House debates

Monday, 2 March 2020

Private Members' Business

Jewish Australian Internet Radio

11:35 am

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

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Jewish Australian Internet Radio (J-AIR) is an outstanding broadcasting service that brings together Jewish culture, news, analysis, music, comedy, personalities and performers for audiences in Melbourne and through the internet;

(b) since 2014, the volunteers at J-AIR have worked tirelessly to give Jewish people a voice and provide awareness of the ongoing safety and security challenges faced by Melbourne's Jewish community;

(c) as demonstrated by the 2019 Executive Council of Australian Jewry report, the character of anti-Semitism has worsened in Australia and services like J-AIR play a crucial security role;

(d) J-AIR has begun working closely with the Community Security Group (CSG) to combat the rise of anti-Semitism and ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community in Victoria; and

(e) the absence of a community broadcasting licence limits the capacity of J-AIR to fulfil these critical functions; and

(2) calls on the Australian Communications and Media Authority to consider the new relationship with the CSG and allocate J-AIR a community broadcasting licence in the Melbourne Radio Licence Area.

J-AIR is one of the most important social institutions in Melbourne's Jewish community. It's an incredibly important part of the social fabric because it provides many Jewish Australians in our community, across Australia and overseas through the internet with the opportunity to directly hear about the issues that affect Jewish Australians. It is particularly important for those who may not have access to newspapers like The Australian Jewish News, so they can be aware of updates and events that make sure that Australia's Jewish community is well represented and well heard. It's an incredibly important part of the social fabric of the Jewish community because it provides an opportunity where people can hear those voices.

It started in 2014, when J-AIR Founder Rob Bontschek and a dedicated group of volunteers built the station from the ground up. Since going to air in 2014, J-AIR has been transmitting on 87.8 megahertz, a low-power narrowcasting station from the Glen Eira Town Hall, and is an authorised user from a third party. Over time it has been consistently successful in delivering and achieving aspirations and its goals. There have been a number of important community organisations that have a direct relationship with J-AIR to get to the issues that affect Melbourne's Jewish community out to the community. These include the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the community service group of Victoria, the Zionist Federation, Zionism Victoria, United Israel Appeal, the Jewish National Fund, Magen David Adom, Maccabi Victoria and Bialik College, amongst many. Of course it has received significant community financial support, including from the Bendigo Bank foundation, the Besen Family Foundation, the City of Glen Eira, Peachtree Capital and River Capital.

Many people, including members of this chamber, will have been on J-AIR to talk about the issues that affect the Australian Jewish community. I myself have been on many times, talking to the Jewish community about important issues like free speech and why that's central for a liberal democracy, as well as updates in this chamber and our important relationship with one of our most allies, Israel.

But one of the challenges that J-AIR has always faced has been around access to spectrum to be able to broadcast Jewish culture into the Australian context through a proper broadcast medium. They have constantly and unsuccessfully lobbied ACMA and regulators to make sure that they have access to spectrum to have a permanent home. Since then, it's been facing challenges around whether it's going to be able to receive the spectrum so that it can make sure it continues to broadcast to the general community. This poses challenges not just because of issues of reach but because of the viability of the station itself.

Once the broadcast spectrum issue is satisfactorily resolved with the help of ACMA, J-AIR may be in a position to continue to provide services into the future. I am very happy to see the member for Macnamara and the member for Higgins, amongst others, in the chamber. They are all supporting this push to make sure that J-AIR has a permanent spectrum home, because it will enable it to continue its important and vital work for the community.

Of course, there are options available to ACMA. Only recently, since January 2020, Western Radio Broadcasters Inc. surrendered its licence to provide a long-term broadcasting service in that community. Consequently, 97.4 MHz frequency has become available in Melbourne's west, RA1 licence area. ACMA, of course, is considering what they are going to do with this licence. It would provide an avenue and an opportunity to enable J-AIR to find a permanent home. It isn't a perfect solution, but it might be part of a sustainable solution into the future—because making sure that every part of our community is represented in the media and that people have an avenue and an opportunity for their voices to be heard is critical.

Australia's community is blessed and enriched by the incredible Jewish heritage and culture traditions that inform the fullness of the Australian way of life. J-AIR provides a critical role as part of that rich social fabric so that Jewish Australians can hear the voices and the issues of concern to them. I'm very proud to represent the third-largest Jewish community in Australia, divided between Macnamara and Goldstein as well as Higgins. We're very proud to support this important community organisation, to support its ongoing broadcasting to support our fellow Australians.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder for the motion?

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

11:41 am

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to follow the member for Goldstein on this important motion and I commend him for bringing it to this place. I also acknowledge the member for Higgins, who is in this place today, who will be supporting the motion, and the member for Eden-Monaro, who is also here, who has been a longstanding and true friend of the Australian Jewish community.

Community radio is not just a place for journalists to find and craft their skills; it is also a place for politicians as well. The very first radio interview I did was way back in 2014 when I was a candidate in the state election for the Australian Labor Party—the mighty Australian Labor Party—and I was taking on the member for Caulfield, Mr David Southwick. It was a very safe Liberal seat back then. It's much less safe now. I went on Mates at 8, believe it or not, with my good friends Daniel and Ariel. That was my first radio interview. That was on J-AIR in the very first year it began.

J-AIR is a wonderful, local community radio station. It is a place where ideas are spoken about, not just in relation to the Jewish community but also the wider community and our local community. We have a huge Jewish community in Macnamara, but they are also spread across Melbourne and the country, which is why it is nice to see so many of my follow parliamentarians supporting this motion.

Today I'm a frequent guest on J-AIR. I especially acknowledge Talking to the Max, with my good friend Gary Max, on a Wednesday morning. He puts me through my paces on a Wednesday morning on all of the local politics of the day. Then, of course, there's my old friend Hanna Baum. She does TheBaum Interviewsandbroadcasts them on Thursday mornings. I believe they are re-run on Sunday night, so if you miss them you can catch them again on Sundays.

J-AIR is a wonderful story that began in 2014. It has been broadcasting on 87.8. Robert Bontschek helped found it, along with many volunteers. I also want to acknowledge Sean Meltzer, who was crucial in the early days of setting it up. It used to be broadcast on top of a factory in Oakley before it moved to its current home in Caulfield, in conjunction with a low-power open narrowcasting frequency over the top of Glen Eira council. But, as the member for Goldstein touched on, the current arrangement is being negotiated through a company called Trycycle Pty Ltd. At 87.8, J-AIR is currently on a month-by-month contract. What that means is that Trycycle is looking to consolidate all of the 87.8 frequencies that are on the low-power open narrowcasting—that is, all the localised different versions of 87.8. Obviously at the moment, on a month-by-month contract, it is very difficult for J-AIR to plan, to go to sponsors, to go to a range of other community organisations, many of whom, as the member for Goldstein pointed out—but of course there is the generosity of a lot of the philanthropists and people who sponsor our community organisations, who do an amazing job. It is difficult to plan for the future when you're only on a month-by-month contract. It can be your last month of broadcasting. For an organisation like J-AIR that is particularly difficult. I would hope they can be afforded a more permanent home by ACMA.

Finally, one of the reasons why J-AIR is so important is because it's not just the permanent shows that people go on, some of whom I agree with, some of whom I have strong editorial differences with—as the old saying goes, if you have two Jewish people, you have three opinions!—but also because they cover a lot of the community events locally. Coming up we have the In One Voice festival in a couple of weeks, which is the largest Jewish cultural and arts festival in Elsternwick. J-AIR will be there. I support this motion. I support J-AIR getting a permanent home, and I support the member for Goldstein in his efforts to bring J-AIR closer to a permanent home.

11:46 am

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the member for Goldstein's motion to support J-AIR, Melbourne's Jewish radio station, which broadcasts over the internet to Melbourne audiences, including the wonderful Jewish community in my electorate of Higgins. J-AIR also operates on narrowcast radio frequency 87.8 to the Caulfield area. Community radio plays a vital role within Melbourne and across Australia and adds to the many unique cultures that Melbourne and Australia is famous for. We have 3XY Radio Hellas serving the Greek community right across Australia. LightFM provides a positive and family friendly alternative. We also have Joy FM to celebrate and support the LGBTI community.

Included in Melbourne's community radio scene is J-AIR. J-AIR Melbourne facilitates cross-cultural exchange and promotes an understanding of Australian Jewish culture and life, by giving the Jewish people of Melbourne a voice in the wider community. It gives the wider Melbourne population an opportunity to hear and be educated about the Jewish point of view. J-AIR was started by a group of dedicated volunteers who set up in the Glen Eira town hall in 2014. It brings Jewish culture, news, analysis, music, comedy, personalities and performers together to offer well-rounded services for the Jewish community in Melbourne.

However, I was saddened to read the Executive Council of Australian Jewry's Report on antisemitism in Australia 2019. It noted a significant rise in anti-Semitism towards the Jewish community in Victoria. According to the report, there were 368 antisemitic incidents logged within the Jewish community, consisting of 225 attacks and 143 threats. The incidents included verbal abuse, graffiti, threats via email, telephone and postal mail and, most concerning, physical attacks. The report included this paragraph, which I found particularly chilling:

The 30% year-on-year increase in reported incidents of verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation demonstrates that antisemites felt increasingly emboldened to behave in an aggressive, confrontational and menacing way towards Jews who were doing nothing more than going about their daily lives. Jews continued to be verbally abused and harassed around synagogues on a regular basis, especially over the Jewish Sabbath of Friday evening and Saturday, and on other Jewish holy days and festivals.

These attacks are based on ignorance and an unfounded hatred for a group of people. To be reporting this to the chamber in 2020 is simply unbelievable. The good work of community radio stations like J-AIR seeks to educate the wider community about the practices and beliefs of Jewish people in a bid to end the scourge of anti-Semitism in Australia. J-AIR works to bridge the gap between two communities and also works closely with the Community Security Group to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community in Victoria.

Despite the good work of J-AIR and its volunteers, the absence of a community broadcasting licence limits the capacity for J-AIR to support the Jewish community and provide awareness for the ongoing safety and security challenges faced by Melbourne's Jewish community as a result of the rise of anti-Semitism. Today I join with the member for Goldstein and the member for Macnamara, on the other side of this chamber, to call on the Australian Communications and Media Authority to consider the importance of J-AIR and its ties to the Jewish community and allocate J-AIR a community broadcasting licence.

We all know the exceptional work provided by Victorian radio stations, the ABC and 3AW, during the bushfire seasons. The broadcasters provided 24-hour coverage that provided immediate and accurate advice from our emergency authorities. Similarly, J-AIR is working closely with the Community Security Group for the same purpose of providing safety and security. I will continue to encourage the Australian Communications and Media Authority to work with J-AIR to secure a broadcasting licence and look forward to speaking to the residents of Higgins from across the airwaves of J-AIR in the near future. Community radio helps ensure everyone in our community has a culturally relevant voice. I commend this motion to the House.

11:51 am

Photo of Mike KellyMike Kelly (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the member for bringing forward this motion and heartily endorse his call for ACMA to issue a community broadcasting licence to J-AIR. This is important from two perspectives that have been highlighted: the cultural and security aspects. I was just at the Queanbeyan Multicultural Festival yesterday in Queanbeyan Park, celebrating the incredible rich diversity of that community. We are supported in that by community broadcasting and the wonderful work done by many people—for example, the work that Cveta Taleski‎ does for the Macedonian community.

But, on top of that, of course, our community radio stations right across Eden-Monaro played a vital role in the disaster response in relation to what we have just been through. It was great to meet with Jon Bisset, the CEO of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, to reflect on that and what more support could be brought to community broadcasting. I want to commend the work of stations like Braidwood FM—Barbed Wireless, as they call it—and also Sounds of the Mountains over in Tumut, who did a fantastic job during all of that.

Reflecting on J-AIR, in particular, we have, as part of the wonderful cultural landscape, the contribution that the Jewish community of Australia has made—and the rich diversity of what is broadcast on J-AIR is a wonderful, living, breathing example of all that that community has contributed to this country. When you talk about discussions and opinions, I know that there is a joke in the community that, if you get two members of the community together, you get three opinions. So you will get a lot of lively debate and discussion, and it is a wonderful, vibrant part of our democracy.

Mention has been made of the security aspects and anti-Semitism. Alongside the member for Berowra and the member for Kooyong, I have experienced some of those vile attacks myself, as my wife and son are Jewish. It is a scourge. We have just heard in this last week comments from the Director-General of ASIO about the rising threat of extreme right-wing violence in this country. It is important to get on top of that, and radio stations like J-AIR will make a tremendous contribution to that. But we all have a role to play.

It is broader than I think many people understand. The sort of vile traffic that has been appearing on our Facebook timelines—and plugged into veterans groups, as I am, I see some of that floating around—and targeting police and other groups more broadly—is expanding as a threat that is supported by foreign intelligence. We have seen revealed in the US Senate Intelligence Committee reports on the Russian interference in the 2016 US election—which is ongoing for this 2020 election—that one of their lines of operation is to discredit liberal democracies and to undermine the social cohesion in those democracies. And one of the ways to do that has been to network and promote these right-wing groups.

There used to be a time when these extreme right-wing people used to just sit in their lounge rooms and scream at the television. Now, they are being networked, feeding on their own vile propaganda, and being spurred on by this material coming from organisations like the special technology centre and the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg, supported and fuelled by the bot factories there and their Eastern European organised crime fronts. This stuff is vile deepfake material, manufactured, and it is having an effect in this country. We have seen the tragic circumstances of the attack over in New Zealand. We must get on top of this. We need the protection of personal data in that space, but we also need to ensure that social media companies are playing their part and accepting responsibility in limiting that terrible, vile stain on our nation and on the international community as a whole.

I know that members will endorse that, but we need a much bigger effort on how we deal with this technologically, and I hope that we can answer that call and heed the warnings that have been made by the Director-General of ASIO. It is a question now of making sure our agencies have the mandate and the means to fight that rising right-wing threat.

Also, in helping these community radio stations, it is important that we open up funding resources. I know the New South Wales Labor Party took a policy to the last election of providing a million dollars in support, plus opening up sponsorship and advertising possibilities. We also need to look at that in terms of what federal support can be brought to this. I know the federal Labor Party took a policy to the last election in relation to assisting the peak body, the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, and we should have a look at that as well. I know that mainstream media is largely withdrawing from regional Australia. It is really those community radio stations that are filling that hole. So I salute this motion and the member for Goldstein for raising it. Let's get behind J-Air.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.