, distrust in such knowledge and apathetic ignorance of that knowledge have never seemed higher. Flat-earthers, the 'birthers' who hounded Obama, the rise of Nazism in the West and an almost boastful and wilful ignorance of Nazism's causes and effects, the antivaccination movement, the 'death tax' at the May election, the maelstrom of misinformation and disinformation that swirls by the hour around the Trump administration—we have left the information age behind us and are well into the disinformation age. I would suggest that members of this chamber take a look at the recent speech by Sacha Baron Cohen to the Anti-Defamation League, where he warns of the dangers that Facebook, and specifically its strident refusal to act on disinformation and lies in political advertising, poses to our democracies and to social cohesion.

You might ask, Mr Deputy Speaker, in the face of the immediate crisis facing the communications and media sector: where is the Australian government in all of this? A few weeks ago the government hosted the Symposium on Choice and Quality of News and Journalism at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. At this forum, the minister cautioned that there were significant questions and practical issues associated with greater support for local journalism, specifically the government grants for journalists suggested in the ACCC's digital platforms report, an indicator that the government would be taking a wait-and-see approach.

In response to this, I would echo the sentiments of the shadow minister for communications, which are that this government has waited and overseen the decline of regional media over the past six years, and it has failed to deliver a plan to address it. This government stuffed up the delivery of the National Broadband Network, crippling digital productivity in Australia's regions and widening the digital divide between city and country, when the NBN could have narrowed that divide. This is a government that has slashed $366 million in funding to the ABC, a broken promise that puts at risk the ABC's exceptional record of delivering programming excellence for our regions. The latest budget locks in $83.7 million in cuts over three years, kicking in this year, when the ABC is doing such a mighty job of keeping Australians informed about the worst drought in living memory. This is a government that has presided over an explosion in scams delivered over the phone and the internet and has not done enough to protect Australian consumers. Australians lost $489 million in 2018, an increase of $149 million on the year before. I shudder to think what the 2019 figure will be. This is a government that delivers small because it thinks small, and that is the essence of the bill before the House today. I have great pleasure in seconding the shadow minister's amendment. Labor's not opposing this bill but, by gee, it's nothing to be excited about.

6:28 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I share the member for Lyons's ambivalence about this bill. Time and time again we have seen this tired, third-term Morrison government demonstrate that it has no plan for our economy. The bill that we are debating today, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2019, exemplifies the government's lack of vision for Australia and shows that they have run out of ideas, run out of things to do.

This bill proposes to amend several pieces of telecommunications and broadcasting legislation to reduce the regulatory burden on those sectors. I don't object to a good telco deregulatory bill. Indeed, as a former telecommunications lawyer I embrace this as only someone who has grappled with IP&D, the accounting separation regime and the combinatorial clock spectrum auction process can! The majority of the content of this bill, however, was introduced back in 2015, during the 44th Parliament. Back then it was supported by the House, and an amended version was passed by the Senate. But the government never got around to bringing the bill back to the House for a vote, so it lapsed at the 2016 election. In the 45th Parliament the government resurrected this bill, in March 2017, and it entered the Senate in March 2018. But again it was allowed to lapse, at the 2019 election. Four years on, we are now debating the same content for the third time under a tired, third-term Liberal government. While we support this bill, we recognise that these adjustments and regulations don't really make any substantive, meaningful change. They're not going to transform anyone's life in Australian society. The bill doesn't tackle any of the real challenges facing the communications portfolio, like making sure that Australia is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital economy or ensuring the economic viability of an independent media, so crucial to the functioning of a healthy democracy in our country.

Labor supports this bill because it supports sensible amendments that remove unnecessary administrative burdens and repeal redundant legislation and spent acts. Amendments that allow, for example, NBN Co to dispense of surplus assets are welcome. The removal of duplicative reporting requirements for licensees, publishers and controllers to notify the ACMA of certain changes while still allowing the ACMA to maintain accurate control registers is welcome. Providing consistency in the classification range for all television programs and films is, again, welcome. One schedule of this bill would allow the minister to appoint an industry based numbering manager in place of the ACMA provided certain safeguards are met, and self-regulation has long been an important feature of the telecommunications sector. I've participated in it myself in many forums and I can attest to the expertise and national spirit of those who engage in it. It allows industry to take responsibility for its own affairs, potentially reducing the regulatory burden and administrative cost on the industry, with flow-on impacts on the cost to consumers.

When it comes to deregulation aspects of the bill, Labor is satisfied that the legislation sets out sufficiently clear principles and contains adequate reserve powers should the Commonwealth need to re-intervene if this self-regulatory approach fails. But we shouldn't overstate the significance of these reforms. They are just part of a long-overdue housekeeping exercise that could have been done two terms ago. Only one other piece of communications portfolio legislation has been introduced by this government: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019. Like this bill, the rural and regional measures bill is a study in the Morrison government's small-mindedness when it comes to the communications agenda. In the rural and regional measures bill, the government proposes measures with the aim of increasing regional content, but, instead of dealing with the real issue causing the decline of regional reporting—the lack of a sustainable funding stream—the bill is merely window dressing that tries to distract from the government's funding cuts to the ABC.

Since 2013, the Liberals—the coalition government—have cut $366 million from the ABC, forcing the ABC to cut 800 jobs to free up the funds it needs to continue investing in Australian content, educational resources and regional communities. But, instead of reversing these cuts, this bill seeks to amend the wording of the ABC charter and to meddle in its governance structures. The bill amends the ABC's charter to add the words 'regional' and 'geographic' so that the wording will read, 'The ABC's programs contribute to a sense of regional and national identity, inform and entertain, and reflect the culture and geographic diversity of the Australian community.' This measure is a nonsense because there's no evidence of shortcomings with the ABC charter with respect to regional and rural Australia.

In terms of governance, the bill seeks to establish an advisory council and amends the ABC Act to stipulate that the board must have two non-executive directors with a substantial connection to or experience in a regional area. This is a nonsense measure because the ABC board already has an advisory council which provides advice to the board on all matters, including rural and regional matters. Section 24X of the ABC Act already provides the minister with the power to establish additional selection criteria for board appointments. It is ironic that, while the government purports to minimise the regulatory burden on broadcasting and telecommunications entities through the legislation before the House, in another bill it is seeking to amend the ABC Act to add more bureaucracy and red tape—bureaucracy and red tape that will not create another hour of broadcasting on regional issues on ABC Radio or ABC Television. It won't fund a single additional journalist in these areas. It won't create any more content that is specific to rural and regional Australia. It just creates more bureaucracy and red tape—and for what? The ABC charter already creates obligations for the ABC to serve rural and regional Australians, which the ABC delivers on with great alacrity.

These amendments are simply government virtue signalling that will cost the taxpayer; do little to help Australians living in rural and regional Australia, who face the decline in local reporting; and distract from the lack of a real plan for communications policy in this country. A real plan would progress reforms in the telecommunications and media sector that are urgently needed for the sake of our economy and our democracy, something neither this bill nor the rural and regional measures bill does.

As someone who worked in the telecommunications sector before entering this place, I have firsthand experience of sifting through page after page of regulation implemented by parliamentarians and regulators at the sub-legislative level across this country. I can tell you that over the past two years this government has introduced a huge regulatory burden on this sector because of the failure of its multitechnology mix. The government promised its multitechnology mix would be faster and cheaper yet has delivered a network that costs more to build, costs more to run and does less. The decision to shift to the multitechnology mix in the NBN in 2014 has also resulted in Australia falling behind rival networks in the global digital economy.

A report by AlphaBeta, commissioned by the Digital Industry Group, found that Australia's tech sector could create an additional $50 billion a year were Australia successful in catching up and matching the technology sector growth rates of our global peers. Based on comparative analysis of successful leading countries, the report states that the key lesson is that governments need to take a coordinated approach to the digital economy—a coordinated approach which includes communications policy, especially considering that communications infrastructure is the foundation of the global digital economy. A coordinated approach requires a government that doesn't shy away from large-scale reforms and a government that has a plan to capitalise on the potential of more jobs and increased productivity in the digital economy. That is not this government.

This government's lack of a plan in communications policy isn't just hurting our economy; it's hurting our democracy. While the government drags its feet, it's never been more important for Australia to safeguard a thriving, independent and economically viable media. Experts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute tell us that a healthy and robust media environment is key to Australia's democratic resilience. There are—it's a sad fact—foreign operatives that seek to undermine our democracy by spreading misinformation in our democratic system. These influence operations operate by finding cracks in the fabric of society and exploiting them, expanding divisions to weaken trust in democratic institutions in our society.

We have seen recent media coverage of the pressure on Facebook to combat misinformation on its platforms. But one of the best things we can do to protect Australia from misinformation attacks in our democracy is to ensure our media environment is free, independent and economically viable. That is our magic weapon in defending our democracy from foreign interference. But this government's complete disregard for an independent and economically viable press is highlighted day after day. We have seen it with the raid on Annika Smethurst by the Australian Federal Police, in the $366 million of cuts to the ABC and in the constant flood of complaints to the ABC director and board from ministers of this government. This interference in and dismantling of the ABC further erodes the Australian public's trust in the media institutions, a trust that is so key to building a resilient democracy and to sustaining a resilient democracy in Australia. This government needs to develop a meaningful reform plan to tackle the big issues in the communications portfolio, not just because it is important for productivity in the sector, and not just because it will enable us to reap the benefits of the digital economy, but because it is crucial to Australian democracy.

6:38 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the members who have contributed to the debate on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2019. The bill will amend a range of telecommunications and broadcasting legislation to reduce the regulatory burden on the broadcasting and telecommunications industries. The bill will amend the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Act 2017 to increase the transitional support payments made to network investments to rectify previous underpayments. The bill will amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to apply a single classification scheme for all free-to-air television programs by removing the requirement for certain television broadcasters to apply a separate classification scheme for films when developing industry codes of practice. The bill will remove duplicative requirements for licencees, publishers and controllers to notify the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, of certain changes in control.

In the area of telecommunications, the bill will remove unnecessary arrangements for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the ACCC, to issue tariff-filing directions to certain carriers and carriage service providers under part 11(b) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The information captured by these divisions is readily available to the ACCC through other revenues, including through public sources. It will inform the ACMA's statutory information collection powers under the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the ACCC under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to ensure that the information collected from industry is relevant and serves a useful public policy purpose.

The bill will also simplify ACMA and ACCC's annual report publication requirements by requiring the reports to be published online rather than tabled in parliament. It will also amend the Telecommunications Act 1997 to enable the transition to an industry based scheme for the management of telephone numbering, subject to public policy safeguards. The bill will abolish the requirement for ACMA to consult an advisory committee especially established under the submarine cable protection regime before declaring, varying or revoking a submarine cable protection zone. This will reduce the administrative costs and reflect the requirements for ACMA to consult publicly on such proposals.

The bill will amend the Telecommunications Act 1997 to repeal the ability of NBN Co to issue a statement that it is not installing fibre in a new real estate development, as it is not appropriate for NBN Co as an industry player to exercise a quasi-regulatory power. Changes will also be made to the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 to allow NBN Co to dispose of surplus goods without altering the fundamental line of business restrictions on NBN Co.

Finally, the bill will make other various amendments to remove redundant and unnecessary legislation, including repealing over 50 spent acts in the Communications portfolio. The bill is a further step in this government's ongoing commitment to boost productivity by reducing onerous legislation while maintaining consumer and competition safeguards. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Greenway has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.