Monday, 9 November 2020
Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I rise to continue speaking about the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020. Where I left off, I was talking about the continuing crises—the bushfires and COVID, but also the crisis in regional media. This government—those opposite—are unfortunately proactively making things worse by cutting the ABC's funding.
Since 2014, around 800 ABC staff have lost their jobs. The Australia Network—so important to our relationships in the Indo-Pacific—has been axed. Shortwave radio has been shut down; that was so important to people on the land and waters of Australia so they can get news and information, whether it is out on a cattle station or on a prawn trawler. The number of hours of ABC's factual programming has dropped by 60 per cent, drama by 20 per cent, and documentaries by 13.5 per cent. What that means is less telling of our stories and fewer jobs for our creative Australians who are telling those stories, including Indigenous storytellers. It's NAIDOC week this week. Those cuts to the ABC are not good for closing the gap, for full reconciliation in our nation or for truth telling.
It is the role of the federal government to make sure that we have a strong independent media. At a time when the government should be investing in the ABC, or at least not cutting it to the extent that they are, the Morrison government is locking in almost $84 million of cuts to the ABC over three years. This is stupid, because we all know that during times of crisis—like in my electorate when there are cyclones bearing down, coming out of the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea—the ABC, through its role and charter, saves lives. The ABC saves lives. In all times of crisis, Australians turn to our national broadcaster for that trusted news and information. Obviously, recent events demonstrate just how much we value and need a strong and independent ABC.
When it comes to kids' television, the federal government have decided that they're going to give funding for kids' TV in Australia to the Australian Children's TV Association and to Screen Australia for production of kids' TV. This shows that they either don't understand the sector or that they deliberately don’t want to spend any money on educating our kids. The problem with giving funding to those two organisations instead of the ABC and NITV is that largely Australian producers and Australian businesses can't access them. It's largely for development funding, not to actually make content. So what the government are doing is exactly anti jobs and growth.
In the time I have remaining, I want to give a shout-out to some of our community radio stations in the Northern Territory that provide information and entertainment into my electorate. There's Hot 100. On the weekend it was great to catch up with Pratty and Joshua—young fella—from Hot 100. They're going to ride an old 1984 Statesman down the track to Adelaide in the Variety NT Bash, raising money for young Territorians. So well done to Pratty and his mates, and well done to Hot 100. Mix FM's Katie Woolf's show in the morning provides great information and debate on local, national and international issues.
I want to acknowledge Radio Larrakia's chair, Donna, the Fox and their hardworking First Nations staff. They get good product out through their radio stations. I have a lot to do with Territory FM and in particular Mel Little. I just want to give you a shout out, Mel, for all the volunteering you do in our community. I want to thank these radio stations along with the ABC because they keep my electorate informed. There's also Top Country and Darwin's 97 FM. They are really good people with good values. They all love the Territory; they make me so Territory proud.
What doesn't make me proud, though, is when I see a government faced with a $1 trillion debt that prioritises things that aren't important over funding our ABC, which we all know, not only in times of crisis but every single day, is vital to our democracy and to fair reporting in our country. I ask the government and I ask the minister to have a good look at yourselves. Fund the ABC, because it's an investment in our nation.
I'm very pleased to rise to speak on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020. I know that this bill will not lower the amount of local content that is currently available to regional audiences on commercial radio, which is a great thing. I want to give a really huge shout out to all my local commercial radio stations on the New South Wales South Coast—2ST, Power FM, 2EC, Wave FM and i98 FM. My local TV stations, WIN Television and 9News Illawarra, are champions. They have their reporters out on the ground all the time.
But first of all I want to talk about commercial radio and the role of my local radio stations during the recent bushfires, just to show how crucial they are for our community. I grew up listening to my local 2ST radio station. Back in the days, Graham French was the news reader. He started working at 2ST in 1983, when I was 13 years old. Like many in my community, I listened over many years. There was news, there was three-way turf talk and lots of coverage of community events, and I was totally fascinated. In fact, it was Graham French and the 2ST news stories of the coverage of the Nowra pool campaign that eventually led me into this place. I could never forget the media stories about my beloved pool being described as an ugly duckling. Here I am, and I am pleased to say that that pool has been transformed into a very modern aquatic park.
But on his retirement in 2015, after more than three decades on the radio—it is important to mention this today—Graham said that, of the thousands of stories he covered over his years, the Shoalhaven bushfires in 2001 proved to be one of the most challenging. He said in those times, the radio was the immediate means of letting people know that their home may be in danger and they have to get out. It was horrendously long hours, he went on to say. That was some time ago.
Fast forward to the 2019-20 bushfires, and I'm pleased to say that 2ST and its journos were there every step of the way. They were tireless. I want to send a big shout out to Gavin and all the team at 2ST and Power FM for their excellent coverage. I spent a lot of time at fire control, the Shoalhaven emergency management centre, during the fire, and I saw the commercial broadcasters, all the broadcasters, and the fantastic role they played in ensuring that our community had the information they needed to remain safe. Apart from that, radio 2ST is there every step of the way. Every major public community event I go to, radio 2ST are there. They're sponsoring events. Whether it's the local show or a town hall meeting, they're there, and I really want to thank them.
Another commercial broadcaster in my electorate is the wonderful radio 2EC in the Eurobodalla. What a wonderful station and presenters we have there as well. Of course, we've got Tonya, the wonderful radio journalist who did an amazing job during the bushfires. I say 'job', but it went far beyond a job. It was 24/7 for weeks and weeks, and months and months, with little rest. It's important that that contribution is recognised in this parliament, because broadcasters and the staff there did the most amazing job. They helped their communities. What Tonya reported on not only helped save lives but helped people with vital information. It was someone to listen to in the most crazy and distressing of times. And our radio journos heard so much. They saw so much. They saw the anguish; they saw and heard the fear. And then, when the fires were over and a lot of the international media went away, it was our local journos, our local commercial radio broadcasters and our local ABC, that were there. That recovery is ongoing, and it's going to take years. But it's our broadcasters and our journos that are there every single day. I know that they are there; they're always asking the hard questions, but they're also sharing the many, many positive stories that have come out of this awful experience. Our community has rallied so much. There are great stories, and our commercial radio broadcasters are part of telling that story.
I just want to mention Wave FM and i98 a little bit further north but also covered by my electorate. And even though they are a little bit further north, they were still talking about the bushfires and ensuring that people in the northern parts of the electorate had that vital information. We also had so many donations and so many people wanting to help. Our journalists and our commercial radio broadcasters did a fantastic job at helping people there.
What an amazing job our local TV stations did during the bushfires and are always doing every single day. WIN TV and Nine News Illawarra are just amazing. They also worked tirelessly to cover the 2019-20 bushfires. I want to say thank you to each and every local TV journo, cameraperson and everyone working behind the scenes to get the stories out to our communities. Our local TV reporters on the ground are essential. During the bushfires, when your phones go down, when your NBN goes down and even your radio might go down, it's vital to have local reporters there to cover what's really going on on the ground. We need to support our local regional media. Local regional media covers the stories we need to hear and it means local jobs. We need to do absolutely everything to support our local media. We can't lose our local media. We need to stand up and fight for our local media, and that's what I will continue to do every single day.
Mr Deputy Speaker, as you have heard, the Labor Party will be supporting the passage of this bill. It makes only relatively minor amendments to local content obligations and the Australian content transmission quota. But, as you will know from the debate we've had previously, Labor is very concerned, as am I, that regional Australians are missing out as a result of this government's ongoing failure to support regional media and, in particular, its cuts to the ABC. You will have known, I'm sure, that for some time we have seen in my electorate of Lingiari, affecting all of remote northern Australia, the loss of public broadcasting reach, with the decision by this government, by the ABC, to cease its shortwave transmission service in the Northern Territory in January 2017.
I'll just remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this was a decision taken by the board after it had its budget cut by this government. But, sadly, the board did not undertake any informed community consultation around the impact of this decision to cut this short-wave service. The decision and its impact are still being felt across northern Australia. Short-wave radio provided vital news and information services, including local radio and emergency services, that are, as you would understand, Mr Deputy Speaker, crucial to those of us who live in remote areas—particularly in times of natural disaster.
The ABC's claim that the majority of listeners would be able to access ABC services via AM and FM radio, digital radio and online streaming, or via the VAST platform, does not account for the reality of service availability in the bush. Even now, in 2020, former listeners and users of the ABC's short-wave service in the Northern Territory have been unequivocal in voicing their concern about the coalition's failure to intervene in this matter back in 2017. I think that this was to save something around $5 million and it had an impact beyond Australia into the South Pacific. It was a foolish decision; a stupid decision—a decision which ought to be reversed—and this government stands condemned for not making sure it was. Ask any truck driver up and down the Stuart Highway and they will tell you how much they miss the currency and quality of the short-wave service compared to online streaming and the VAST platform.
We have seen a hollowing out of regional media across this country. As we know, we've had over 200 titles close since January 2019. One of those was in Alice Springs: The Centralian Advocate. It was closed earlier this year, in June. It was our twice-weekly newspaper—sadly, a News Limited paper, but, nevertheless, it closed. The last edition came after 73 years of reporting local news; arts and entertainment; local council matters; births, deaths and marriages; local sporting events; and pictures of local kids doing things in their community, and with a sense of progressing and providing a local identity for Alice Springs and the wider Centralian community. It was, actually, a very effective local voice, despite the fact that it was owned by News Limited. Their decision to close it, however, has left a huge void—a huge void in the media of Central Australia. There is an online newspaper, the Alice Springs News, but it does not have the sort of reach that we had with The Centralian Advocate.
We rely on the ABC and yet we're seeing decisions taken by the ABC in terms of broadcasting which have had a really negative impact on the people of the bush. As a result, we're looking at other sources. There are other sources, but none as reliable or as important as the ABC. In Alice Springs, we have CAAMA, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association; 8CCC, a community radio station; and Sun FM, the local commercial radio station. We have access to NITV and ICTV. Yolngu Radio operates in north-east Arnhem Land and there are community radio stations, apart from in Alice Springs, in Katherine and Nhulunbuy. And then there are the RIBS, the remote Indigenous radio services, working in places such as Nauiyu, Yarralin, Kalkarindji and many other places across remote Australia. These RIBS communities have a small transmitter, able to cut into radio and TV services and to put in locally produced materials. They are, like a lot of things from this government, severely underfunded.
We have an obligation to try to ensure that people who live in remote parts of the country and in regional parts of Australia have access to decent media. As you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance states, referring to decisions taken:
In recent months we have seen more than 150 regional and community newspapers cease printing. This is on top of the 106 local and regional papers that closed over the previous decade.
Many of those papers are more than a century old. Many may never reopen.
It shouldn't be this way. The stories of regional and rural Australia are important: our stories matter.
… … …
the local paper is the heartbeat of the community. It provides local news that the big cities can't and/or won't provide.
It also quotes the UTS Centre for Media Transition as saying that regional media is 'a focal point for community connection, cohesion and education'. The MEAA speaks to the issues around media diversity and the concentration of media in this country, issues which should be high on the agenda of this parliament. We need to make sure that we get as much access to new media as we possibly can, but there's no substitute for the quality of local and regional media, local and regional newspapers, local and regional radio, and other services such as those. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020 as amended by Mr Watts. Australian media, as we all know, are facing many challenges with respect to technology and changing audiences, and traditional business models have had to change. Centre Alliance is aware of these challenges, which is why in 2017 we negotiated for an ACCC inquiry into the impact digital platforms were having on advertising in the media market, as part of our support of the government's media regulation reforms. As a direct result of that inquiry, the government directed the ACCC to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media and digital platforms. Two of the world's biggest platforms, Google and YouTube, have instigated a campaign using their audiences regarding this draft code, which has caused some concern in my community.
We've only seen the exposure draft, and Centre Alliance needs to see the final legislation before we feel that we really need to reach a position. However, we believe media operators should be fairly compensated for the content they produce, and that includes the ABC and SBS. The media landscape is changing and regulations need to change to keep pace, and that's why we will support this bill before the House. This bill primarily provides flexibility for regional, commercial and television broadcasters to meet local content obligations. In some limited circumstances it also provides some relief from obligations. Regional commercial radio broadcasters will be able to split their local news and information content obligation exemptions into two periods, and, in certain circumstances, regional and remote television broadcasters constrained by commercial agreements with metropolitan broadcasters will be deemed to have complied with the Australian content quota.
This is about making regional media voices sustainable, and that's something that we support. It's one of the reasons why I approached the Minister for Finance in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis to request some flexibility to use my office budget to include community radio. As an elected member, I use the resources—as do all of us here—to communicate with my community. Public safety information and Treasury support measures relating to COVID-19 were particularly important, so I sent out a newsletter to households, and I placed advertisements in regional newspapers and content on my social media platforms. However, it was brought to my attention by community radio stations that they felt they had been overlooked, and this is because the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations used to preclude the use of office expenses to pay for such broadcasting. So I wrote to the finance minister, and I'm very pleased that the government agreed with that view, and now all of us in this place can support our community broadcasters as well as ensuring that we can get our messages to our communities—particularly with respect to COVID, which was so critical—out as far and wide as we possibly can. As I said, I would like to thank the minister for having the vision to include that.
Community radio engages 5.8 million people each year. It's an extremely effective medium for reaching regional audiences. I know firsthand. I've had a long association with community radio, although I'm no longer a volunteer, and it's volunteers who keep community radio stations alive. More than 25 years ago I had my own program on community radio. My hair was a different colour then; there was a lot less grey in it! But there was that youthful exuberance, and I loved it. And I would like to give a call-out to a lady called Judith Waugh. Judith Waugh still has a show on Coast FM. She was a wonderful mentor to me. She was very warm and engaging and invited me onto her show. That's where I learnt about community radio and that's where I built the confidence to eventually have my own show.
I have so many amazing community radio stations in my electorate. I've got TribeFM at Willunga, Triple Z at McLaren Vale, KIX FM on Kangaroo Island, Alex FM at Goolwa, Happy FM and Fleurieu FM on the south coast and Lofty Radio in the Adelaide Hills, and then online there's Hills Radio—and we're hoping Hills Radio might be able to receive a proper broadcast licence. I regularly talk to Bob, Jack, Mike, Dianne, Janet, Tanya and Chris, as well as one young person who in a way reminds me of myself when I was on radio. His name is Ryder Grooby. Ryder is 12 years of age, and he has his own radio station on Fleurieu FM, on Thursdays, and he's an amazing young man. Community radio is a wonderful training ground for young people.
I would really encourage every member in this place, if they don't already do so, to get into your community radio stations. They will warmly welcome you, and they will be willing to chat about anything you're interested in, as long as it's based in the community. We talk about everything from raising dogs—I have a Great Dane, and we talk about that—all the way through to community issues that are happening in our area. It's lots of good fun. I'd also like to acknowledge a gentleman who's recently retired from Happy FM and has been the lifeblood of Happy FM. His name is Ken Burgess. Ken has moved up to sunny Queensland. He's left Victor Harbor and is deeply missed in our community. Thank you, Ken, for all your years of dedication and volunteering. That's what this is all about; it's about volunteering.
I commend this bill to the House. I look forward to being able to support my regional community radio stations and regional newspapers in my electorate into the future.
The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020 is an important bill, because it's offering some regulatory relief and therefore cost relief to many regional broadcasters, who are facing an existential dilemma. As you know, digital platforms have changed the way people engage with the media. Digital platforms involve streaming video on demand—Netflix and Stan—or, before that, just regular pay TV. The other digital giants in the platform, since Google and Facebook, are hoovering up the vast majority of potential advertising revenue. And, to add insult to injury, a lot of regional TV and in particular broadcasters are buying shows from the major metropolitan broadcasters, and the potential for them to earn income to keep them a viable business is limited if the shows that they have bought from the major broadcasters come with ads already embedded in them, so that the portion of time in which they can place local ads is reduced. So, these practical, commonsense amendments make a lot of sense, and hopefully they will put our regional radio broadcasters and our regional TV broadcasters in a better space.
The first exemption is regarding local content, or material of local significance, which is its formal name—news, weather, community service announcements or emergency announcements. Under the current legislation, there can be leave given over a five-week period, but, as media markets do quieten down over more than just the Christmas-New Year period, it will allow them to split this five-week so-called leave pass or exemption into two periods. That will work with the ebb and flow of the advertising market as well, and with what people's habits are when they go on long holidays over the major holiday periods of Easter and school holidays, and the big one at Christmas time. It will also allow that the three-yearly mandatory statutory review will no longer be required, and the trigger events that will create changes in more local content requirements will be similarly adjusted.
In the regional TV situation, the mandatory local content is really what attracts people, and that's what I'd like to bring to the attention of the House. Regional broadcasters deliver a lot of local and regional news, which is what most people in regional Australia are looking for. Because the other media are saturated with the national and international news, their point of difference is the local and the regional news items. And they are suffering from the same phenomena. Many potential advertising markets are suffering on traditional broadcasters, because, as I said, a lot of the eyeballs that watched TV in the old system, where you just had four major broadcasters, are now watching streaming video on demand, or they're getting their entertainment via streaming on Facebook; so the advertising is going onto the Facebook platform or the Google platform, and, as a result, as there are only so many advertising dollars available, that's diverting potential customers away from our regional TV and radio broadcasters.
The subcontent for drama, children's TV and documentary production is still required, however. That is a big relief to many people. We don't want to lose our local drama being seen, because, if we are ever going to grow our local screen production, getting shows on TV is a great way of doing that.
So these are practical, commonsense measures. They will, hopefully, support many local and regional TV and radio stations. We have plenty of them in the Lyne electorate, from the broadcasters in the Hunter Valley to those in the Manning and Great Lakes regions and up into the Hastings and Port Macquarie areas. They are all distinct markets. The TV media washes over the whole lot. Certainly we have many local community radio stations like Great Lakes FM and Bucketts Radio, and we have recently had a community radio station set up down in the Tea Gardens area, which is great news.
We all like our local and regional producers. We hope these amendments will make a material difference to them all.
I rise to speak on this legislation, the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020, because media and a strong independent media have always been important, but, as we have seen, in 2020 they are more important than ever. One only has to look at what has happened in the US with the presidential election to understand why it's important to have news services around the world, but particularly in this country, that are based on those tried and true principles of journalism: of independence, of reporting facts, of having fact checks, of investigative journalism and of quality. Now more than ever that's what we need in this country.
Sadly, in the media landscape across Australia now, more than ever, those principles are in jeopardy. Not because of the amazing people that work in the traditional forms of journalism and who are committed to all of those important principles of journalism; and not because of the entrepreneurial, innovative and amazing people who work in the new forms of media, which I'll turn to in a moment, because most of them, and certainly all of those I've met in my community, are committed to those traditional important principles of media; but because of all the external threats that are placed upon them. The role of government is to regulate the media, to protect strong, independent media. Now more than ever our national broadcaster, the ABC, needs to be funded properly and protected. We need an independent national broadcaster which is not scared to do the investigative journalism and hold power to account. We need an independent national broadcaster which is dedicated to Australian faces, Australian voices and Australian stories—be they documentaries, drama or music. The ABC is one of our most trusted institutions, and for good reason. Every opportunity I get, I lend my voice to saying this is an institution that we must treasure and we must protect.
This legislation talks about regional commercial radio in particular. Obviously I don't represent a regional seat, but it's really important that we remember the situation of areas like mine, which is an outer suburban area, when it comes to local media. We rely really heavily on local media for our local stories in the same way that regional areas do, because the state media and what happens in the CBD of Melbourne is not always what is happening in Frankston and Carrum Downs and Mount Eliza and Langwarrin. We have our own stories and our own interests, and we need those to be able to be reported. We had the Frankston Standard Leader, which was a hard copy paper which was dedicated to our area. Yes, it was News Limited and behind a paywall online, but it existed; it is now really a couple of stories a week. We have the Mornington Peninsula News Group, which is one publication a week.
We have, though, amazing local media. RPP FM is our community radio station, which broadcasts down the Mornington Peninsula and up to Frankston, dedicated to local stories, local people and local news. During COVID, LOCKDOWN Radio with Brendon and Shivani has been a source of comfort, support and information for people right across my electorate and down into the Mornington Peninsula and the electorate of Flinders. Community radio is where you find professionals who are giving their time and their skills to make sure that we get to hear the stories that matter to us. You find volunteers who are learning their craft or who are dedicated to making sure that we get to hear jazz music from 1920—because people in my community love it—and the most modern music from 2020, as well as local football, netball, soccer, arts and craft stories. I was really proud to join with the state member for Frankston to support RPP FM to get a multicultural radio grant. They're going to be broadcasting issues that matter to people in languages such as Italian, Lebanese, Spanish, Chinese; and we have a number of people in our electorate from Zimbabwe. It's that building of community and spirit that has to be fostered and supported.
As I mentioned, we also have really great, innovative people in the electorate of Dunkley who are using social media to fill that gap and feed that need for local stories. GameFace started broadcasting local footy and is now aiming to broadcast netball. They're also branching out into stories about our community on their Facebook page as a local TV service. We have Facebook pages like elsewhere around the country, but they are devoted not just to talking about what is happening at the corner store and whether people are parked across the lines in local parking spaces but to delivering the news of the local community. Like Frankston Community Noticeboard, where a lot of people in our electorate turn on Facebook in order to get the local news.
These sources and the people that run them are really important, and we are grateful for them every day, but they don't replace a robust, mainstream, independent media that reports on the facts, that reports on what is happening in a way people can trust. That has to be treasured and protected in Australia; we've seen the consequences in America of what happens when it's not, and that's a path that none of us in Australia is willing to go down. It's incumbent on all of us in this place to support our local community radio, our local newspapers and our local Facebook media groups, and to make sure that our Australian national broadcaster continues to be properly funded and properly supported to be that fierce, independent broadcaster that we all respect so much.
I rise to support the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020. All of us in this place respect the importance of Australia's media and particularly its independence. However, due to the long-term actions of this government, independent and sustainable regional broadcast media is no longer sustainable. The range of regulations this government has forced on regional broadcasters is not reflective or relevant to the output or the reach of these stations. Regional media is not the poor cousin to our metropolitan broadcasters; it is no less important.
This government has shown that regional media was facing market failure—and it failed to act. In 2017, 12 regional and remote stations failed to meet the Australian content quota. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications made it clear that some regional broadcasters were facing difficulties in meeting their Australian content requirements. Three years later, the government now decides to act as the guardian of regional media, while allowing regional broadcasters to stumble without any support. The department stated that the government will need to take action before more market failure occurs as this would limit regional audiences' access to Australian content.
If the government supports the notion that the current framework for regional and remote broadcasting isn't sustainable, why have they waited so long to act? This industry is facing an existential threat, and this government has done too little too late. Jobs, livelihoods and access to information are at risk in regional Australia. We have already seen local media in metropolitan areas slow significantly and start to cut jobs. We are seeing the ABC being forced to cut jobs because successive coalition governments are strangling the ABC through budget shortfalls.
This bill will allow regional broadcasters to monitor their work at a pace of their own output, which includes easier staff rostering, a move towards a complaint based approach rather than ACMA monitoring, and the removal of the three-year statutory review. The bill will also not decrease the amount of local content which is currently available to regional audiences on commercial radio. The landscape of media in regional areas is not comparable to metropolitan Australia and can't be held to the same obligations. Regional Australians cannot be sold short. Major structural reform is needed if regional media is to survive indefinitely without market failure. It's taken three years for the government to do anything about this problem, yet this bill is an all-too-familiar quick fix. A little bit of duct tape cannot hold back a cracking dam wall. Longstanding regulatory burdens cannot be undone with a simple amendment. If this is what the government has been working on for three years, it's not really a good effort.
A new regulatory framework needs to be prepared for regional media outlets. It needs to be developed with evidence based research and industry consultation, and have at its core the interests of regional communities. Recent times have shown just how much regional communities rely on their local media. We saw it during the bushfires, and we're also seeing it now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bushfire victims had to rely heavily on regional broadcasts for the safety of their friends and family. If not for quick, decisive information, many Australians could have lost more than their homes; they would have lost their lives.
With the announcement that more than 125 News Corp papers will now be closed or digitalised, regional communities take another hit. Some of these outlets provided a voice for the local community for more than 150 years. Regional Queensland is the hardest hit by these closures, with 22 publications going digital. This not only monopolises and limits the regional content being displayed but it also means the journalists who have worked in these regional communities will no longer have a job and/or opportunities in the area, further draining regional areas of local talent and experienced opportunities. During these tough times, to further burden regional communities that are attempting to recover from drought, bushfire and recession is unacceptable. Put simply, the government has failed to act in the best interests of these communities. It has failed to reform the regulatory framework that has burdened the industry for years. We can't allow the government to turn a blind eye to the issues in regional Australia and, with that, allow it to destroy the outlets which have proven invaluable for decades. The government needs to do more to ensure the long-term sustainability of regional media on which regional communities and, more importantly, Australians rely.
I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020.
Local media obviously matters, and the decline of local media in this country should concern us all. Let's not forget that media isn't just a business. Media is also a vital community service, and we need to legislate and regulate it with that in our mind. We've all seen the lovely little stories in our local papers about the child under the Christmas tree the day before Christmas, the local sporting champions having a big win or the much-loved local personality or character. This stuff matters to our community. It matters a lot, and the more our regional media is diminished and centralised in control centres, even interstate, the more those lovely little local stories that really matter to the community are disappearing from our TV stations, from the radio stations and from our print newspapers.
Scrutiny of local issues is even more important. In terms of media in regional areas—and let's face it, all of Tasmania is a regional area, in many ways even, including the capital, Hobart—as our local media is diminished then the scrutiny of, for example, local government and state government is also diminished. The member for Lyons would be well aware of the controversy at the moment in Tasmania over the COVID-19 hardship grants and the very serious allegations being levelled at the government that it ended up being just another slush fund for the state government to bankroll favoured regions or favoured organisations. The only reason we know about that is because our local media, which has a good understanding of the local political situation, has taken a real lead on this—in particular The Mercury newspaper in Hobart. The more we diminish our local media the more we diminish our capacity to have hot topics like that and to really get to the bottom of what's going on in our local community.
Local knowledge is important, and it's important that the local media know what's going on with these hardship grants I referred to, but it's perhaps even more important in times of crisis—when there's a flood or a bushfire. Of course, Tasmania has had some shocking episodes of bushfires over many decades, including earlier this year when there were some very nasty bushfires in the north of the state. If you're relying on newsrooms or news coordinators from elsewhere or flying in news crews from elsewhere, how on earth can they cover those stories properly? How on earth, when it's an emergency broadcaster like the ABC, can they properly inform the local community about the situation, give reliable warnings about preparations that need to be made and evacuation routes that need to be considered or, heaven forbid, used?
We need local journalists on the ground who understand the local situation, especially in times of crisis. I make the point again: the more that Tasmanian news is coordinated through a control room, for example, in Canberra, then the capacity to provide that vital public service is more and more diminished.
Of course local jobs are important, and that's something we're seeing firsthand in Hobart. Over the last decade or so, The Mercury newspaper has really been gutted of jobs. You see it when they do the editing interstate and you get the most silly editing mistakes. Our local commercial TV and radio have been gutted over the last decade. The ABC has been gutted more than most. Those of you who have been to Hobart might have noticed the ABC building, near what we call Railway Roundabout. It's two stories—quite a large building. It wasn't that long ago that that was full of ABC staff doing really important local media for the whole of the state, including producing some very important programs. If you go there now, the ABC inhabit a part of the ground floor and the other floors are full of everything from the college of GPs to even a commercial TV station—even that has got a presence in that building. That reflects a whole lot of jobs—very important, specialised and technical jobs—that are now gone from the state. I again in this place lament the fact that the ABC has become Sydney centric at the expense of places like Hobart and, in fact, the whole state of Tasmania.
Local content matters. It really does matter. If I could talk not just about regional media but really about media more broadly across the whole country—it's simply not good enough that media in this country now, when they're required to produce local content, they'll put a news bulletin on the telly, they might broadcast a footy game and they might have some pretty trashy cheap reality show, and they'll say: 'That's our local content, done and dusted. We've complied with what the government requires.' That's not good enough. The government really should be looking to legislate the type of local content that Australian media buys in and broadcasts, especially drama. It's not good enough that, for drama in this country and the movies, you turn on the telly and it's something out of the UK or something out of North America. Of course a lot of that is very good and very entertaining, but it means that our own arts sector is just withering on the vine when it comes to that sort of production.
This goes to the cost of production. Of course it's cheaper for the ABC to rerun, for the seemingly thousandth time, Yes Minister, and it probably costs them next to nothing—
An honourable member: A very good show!
It's a very good show, and sometimes I think it's more of a documentary than a comedy, a bit like The Hollowmen. All jokes aside, if you allow our media to just show what they want, then they will buy the cheapest they can get away with and it means our arts sector is all the more diminished. We need a carrot and a stick. We need a carrot to incentivise local production, but we also need a stick to make sure that our Australian media has an adequate amount of local content to ensure that our arts sector thrives and does well and we become an exporter of quality content to other countries.
Just recently, I was reminded of the challenge that our production houses have in this country while talking to one of the co-owners of a company in Hobart that provides children's TV content, and, in particular, animation. It's a very good outfit. They do a very good job, and they produce content very efficiently to a very high quality, but they're saying that a production house in India or the Philippines can produce the same animated content to a reasonable standard for one-tenth of the cost. That's not a criticism of the production houses in India or in the Philippines or in Hobart; it's just a fact of life that their production costs are so low.
So do we want our children increasingly to be watching something produced overseas somewhere like that? It might be good content and it might be educational, but it's not us. It's not Australia. It doesn't reflect our country and what's going on in this place. You can only watch so many reruns of Sesame Street before you're craving something from Australia. Of course, we're all of a generation—or some of us are of a generation—that grew up on Skippy and all sorts of other good shows. But we're not seeing that sort of thing produced in this country, and it's up to the government to shape the media landscape to ensure that sort of production occurs now and in the future.
We also need a level playing field—while I'm on a bit of a roll here. One of the problems we have for our local content producers and media companies is that it's not a level playing field and they're competing with the streaming services, for whom there aren't any effective local content requirements. I met recently with Minister Fletcher to discuss this, and he, to his credit, is alive to the issue that we really need to see the streaming services that are coming into this country lift their game if they want to continue to have almost unrestrained access. I impressed upon the minister that we really should be talking about not just improved local content requirements for Australian media but also introducing mandatory Australian content, not voluntary Australian content, for the streaming services.
In closing, I just say to the government that we've touched on a number of issues here. First and foremost, let's not forget the value of our regional media. It's very important to this country. It's very important to communities in the bush and in regional areas, and it's very important to my own community in Hobart. The media is increasingly concentrated and increasingly capital-city-centric, and it's up to us in this place to arrest that and to ensure that that public interest role of the media is fulfilled. Sometimes it can be with a carrot, with incentives, but sometimes it's got to be with a stick. Sure, there are extra challenges on Australian media at the moment on account of COVID-19, but the fact is it's part of a longer trend as well. The media needs to reinvent itself, and we need to ensure that, as it's reinventing itself, it remembers its important role and serves regional areas.
I've also touched on the broader issue of local content and doing everything we can in this place to encourage increased local content but also quality local content—for example, drama—so that the young people who want to be actors or other performing artists have a pathway to learn their trade, to do work, to earn an income and to realise their potential. It's just not good enough for the government to throw around hundreds of millions of dollars to encourage foreign production companies to come out to, say, Sydney and make something with foreign actors. I think that's missing the point. We should be spending the money that's required to ensure Australian production companies, using Australian actors and Australian facilities, are making the world's best content for TV, for radio, for print and for streaming services.
Talking of streaming services, I make the point again that they're getting a free ride in this country and it's crucifying companies like that company I referred to in Hobart, who are producing real quality animated children's content for the media but can only fight the good fight so long. We in this place need to do everything to give them a hand to make sure they can survive and prosper. When our arts sector are given a fair go, they produce content as good as or better than content produced anywhere else, and there's no good reason why we can't be a significant exporter to other countries, but it's going to need help from governments to achieve that when you are up against production costs like those I mentioned in India and the Philippines, where the production costs for animated content are a tenth of the cost of producing it in Australia.
We have a wonderful arts sector, and this is another example of where we in this place are missing the opportunity, and governments are missing the opportunity, to celebrate and to support that arts sector. I tell you what: when some parts of our world are gone—in particular these production houses and our regional media—we'll miss them and we'll wonder how on earth we were so silly as to let them go.
I would like to thank the members who have contributed to the debate on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020.
The bill will amend the local content framework for commercial radio licensees, to reduce the regulatory burden on regional licensees. It will also amend the Australian content multichannel quota so that regional commercial television licensees are not left in the position of failing to satisfy their regulatory requirements due to programming decisions beyond their control. The bill amends a number of provisions within the local content framework for regional and commercial radio licensees, providing licensees with a greater flexibility in complying with the framework. These amendments are relevant to the material of local significance obligation and the minimum service standard obligation.
The bill will amend the local content exemption period provisions and increases the flexibility of the local content exemption period by allowing licensees to split their exemption period to cover multiple holiday periods. By allowing licensees to self-nominate their own exemption periods, this amendment will make the exemption period more efficient for licensees, as well as reducing the regulatory burden associated with the local content exemption period provisions.
The bill will also remove public holidays from the minimum service standard obligation. Material that must be broadcast under the minimum service standards can also be used to acquit the material of local significance obligation. However, licensees are not required to broadcast material of local significance on public holidays. Therefore, the bill seeks to better align the two obligations by removing the requirement to broadcast the minimum service standards on public holidays.
The bill will also remove the requirement for licensees to publish local content plans, which detail how licensees propose to meet the minimum service standards. Local content plans place a significant regulatory burden on licensees but often provide minimal support for increased levels of local content in regional areas. Therefore, the bill will propose that licensees instead use the local content statement that they must develop under the material of local significance requirement. Local content statements are more streamlined than local content plans, and this change will significantly reduce the burden under the local content framework. The bill will also remove the statutory review provision for the local content framework. The statutory review is considered to be unnecessary, given the ongoing focus on the local content framework on a routine basis.
In the area of regional and remote commercial television licences, the bill proposes to insert a deeming provision with the effect that licensees are deemed to have complied with the multichannel obligation. This deeming provision will only apply if licensees broadcast the same amount of Australian content on each multichannel they carry as their metropolitan affiliate has broadcast. It takes account of the current realities of delivering multichannel content in regional and remote Australia, noting that it is becoming more commercially unsustainable for regional and remote licensees to carry the full suite of multichannels.
The bill provides an important reduction in the regulatory burden for regional commercial radio licensees and regional and remote commercial television licensees. It will amend the local content framework to make regulatory compliance easier for licensees.
Again, I thank members for their contributions to the debate and I commend this bill to the chamber.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Gellibrand 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 words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.