House debates

Wednesday, 2 June 2021


Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading

9:59 am

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last night, time didn't allow me to finish my comments about this bill. One thing that is really important in this bill is that there are amendments to schedule 5 of the bill to allow the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund to have an extension of time to administer all of the grants before them. As you can appreciate, COVID disrupted a lot of regulatory and administrative processes in many departments and statutory authorities, and ACMA was not immune to this. It is estimated that there are 83 outstanding grants from this Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, which is designed to support—exactly as it is titled—regional and very small news outlets. If we followed the current regulations, there would be about 30 of these grant opportunities that couldn't be administered and delivered before the fund would extinguish. So there is an extension of time for one year to allow this fund to be administered.

As I said at the outset, there is this huge digital disruption going right through the businesses of the traditional news and media players. As I said yesterday, it's taking no prisoners. Whilst there are quality programs and TV channels with news, drama and children's programs, the businesses that have delivered this for generations are under existential threat from the digital video streaming services and digital platforms that are disrupting. The ones I have mentioned—Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Stan and all of these similar sorts of digital platforms—are cannibalising the advertising revenue that all of these businesses have relied upon. They are also stealing viewers, because people have a wider choice.

But it's really important that we support these small publishers, newspapers and radio stations that are part of the fabric of Australia, both in metro and, most importantly, regional Australia, because there is a different paradigm in regional Australia. Many people aren't part of the digital world. There are many older people in regional Australia who don't get the benefit of all of these digital services. We do want to maintain independent local news and we do want to maintain Australian drama being projected on to free-to-air TV and to video subscription services, but they are being challenged. They are in the battle for their own business's lives. I don't think even Foxtel is immune to the challenges, so the difficult decision to reduce the eligible drama scheme burden of 10 per cent on such businesses was a difficult one.

There are other solutions in the latest budget, and I will just check my figures. For the Australian Children's Television Foundation, which has been funding production of Australian children's drama and other children's productions, there is another $11.9 million over four years for grants they can administer to try to make up for this change. There is also an appropriation of $3 million of operational funding for the Australian Children's Television Foundation. And that is on top of the $20 million that was announced in the 2021 budget. So that's a total of $31.9 million for the Australian Children's Television Foundation to fund more children's productions.

The other good news in the 2021-22 budget was that Australian Associated Press Newswire will receive $15 million more appropriation out of the Public Interest News Gathering, or PING, program. This appropriation in this latest budget is on top of the $5 million they received in the 2020-21 budget.

So there is a yin and a yang, but, as I said, we really want these free-to-air and video subscription services to survive. We want the full suite. So we have had to make these difficult decisions, but we've tried to make it up on the other side of the ledger, because, as I said, they are all under threat from the digital revolution, and the whole suite of measures that we announced well before this budget were to try to get them some negotiating power with these new digital platforms.

The other thing that I'm advocating for, most importantly, is that, while these streaming services, so far, have had a leave pass—they can put up in Australia whatever they want—they should have a certain percentage of their streaming platform mandated for eligible Australian drama, including some children's programs. We should be matching what other nations around the world are proposing, because we can get Australian production of real quality stuff that can be shown around the world with our own Australian accent. I've been told, 'Oh, no; video streamers wouldn't want Australian-produced movies because we speak with a funny accent.' Well, hello—that's no excuse. In Europe, in France, their shows either have subtitles or are dubbed over with other languages. We could do that too. So stuff that's produced in Australia for Netflix, Stan, the Disney Channel and all these other streaming services could be sent around the world, equally. It's not unreasonable for us to be asking for what other countries are demanding in Europe and in North America. Everyone should realise that it's important that we have our own production in our own voices of our own stories produced and presented both in our country and around the world. It's good for business. It doesn't cost the taxpayer anything. We should just mandate that, for a certain part of the whole value chain in Australian screen and movie presentations. They would flourish, just by virtue of mandating that this new, giant disruptor of digital video streaming on demand has to play by the same rules as its competitors in video subscription services and free-to-air TV. All have to play by the same rules.

With that, we put this bill before the House. I look forward to supporting Australian screen production for both children and adults in the future.

10:08 am

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Who are we as Australians if we can't tell our own stories? Who are we as Australians if we don't know our own stories? Who are we as Australians if we don't have an industry of creatives—of screenwriters, playwrights and actors? Who are we if we can't tell own stories?

Australian stories matter. I grew up watching Play School and Humphrey B Bear, The Henderson Kids and BMX Bandits, or, when mum and dad didn't notice, sneaking in to watch A Country Practiceseeing Australian faces, hearing Australian voices, watching Australian stories. It would be a tragedy if the generations to come don't get to grow up watching Australian stories and hearing Australian voices. That's why content rules matter. Australian content has an economic impact. It supports small businesses. It supports individuals to pursue their craft. It builds an economic echosphere in Australia around film and TV production. But Australian content rules are more than an economic question. They're actually about the soul of a country and the content of a country and how we depict ourselves, how we know ourselves, how we portray ourselves to the rest of the world.

It matters that we have a vibrant and diverse film and television industry in Australia. It matters for how we see ourselves and it matters for how others see us. We don't want a generation of Australian children growing up thinking that everyone speaks with an American accent, or not having any understanding of some of Australia's history because they haven't seen it portrayed on their phones, their iPads or whatever devices they'll be watching in the next 20 or 30 years. That's why Australian content matters. It's an ethical thing, it's a moral thing, it's a cultural thing about making sure that we are protecting and projecting Australian stories, Australian voices and Australian faces. That's why I'm proud to be part of the Labor Party. We are taking a stance to say we won't be party to dismantling screen content rules. As I said, it is those rules that mean that we have an Australian screen industry. It's those rules that mean that we can tell our stories to ourselves and to the world.

It's beyond time that this government put forward an actual package of reforms to parliament to deal with the changing nature of film and television, to deal with screening via streaming services and to deal with the difference between free-to-air television and paid television. We need a package of reforms that comprehensively deals with the world we're in, that deals with where we're moving to and that preserves those precious Australian stories. It was 2017 when then Minister Fifield announced a broad-ranging and comprehensive review of Australian and children's content, saying that the review would 'identify sustainable policies to ensure the ongoing availability of Australian and children's content to domestic and international audiences, regardless of platform'. But, in June 2021, there's nothing to modernise Australian content obligations for the contemporary media environment, which now includes video streaming platforms.

The problem with this bill is that it proposes to halve Foxtel's Australian screen content obligation without putting anything in its place. There's no requirement, for example, for streaming services like Netflix to produce Australian content. That's what a federal government is for: to put in, in this context, requirements to protect Australian industry and Australian content. We've seen this government water down Australian screen content rules before, when it comes to commercial free-to-air television broadcasters. In September last year the minister announced changes to the drama, documentary and children's content subquota and Australian content rules for broadcasters. Those changes didn't come before the parliament, but were made by the ACMA at the direction of the minister. The same subquotas were suspended in 2020 as an emergency COVID-19 measure and then reintroduced in watered down form from 1 January this year.

We on this side said at that time these changes would mean fewer Australian stories on our television screens and fewer job opportunities for local creators. In the context of a government that is talking up job creation as part of the economic recovery, it is incomprehensible that apparently job opportunities for local creators don't matter. In the context of a government that likes to talk all the time about Australian values and standing up for Australia, it is incomprehensible that the government doesn't stand up for Australian content, for those very same Australian values, for that very same country to be portrayed in documentaries, television series, films to our citizens and across the world. There has been a profound failure to 'Make It Australian', to pick up that campaign. There has been a profound failure for the creators and for the small businesses that comprise the screen sector. There has been a profound failure for Australians who want more Australian stories.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a constituent. I am pretty privileged to represent an electorate which has a range of amazing creative people in it. I have children's authors like Danielle Binks, I have photograph journalists like Vivienne Zink, and I have Chris Gist, who emailed me. He's been involved in film and television for 30 years and commissioned some of Australia's favourite dramas—Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Jack Irish, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and more. He's worked in Australia and he's worked internationally. As he said to me in his email, he knows how valuable this kind of media is, both for the national audience and as an unparalleled form of national cultural projection. In fact, he just finished shooting an independent feature film on the Mornington Peninsular starring Nadine Garner. I am still a bit upset I didn't know she was in my neck of the woods so I could go and be a fan girl but I have mentioned that to Chris and we are going to sort that out later.

Filming that in the Mornington Peninsula area put a lot of money into the local community as well as creating local content. Chris is concerned, he says to me, that local content is taking yet another knock with federal changes to the relevant legislation. Chris wrote to me, 'Writers and producers, like my wife and I, alongside the broader Australian film and television industry really need your support in stopping the erosion of the content requirements.' He has a number of requests, which I have said to Chris I personally think are eminently sensible: regulation of streaming services—20 per cent of locally sourced revenue should be invested in new Australian content; the retention of the Gallipoli clause to allow feature filmmakers to claim for Aussie story elements shot offshore; and the retention of current expenditure thresholds for feature-length content at $500,000. Chris wrote to me, 'Last September, the Morrison government announced significant changes to local content rules on free-to-air commercial television and introduced a point system that will cause'—and he put the following in bold—'an annual decline in drama production of $100 million.

To maintain the growth in Australia's much-loved screen industry, streaming services need to be required to invest in local content. They have phenomenally well during COVID. Netflix and Amazon Prime earn $1.7 to $2 billion annually from Australian subscribers but year after year pay little tax here in Australia. Based on international precedent,' Chris went on to say, 'streaming services should have to invest at least 20 per cent of their locally sourced revenue in producing new Australian content. This will create 10, 000 jobs and stimulate the economic growth that Minister Fletcher aims for. By comparison, the EU's audio visual media directive pegs local European content at 30 per cent and ensures prominence of those works. This of course needs to be new content and not just the low-cost licensing of tired, old titles. 'Of course,' Chris says, and I join with him, 'we welcome the government's recent announcement that the feature film producer offset will be retained at 40 per cent.' And I interrupt Chris's email to pay some tribute to Bryan Brown and other actors and actresses who came to Canberra to lobby so hard for the government to do that. Chris signed off by saying:

Thanks, Peta, for looking at this. Your backing of Australian stories and storytellers is essential to ensuring our life on screen isn't lost. #MakeItAustralian

So I speak on behalf of Chris and everyone in the industry to say that this government must do more to protect Australian content, and it can start by supporting Labor's amendment to this legislation.

The government has cut ABC funding and reduced funding available for the ABC to invest in Australian content. It's watered down Australian content obligations for commercial TV, and now with this bill the government seeks to halve Foxtel's expenditure obligation. I don't know how that sits with also giving Foxtel $30 million to supposedly put women's sport on television, which was a very narrowcast way to try to promote women's sport. It would have been better to put that into the public broadcaster with a requirement that it promote, as it has done for decades, Australian sport. Also, for streaming providers, there remains no obligation at all.

It's hard to regulate new industries. It's hard to keep up in legislative form with changes to technology. There is no doubt about that. Market conditions are challenging. There is a regulatory disparity between broadcasters and streaming services. But just because something is hard doesn't mean that you keep kicking the can down the road. If something is hard, you roll up your sleeves and you get stuck into it and do it, particularly when it is something that goes to the core of being Australian and that goes to the core of promoting our voice to ourselves and the world.

So I urge this government and the minister to reconsider your position on halving Foxtel's content obligation and, as you go about consulting on future changes, to really listen to the input from the people who work in the industry. Listen to the Chris-es of the world, the independent contractors, the small businesspeople, the actors, the screenwriters, the set producers and the people that work in the industry whose jobs I don't know the titles of. Listen to all of those people who rely on Australian content for their livelihood and who produce Australian content for the cultural wealth of our country. Listen to them, Minister, and act on what they say.

10:23 am

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the second reading of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021. Frankly, many of the issues that we are dealing with here are addressing a legislative framework that dates back at least to the early 1990s. I think to begin with we should just reflect on what the policy arguments were initially for having local content requirements as part of broadcasting licences and what the environment was when the policy debates were happening so many decades ago in this area. Of course, it was well before the internet and it was well before modern streaming services. It was when the government issued broadcasting licences, issued the spectrum, and part of the policy framework was a sensible decision that there should only be a certain number of television stations. There were three commercial stations in most markets—Seven, Nine and Ten—on top of which there were the ABC and SBS. So in most of parts of the country you would have access to five free-to-air networks, three of them being commercial.

Obviously a commercial television licence gives you an enormous ability to earn advertising revenue. The view was that, in exchange for the licence and charges related to that, certain requirements and expectations should be put upon those broadcast licensees. That, essentially, has been the case right up until now. We've had requirements, including content requirements and locally produced content requirements.

When we're honest about where that content has been produced, yes, it has been produced in Australia, but in Sydney and Melbourne in particular. As a member from Adelaide, not from one of the two major cities, this is a policy position that has benefited two cities in this country virtually exclusively. That has not been mandated—I accept that—it has just been a consolidation of that industry over the last few decades. There was a time in Adelaide when we produced Humphrey B. Bear and Touch of Elegance. Some of the older members might recall some of the channel 9 programming. That was lost to Adelaide decades ago. Channel 10 now doesn't even produce a news bulletin out of Adelaide. It's recorded and broadcast out of Melbourne. So as far as the non-Sydney-and-Melbourne parts of the country getting much benefit from these content rules is concerned, it's virtually non-existent now. I don't have an issue with that, but it's important to acknowledge and respect that the content that's produced under the current requirements is produced almost entirely in two cities, rather than across the country. As someone who has the South Australian Film Corporation in his electorate, I'm a huge supporter of the creative industry sector and content production. I think it should be happening just as much in Adelaide and across the rest of the country as it is in the two major capital cities.

Back in the 1990s, in 1992—I think one of the amendments relates to the Broadcasting Act 1992—that was the world that we lived in. It's a very different world now. Previous speakers have talked about how we consume content. In my case, it's quite rare for that to be through broadcast media. I'm sure most people in this building consume streaming services regularly. I think 14 million Australians consume streamed content in every given week across the platforms that we all know, such as Netflix, Stan, YouTube, Amazon et cetera. We've got Apple TV, with access to all of those. Many people probably have accounts across all platforms. It's the common habit now to consume content through those platforms. That is the here and now, in 2021, but we don't make decisions just for the here and now. We in this building have to make decisions for the future. No sensible person could possibly suggest that the trends of the last five or six years around streaming are not going to continue. We've seen in the last 12 months unbelievable take-up of streaming content, thanks to our changed lifestyles because of COVID restrictions et cetera. The technology exists for us to have content on demand and to make our own choices about the content. Those are the circumstances we are in, and the policy environment is that we have to respond to those circumstances.

This bill and the government's agenda in this area more broadly have to be taken into account together because we are about encouraging and supporting content creation in Australia. We want to see much more than we've had in the last few decades under the existing regulatory regime. We want to bring a renewed approach to encouraging content on the strongest growth platform, which is online streaming. The streaming platforms don't have any requirements for locally produced content on them. We're not proposing to introduce that. We're proposing to undertake reforms that are going to make the priority of the government's approach to content creation one for all platforms and are going to encourage local production rather than demand it.

My concern has been with the way we've mandated locally produced content. In some ways, the decisions are not made to produce great local content. Instead, probably, they are made so as to tick a box and, in some cases, choose the easiest and cheapest way of producing local content so that the requirements of the legislation are met. Instead of focusing on really good, high-quality content that can be not just run on the broadcast channels but also exported around the world, the attitude is 'because we have to meet certain legislative requirements, let's just do it in the quickest and easiest and cheapest way possible'. I want to see the creative sector in our country have a lot more ambition than that.

I mentioned that the South Australian Film Corporation is located in my electorate of Sturt. They have just completed production on a film called Mortal Kombat, the largest-budget film ever produced in South Australia at $50 million. That's a feature film that has been now released internationally. It's going very well. Unfortunately, the R rating on it makes it a little difficult to access for some. And it might not be every person's preferred genre, but it's the kind of content that is internationally popular and it's the kind of content that people around the planet want to consume. That was produced in my electorate of Sturt, in the city of Adelaide, to be consumed across the globe. That's the kind of content that we as a government need to focus on encouraging. We know that production subsidies and supports are simply the reality of the industry—giving rebates on in-country expenditure.

A few years ago, prior to coming to this House, I was in the G'day USA program in Los Angeles in early 2019—I think it was January—meeting with a number of major film studios there, including Netflix, talking about undertaking production here in Australia, and at every single meeting the same point was made—that we seemed to have quite antiquated laws when it came to the support that was in place for content production and creation in this country, and, in particular, not recognising and allowing for the support that's required for the streaming services, something that we've since fixed and addressed. But, certainly, it was something that was preventing companies like Netflix, Disney, Apple and others from looking closely at undertaking significant production in Australia—because, through a quirk, they weren't eligible for the same production incentives that a feature film was capable of getting access to.

The state government in South Australia, equally, run rebate schemes on not just production but post production et cetera. That's been very important in developing the visual effects industry. I've got a great company in my electorate called KOJO. They work on a number of very substantive Hollywood productions. South Australia—and Australia—is very uniquely placed to grow and expand in the creative industries, not just in film and television but also in gaming.

We're lucky in the sense that, because of our time zone, you can effectively have operations in Western Europe, North America and Australia and work on a 24-hour cycle. As one team are ending their day, they're handing over to the next team, whose day is just beginning and so on and so forth. In Adelaide and across this country, we've got the ability to partner with North American firms and European firms to have that constant 24-hour development loop, so we've got a unique opportunity to dramatically grow this sector. But that needs to include bringing the way in which we regulate and encourage the sector into the 21st century, into the modern world of online streaming content and people making personal decisions about what they do and don't want to watch, rather than just turning on the television and having to watch whatever is being broadcast at that point. That is the future.

Now, I've got confidence in Australian content. There seems to be a suggestion that, if we don't force people to produce Australian content and tell Australian stories, it won't happen. I utterly reject that. That is complete rubbish. Australians are very interested in Australian content and Australian stories. They want Australian reality television. They want Australian drama. They want Australian documentaries. They want Australian comedy. They want to consume local news. Australian content has got an enormous future in Australia, but let's be more ambitious than that. More importantly, it's got a huge opportunity and a future across the planet. Content producers in Australia should be much more ambitious than just satisfying minimum content requirements on Australian television. There needs to be a focus on producing stuff that is going to be of interest around the world. You can produce something now in this country that can go onto a streaming service like Netflix, and anyone who's got an internet connection anywhere in the world can watch it. If we produce good-quality content that's holds an interest for a certain category of people around the world, that's where the growth is going to be. That's where the opportunity in the sector is going to be.

At the South Australian Film Corporation, in my electorate, we produce content for the globe, not for a percentage requirement that's legislated by the Australian government as a licensing requirement for a broadcast television station. We're much more ambitious than that. In this parliament, we should be much more ambitious than that. We should have a confidence, rightly, in Australian content being interesting and there being a demand for it in this country and across the world. We should change our mindset and not say, 'Let's have a law that says you have to have a minimum percentage of this and that and tick these boxes in order to get your television licence and earn your advertising revenue.' That's an attitude that might have had some value 30 years ago, but certainly in 2021 that's not the ambition we should have for the creative industry sector.

This should be a growth sector. We should have ambitions to be producing Australian content that is consumed across the planet, telling great Australian stories. We should be engaging with a sector that's got great on-screen and off-screen talent, a great workforce that's got a great heritage and history in this country but whose best days and years are to come. That means embracing what the future is. What we're doing here is part of a suite of measures. Our government is understanding where content creation and content consumption are going into the future and therefore understanding what the framework needs to be, through legislation and regulation, for encouraging that sector to achieve its full potential.

We must support that sector, and we do support it very strongly, but, instead of supporting it by having a straitjacket on the broadcasting networks of this country, we should be encouraging content creation that can lift its sight well above the horizon of Australia, that can give great Australian content the opportunity and capacity to thrive across the planet, to become a great export industry for this country. That will happen if our mindset shifts to one of being proud of a sector that we know can succeed through consumer choices. We know that content produced and created in this country can have an interest, can be demanded, across the planet. If that becomes the new focus of the creative industries and content production in this country, then we will see a great future for that sector, tens of thousands of jobs created and opportunities for so many companies, businesses, employers and people across that industry to have an excitement about their future. It will also see Australian stories told right around the world. I commend the bill to the House.

10:37 am

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021 and in support of schedule 5 of this bill, which will extend the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund beyond 30 June 2021. We're so fortunate in my electorate of Indi to have a dozen local newspapers that publish on a daily and weekly basis. These papers serve as reliable local news to their readers, and many have done so for more than 100 years. With regional newsrooms around Australia shutting up shop, there is no shortage of high-quality print journalism in my electorate, and I am so fortunate and grateful for that. Take the Border Mail, for example, now under the editorship of Julie Coe. The Border regularly wins nationwide awards and has shone a light on important issues that would otherwise go under the radar of this and other governments. The Border Mail, for example, was instrumental in bringing proper mental health support to the region, through its compassionate and dedicated reporting of the scourge of suicide and self-harm. The Ending the Suicide Silence campaign won the Border Mail Walkley awards and was a great credit to the then editor, Di Thomas, and to her predecessor, Heath Harrison, and all the team at the Border Mail. That campaign, together with the work of the community, resulted in our very own headspace on the border. The Border Mail kept residents informed as the Victorian and New South Wales border closure came down haphazardly overnight in July last year, and they're currently focusing on the many different faces of the housing affordability crisis in our region, making this critical issue impossible for anyone to avoid.

It's easy to see how papers like these are invaluable community assets. We should be doing all we can to keep them in business. Without them, we lose a part of ourselves. They tell our stories and they connect our communities in ways that big-city mastheads and broadcasters never could.

I was proud to learn that two well-deserving local newspapers in Indi were grant recipients in the 2020 round of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund. The first recipient was the Alexandra Newspapers. This company prints the Alexandra Standard and the Yea Chronicle mastheads that serve the people of the Murrindindi shire to the south of my electorate. It's headed up by Karen Morrison, manager and director, and editor Anne Richey and is one of the oldest community newspapers still running in Australia. This grant funded seven new computers and screens for staff and spare laptops for working from home. It also funded a revamp of its website, which now hosts news articles, advertising, videos and links from the Facebook page. The team made sure that the grant money went straight back into the local community. The new equipment came from the country tech store in Alexandra, and the web design was done by a local computer guru Caolan O'Connor from Regional Business Toolkit. In the first month after the launch of the new website, the papers saw a 30 per cent increase in traffic. This is a phenomenal outcome, which shows both the quality of the website and the news content produced by these fabulous local newspapers. The Alexandra Standard and Yea Chronicle have served the Murrindindi region for over 150 years, and this grant went some way towards ensuring that the Alexandra Standard and Yea Chronicle stay in our community for years and years to come.

But we could be doing more. Back in 2019, the Alexandra Newspapers were successful in getting another grant from the innovation fund to produce large-print editions for their papers. Recognising that newsprint was hard to read for the elderly, they scaled up the paper to make the news more accessible to those with low vision. During COVID lockdowns, Alexandra Newspapers delivered a personal copy each week to each nursing home resident in Kellock Lodge, Darlingford nursing home and Rosebank Hostel in Yea to reduce the risk of contamination. Unfortunately, that funding ran out in March 2021. As model community citizens, though, the Alexandra Newspapers have continued to supply the large-print papers to the nursing homes at no charge, but they can't do it forever and will have to discontinue this service, unfortunately, at the end of June this year. That's just one example of what we could be doing if we not only extended but replenished the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund. I call on the government to do that, and I note that there is an amendment from the member for Greenway to make that happen as well.

The second grant recipient from Indi was the Corryong Courier in the Upper Murray, which has been bringing news to the Walwa, Khancoban, Cudgewa and Corryong districts for over 100 years. It's a small but dedicated operation that publishes once a week under the editorship of Mark Collins, and what a fantastic job Mark does. The Corryong Courier were a crucial voice during and after the devastating Black Summer bushfires. They share news and events, recognise community heroes, give local businesses a leg-up with their classifieds and keep tabs on the results of the local footy teams. Telling the story of our bushfire recovery has been so important in this disrupted period of healing, where COVID and border closures kept people apart and made sharing information about what's going on so much harder. The Corryong Courier used its grant funds to upgrade its digital technology and purchase new photographic equipment, which will increase its reach and boost its advertising revenue. The Corryong Courier's website looks just fantastic—get on and have a look—and the Facebook page is going from strength to strength.

Supporting small and regional publishers is so important, and I'm glad that the government's Public Interest News Gathering grants gave some of ours a leg-up during the COVID shutdowns at their peak, when advertising revenue all but dried up. The funding supported several local newspapers, including the Wangaratta Chronicle, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, the Myrtleford Times, The Alpine Observer, The Euroa Gazette and the Mansfield Courier. I was happy to make representations to Minister Fletcher to underscore the need for this funding.

Finally, on the topic of regional and small publishers, I want to register my sadness and disappointment about the end of the Nine News Border North East nightly bulletin. This will come to an end on 30 June, leaving only one local TV news bulletin for a region of over a quarter of a million people. For many people, including older Australians, the nightly local TV news is where they find out reliable information about what's happening in their community. It's where they see the faces they recognise, the people they know and the stories that are so important to their daily life. This is a major blow for our rural and regional communities. Many talented staff have already left the broadcaster, and so many of these staff have taken their families with them too. Many of them are young and many of them were excited to be in the roles that they had, but they are sadly lost to us.

We need more high-quality journalism and more diverse views and stories, not less, in regional Australia. We have extraordinary stories to tell that not only engage us but engage the entire nation and indeed the global community too with the unique aspects of life in rural and regional Australia. The extension of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund is good, and I want to see the same approach to supporting regional journalism applied across all mediums. I commend this bill to the House.

10:45 am

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to be the one who is seconding this amendment by the member for Greenway. This bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill, shows us the Liberal government's vision for Australia. It's a future that has no place for high-quality Australian television. It's a future that has no place for a publicly funded ABC broadcaster. We know they had their federal council here last weekend. It was only a few years ago that their federal council was backing the Young Liberals' drive to destroy the ABC and privatise it. I understand that still stands as policy of the federal Liberal Party council, and we see the grains of that in this legislation in front of us today. The future that is put in this legislation ignores many Australians with disabilities and many regional Australians.

Under the Liberal government's vision for the future, Australian screens will be full of American and English television. Australian stories would go untold. We'd have no Blue Heelers, a series that I think is well and truly due for a good-quality Netflix reboot, and I call on Netflix to get onto it and reach out to Channel 7 and see if we can get Blue Heelers back on Australian screens as an Australian produced drama for the 21st century. If we continue down the path that this legislation takes us, there'd be no Secret City, a great piece of Australian drama that tells the story of Canberra—not necessarily a true story of Canberra, but a great story nonetheless—no House Husbands and definitely no Offspring.

This legislation continues an attack on Australian television. We've learned a lot during this COVID pandemic, and we've learned that Australians love watching Australian stories with unique Australian voices—from the young, who love Bluey, to the old, who also love Bluey! There is huge demand for high-quality Australian broadcasting.

We've seen the benefits that Australian stories have to our economy. More than 230,000 international tourists, according to the government's own estimates, visit or extend their stay in Australia because of viewing Australian television content. That generates $725 million of tourism expenditure. The whole sector of Australian screen content contributes $3.3 billion annually to our economy, employing more than 25,000 Australians. Over the last year we've learned just how much this matters. But we've got a government that seems to be determined, despite the evidence in front of them, to ignore the lessons.

We know how important Australian content is for our national identity, the pride that comes with seeing Australian stories told by Australians, but this government seems to think they're low-quality, unprofitable, a waste of time. So we have this bill, the purpose of which is to accelerate the decline of Australian drama, to prepare Australia for a world in which they hear everyone else's stories but not their own.

We know the challenges and dangers that have come with the rapid transformation of television, but instead of addressing these issues—the government doesn't mind consulting on them, but—it has chosen to give up on any hard and meaningful reform. Instead of developing policy that extends Australian content across platforms, that deliver Australian stories to where Australians consume them, we've got a government that's giving up. This government sees Australian drama as outdated, as some kind of a regulatory burden and thinks that our Australian artists aren't worth hiring. I find the contradiction of this bizarre.

Last year, this government splashed a $1.5 billion Perth City Deal into my electorate, promising to move the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts from Mount Lawley, in my electorate, into the CBD. This is something that is welcome because we do need more investment in Perth city, and I know the shadow minister for cities, who's sitting next to me, is a passionate advocate for revitalising our cities. But you can't tell students they're going to have this great new facility to learn how to perform in Australian dramas and then say, 'We're also going to cut off the lifeline that enables you to have a job at the end of that study.' They're getting all of the debt burden that comes with these US-style university debts and none of the career opportunity at the other end. That's what this legislation does.

In the last few years, the way that Australians consume content has changed dramatically. We can't deny that. The number of Australians paying for online services and streaming services has tripled. Seventy per cent of Australians now subscribe to an on-demand video service. That's the way that most Australians now watch a large amount of what we call telly. Audiences are migrating. They're moving away from TV to online viewing, but the government isn't moving with them. The competition for Australian viewers has never been more intense. This should be good news for producers and for Australian performers—for our writers, actors, directors, camera operators, make-up artists and production assistants. It should mean more opportunity and more jobs. It should mean more Australian content produced than ever before. But this bill is about diminishing content. The first step will be halving Australian drama on subscription television, with a cut of investment from $25 million to $12.5 million, and we know that once this government starts cutting it doesn't stop. More cuts will come. There will be less quality drama and less quality Australian programming.

This bill also makes no attempt to put any obligations on online streaming services. We know that this is the future. If we don't have a plan for how to get ahead of it, then we'll continue to see huge declines in Australian jobs and Australian stories. The worst bit is that the government is well and truly aware of all of these problems. The ACCC released a report in 2019 that told them that the digital transformation affecting Australia and the world needed to be acted on. The government had asked for the review because it recognised the problem. It was a world-leading piece of policy work. It said to the government they needed to provide a comprehensive policy framework that brought Australia's media landscape into the 21st century. Instead, we get a bill like this—something that doesn't strengthen Australian broadcasting and instead tries to help accelerate the decline of Australian broadcasting. Sometimes it's all photo-op, no follow-up. The other thing with this government is it's sometimes all consultation, no action. We've definitely seen complaints from media leaders across Australia saying they continue to be consulted by this government and have their views sought but they continue to have the same experience of no meaningful action when it comes to making sure that we are prepared for the digital transformation.

When it comes to the digital transformation, the government also has a role in making sure that the publicly owned broadcaster, the ABC, is ready for that transformation. I'm not talking about their plan to privatise it; I'm talking about making sure that we can continue to support it as a treasured part of our public institutions. This bill offers no support for the ABC. It fails to recognise the importance of our public broadcaster. It doesn't reverse any of the cuts to the ABC. The 250 jobs that were cut last year are still gone. Jobs in local news rooms in cities and in the regions—gone. Since 2013, $780 million has been cut from the ABC. That's not a drop in the ocean. The effects of that cut are significant. It affects our ability to define and share the broad diversity of our national identity, and it diminishes services that are essential for many Australians, especially regional Australians.

In my home state of Western Australia, as bushfires burnt across the Perth Hills earlier this year, it was the ABC that people relied on to give them emergency broadcast information. In an age of uncertainty, where so much misinformation is spread by everyone from crazy conspiracy theorists on Facebook through to crazy Liberal Party members also on Facebook, it's a concern that we don't have more investment in the ABC, which actually is a fact based organisation. The ABC practises thorough journalism, professional journalism, despite what is said in the attacks on the ABC from the backbench, the Liberal Party of Australia Federal Council and, indeed, the former Attorney-General. The reality is that the ABC and the services it provides save Australian lives. We know that that was the case in the bushfires that affected Perth earlier this year, so the government does have an obligation to save the ABC.

It's not just regional Australians that rely on it: 71 per cent of Australians engage with ABC content. But the lack of action to protect the ABC shows that this government really do, somewhere deep in their heart, wish they were privatising the ABC. It's on their policy books. They've tried to do bits and pieces here and there, and I have no doubt they will try again. The government that racked up $1 trillion of debt, with very little reform to show for it, will one day snap back to their debt-and-deficit disaster rhetoric and they will start to talk about how they pay it back. They will look to sell off public assets. I know that, in my home state of Western Australia, the Liberal Party looked to sell off our public electricity network, Western Power, to fix the financial mess that the member for Pearce had left when he was the Treasurer of Western Australia. I have no doubt that this government will look to sell off public assets when they, once again, try to fix their financial mess, a mess that they've created on their watch, and the ABC is not safe from that fire sale.

If we lose the ABC as a public broadcaster, it will be lost to the Australian people forever. Regional Australians know the devastation that that would cause. Australians in the city, including those in my electorate of Perth, know it too. We know that television shows from the ABC consistently rank amongst the most watched and that the ABC is treasured for the stories that it tells. Some of these stories feature our cities, as we've seen in the ABC telling the story of people who live in Perth through the brilliant ABC drama The Heights. As I mentioned, the ABC also screens some of the highest-quality children's programming, not just on any of the free-to-air networks in Australia but anywhere in the world. I note that one of the last significant investments in the ABC from any government was the investment in ABC3, or ABC Kids. When I'm not in Canberra, most mornings I wake up to ABC Kids with my three-year-old, Leo. It is a fabulous service that educates the next generation. We need more investments in the ABC, not more cuts.

I mentioned before that this bill doesn't place any obligations on streaming services. It provides no answers to what we're doing for streaming services. While Australians love streaming services, I don't think they'd object to having more Australian voices on those streaming services and neither would they object to huge, growing, large-profit-making multinationals doing a little bit more to preserve Australian voices and paying just a small fraction of what they receive from Australians for producing Australian content. Research indicates that some 80 per cent of Australians think that Australia's stories are vital for contributing to national identity and 75 per cent of Australians say they would miss the Australian film and television industry if it ceased to exist. This government says it wants to support Australian artists and produce more Australian programming. But how does it do this? By making less of it. That's the government's logic: the more they pull back, the more there will be. It seems strange, but that's the core of what this government believes in.

We know, from the debates they've had in their own party room, that they don't believe in quotas. They are preserving a very, very small quota when it comes to protecting Australian content, but we know that if they had the chance they would abolish quotas entirely. We know that quotas are essential to the sustainability of the sector. The decision to suspend quotas in response to the pandemic has had significant negative impacts. PwC has projected that if quotas were permanently eliminated, as I'm sure many of the government backbenchers would like, children's programs in Australia would cease to be produced and drama would be cut by 90 per cent. Imagine what your television programs would look like, if you cut Australian drama by 90 per cent. You can guarantee Neighbours would go. Home and Away would go. And permanently eliminating children's programs would be a huge mistake that would be started by the passing of this bill in its current form by this government.

11:00 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021 contains a range of measures which touch on broadcasting, amongst other things. The first of the measures would reduce the expenditure required by subscription television broadcasting licensees on new eligible drama expenditure from 10 per cent to five per cent. It will provide for subscription television captioning rules to be made by a legislative instrument. It will remove the requirement that all frequency channels allotted or reserved in a digital radio channel be within the same frequency band. It provides that a regional commercial radio broadcasting licensee does not breach a licensed condition if it is only as a result of the ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, making a new licence area population determination—an administrative change there. And it is going to extend the time frame for the ACMA to make grants under the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund beyond 30 June 2021.

I will constrain most of my comments to those measures—that is, the measures concerning the state of affairs in regional broadcasting, and the support that this place is able to provide to a struggling broadcasting industry. Before I do that, I just want to make some comments about the bill as a whole and the government's lack of vision for where we are going with broadcasting and publishing in this country—their absence of vision. Labor is not going to stand in the way of some minor regulatory changes, that would be ridiculous, but we are not going to support one of the measures in this bill. We won't be supporting a measure that is an attempt to dismantle, bit by bit, the Australian screen content rules without putting anything new in place.

We're not going to stand in the way of changes to captioning rules, digital radio channel plans or regional commercial radio licensees or the time frames I mentioned regarding ACMA making grants. That all makes sense. But we are not going to support halving Foxtel's Australian screen content obligations. I've got to say that I am gobsmacked that there are members of the coalition party who are going to do that—absolutely gobsmacked. We see the Prime Minister walk into this place with an Australian flag festooned on his lapel. It takes more than sticking a badge on your jacket to back Australia. Australians want to see Australian content on our screens, in our newspapers and on our radio. We don't want to be an outpost of the cultural imperialism of other countries. We want to be able to have Australians telling Australian stories and have those broadcast through our free-to-air broadcasters. And we want to see that on the subscription channels at well. It is as simple as that. If you are broadcasting in this country, we believe you have an obligation to be telling Australian stories and providing jobs and opportunities for Australian storytellers, Australian journalists and Australian film producers. So we are not going to be a part of an operation which seeks to dismantle those obligations. The only reason we have Screen Australia in this country is because of those obligations.

The government were supposed to have been bringing a detailed reform proposal to this parliament for over five years now. But, as with so much that the Morrison government is responsible for, it's all about an announcement, it is all about a review, it is all about sheeting responsibility to some other tier of government or some other sector; it's never about the follow-through, never about doing what they say they are going to do. For example, in May 2017, the then minister, Minister Fifield, who has now left the Senate and left this place, announced a broad-ranging and comprehensive review of Australian and children's content. He said:

The review will identify sustainable policies to ensure the ongoing availability of Australian and children's content to domestic and international audiences, regardless of platform.

It was a big announcement and something we could all get behind, but there was no follow-through whatsoever.

We can actually see the consequence of Australia vacating this territory, because it is not like we vacate the territory and nothing happens. We have seen, for example, where a decision of this government and this government's funding cuts to the ABC, which resulted in the removal of content and the removal of the ABC's international broadcasting capacity to our near neighbours, did not remain unanswered. There are other players in our region who saw this as a perfect opportunity for them to be promoting their cultures, their values, their government and their country into our near region. This is just one example of how the government is all about the cost but never about the value and has absolutely no vision for what we should be doing in respect of cultural services and broadcasting services to project an image of Australia, to project Australian values and to project what Australia stands for not only in our region but also in our own country.

Time and time again we see members of the government pile into the ABC. The ABC is actually one of the biggest producers of Australian content and the only producer that has a cross-platform capacity to broadcast throughout the country and, for many of their constituencies, one of the only sources of reliable information. So it is producing Australian content. But they see it almost as being in their duty statement on becoming a coalition MP when they come into this place that they have to pile into the ABC. It is a cultural war at its very, very best and it damages our national capacity to produce cultural content and to project that not only throughout the country but also throughout the world.

I want to say something about the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund. This bill will extend the time line for making small grants out of that small fund. Something which many members of this place might find extraordinary is that it remains the case today that the coalition have provided more money in allegedly corrupt payments to the owners of small parcels of land underneath the new Sydney Airport—I'm talking about the Leppington Triangle, which is an area that you know very well, Mr Deputy Speaker, because it is adjacent to your electorate—than they have provided to regional and small publishers in this country. That speaks to the priorities of this government. They put an Australian badge on their jackets but, when it comes to doing what counts, they say one thing and they do the other. So, if they want to put their money where their mouth is, they need to back their rhetoric with some financial support and priorities.

We don't oppose the concept of a fund to support regional and small publishers. We think it was misconceived. We all know the history to it. It was set up as a political fix in the other place to get a contentious piece of legislation through. That's what it was all about. Like so much that this government does, it is all about the political fix to get something over the line that lacks merit otherwise and there is no long-term thinking and no long-term plan. That's what we see time and again. They've given more money through alleged corrupt payments than they have to regional and small publishers in this country. That speaks to their priority and it speaks to the inability of the National Party, I've got to say, to be a true voice for regional Australia. If only it was something that pooped in the paddock, they would be out there supporting it but it's not; it's regional and small broadcasters and publishers.

I want to talk about my own region. We are well served and have been well served. Proudly independent throughout the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands, we have been well served through regional broadcasters and publishers in our region. We have the Illawarra Mercury, which has a longstanding history of independent journalism and publishing, telling local stories to locals throughout the Illawarra. It does a great job. It once used to occupy two floors of a building. It now has, regrettably—and I pass no judgement on the owners of that publication—a handful of journalists covering the stories of the region.

WIN Television, based out of the Illawarra, broadcasting to Australia, is one of the finest regional broadcasters throughout the country. It started as a small operation by an innovative entrepreneur in the shape of Bruce Gordon. WIN—Wollongong and Illawarra Network—established several decades ago is still operating as a force throughout regional Australia, but business model on which these operations were established is now fundamentally challenged and it is not going back. I could add to that.

The big sleeper this in all of this is radio. I remember, going back several decades, people saying, 'Radio is dead. Radio has no future.' As the rest of the media network has gone through significant challenge and meltdown, radio has always persisted. Always on in the background, it has been the one media form that has been able to sustain itself throughout these challenges. In the Illawarra, the WIN network owns i98FM and it does a fantastic job of telling local stories and entertaining the local community up in the Southern Highlands. Grant Broadcasters has 2ST, which also broadcasts down the coast. I see the member for Eden-Monaro here with us and the member for Gilmore and they would well know that even out in your electorate over in Macarthur, Deputy Speaker Freelander, Grant Broadcasters, through 2ST, are telling local stories in those regions and they do a good job on a shoestring. Down on the coast, they operate Wave FM, another excellent service, and of course, the ABC telling Australian stories, telling local stories to locals. Whilst the government was piling into the ABC, locals were tuning in to the ABC and our local broadcasters during the recent bushfires and crises because they knew that that was a reliable source of local information. It is only when the chips are down that you realise how much you rely on these local services.

My great fear, and what I will say in the last couple of minutes I have available to me, is that the old model upon which publishing was based and the old model around which broadcasting, particularly TV broadcasting, was based are fundamentally challenged. The idea that three or four licensees could have a monopoly on a square box that sits in the corner of your living room and broadcasts out to you and your family for as long as you've switched it on, is fundamentally challenged. Over-the-top streaming services and internet based services are now competing with the traditional broadcasters for their place on your remote control and on that square box. We are not going to unscramble that egg. We are not going back to the old days where three or four broadcasters had a monopoly on that square box; it's not going to happen. So, too, with publishing. Only a decreasing proportion of the population reads a newspaper and a decreasing proportion of the population reads a newspaper as a newspaper. More and more, it is read on an iPad or mobile device in a web based format, not in the traditional published format. It has fundamentally changed. It would be crazy for us to think that that model is going to be re-established somehow; it's not.

So what we need to be doing is working with the incumbents, and with emerging operators, to ensure that we have a diversity of voices in free, independent journalism and that the profession of journalism, which we all owe so much to, is preserved. There needs to be a way for the commercial operators to make money out of journalism and Australian stories—that's absolutely critical. I'm concerned that, unless we get this right, we'll have an Australian media landscape which is occupied by the ABC and by other smaller operators which are based purely on a philanthropic model. I don't think that would be healthy and I don't think it would be in the national interest. We need a much more diverse and robust media landscape, and that's what's missing—if I've got a criticism, it's that that's what's missing. It's a huge problem, yet there's no vision and no action in this place to bring forward propositions that are going to deal with it.

So I support the second reading amendment moved by the member for Greenway and look forward to further contributions in this debate.

11:16 am

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

I am pleased to follow the contribution of the member for Whitlam. He, like all members on this side of the House, shares a deep commitment to the creative industries, to Australian talent, to Australian stories, to Australian jobs in the creative industries and to helping secure a future where Australian artists and creatives and stories are secured and promoted and where their government doesn't keep, extraordinarily, at every opportunity, trying to undermine Australian artists and Australian creative workers.

This bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021, does have some piecemeal bits in it which the Labor Party is not going to oppose and is going to support, in some instances. But I want to start my contribution on the parts of the bill where, extraordinarily, we see, yet again, a federal government wanting to do its bit to undermine the future prosperity and security of Australian creative industry jobs. It's extraordinary that we have a federal government wanting to reduce the amount of Australian content being produced by Foxtel and other companies. Why would the Australian government want to reduce the amount of drama being produced in Australia? Why would the Australian government want to reduce the numbers of Australian jobs in making what we see on our television screens? Why would the Australian government want to reduce the amount of talent we have and the opportunities for Australian creative workers? It's exceptionally disappointing. These are parts of this bill that we, on this side of the House, will seek to amend and oppose.

We stand here today, on the second day of winter in 2021, with my home state of Victoria in lockdown and with concerns rising around the entire country, including in southern parts of New South Wales. We have a pandemic that has been absolutely devastating to a number of different industries, but it's hard to think of an industry that has been as decimated as our creative industries have been. Yet this government is bringing forward a bill into this place that's going to make it even harder to get Australian content produced and Australian stories created in this country. Those measures are the exact opposite of what we should be putting forward in this place.

I want to talk a little bit about how we got to this place. It was extraordinary that, during the pandemic, the government decided to leave the majority of people in the creative industries out of the JobKeeper program. It's like they specifically designed the JobKeeper program so as to exclude various groups—and we know that universities, local government and others have been excluded. But it's hard to think of a group that was more hard done by the design of the JobKeeper program than our creative industries. The member for Watson has joined us in the chamber, and he has been a consistent voice for our creative workers. He has joined me on a number of occasions in my electorate to hear from and speak to the incredible artists and supporting workers in our creative industries. Last year they said loud and clear that it shows a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the creative industries that the federal government decided to leave the creative industries off the JobKeeper program. They were basically told, 'You can go and join the unemployment queue.' What does that say about how much we value our creative industries in this country? It says about as much as this schedule in this bill—that the federal government don't want to see these jobs at the end of the pandemic, that they're happy for a reduction in the amount of Australian content and stories being produced. It's the exact opposite of what this place, this House, should be facilitating. If we are not for our culture and our stories, then what are we? If we are not for our creative industries, then what are we?

In my electorate of Macnamara, we couldn't be prouder that almost one in 10 workers work in some form of the creative industries. It's one of the biggest employers in my electorate. I can tell you, from speaking to many of the artists and creative workers in my electorate, that they are not doing it for the money. They are doing it because they love it. They are doing it because it's who they are. They are creative people and they love working in the creative industries. But many of them work in two or three jobs. Many of them do supplementary work. Many of them are in casual work. Many of them work in hospitality to supplement their income. It's a hard life working in the creative industries in Australia. So the very least that the government can do is to support these Australian workers, to value them in the same way in which we see the government tip into other industries around the country which have far less employment returns. The government should say clearly and unequivocally, like we do on this side of the House, 'Working in the creative industries in Australia is great work, we value it and we want to see you holding a sustainable profession for as long as you wish to do so.'

In my electorate, we have a couple of the major institutions, a couple of great studios. The ABC have their headquarters in Southbank. There is also the HWT building, where I've been many times. We are proud to have big media corporations making their home in Macnamara. But we shouldn't be saying to these companies that reducing the amount of Australian content is acceptable. We should be saying that we want to see more Australian stories, more Australian talent being nurtured and more Australian jobs being created. My electorate—I am talking about places like St Kilda, Elwood, Windsor, Port Melbourne and, especially, Southbank, with the arts precinct there—is creative. Being creative and having creative organisations is part of the identity of my electorate. It is not just part of the economy of my electorate; it is part of the identity of my electorate.

The City of Port Phillip is a key partner with many of our local creative organisations. The City of Port Phillip, over a long period of time, has done a really good job of not just supporting the big events—and we have the St Kilda Festival, which is a great thing that I'm looking forward to hopefully once this pandemic is over—but also supporting our smaller artistic and creative organisations. I attended the St Kilda Film Festival a few weeks ago, at the Astor Theatre in St Kilda East. It was a wonderful event. It seems like an eternity ago right now. But the City of Port Phillip have had, in their budget, support for a group of institutions, as part of a three-year funding program. It was exceptionally disappointing—and I have to take this opportunity to say this clearly—to see the City of Port Phillip decide to end their funding agreement for six outstanding local organisations this year as part of their prebudget announcements.

It couldn't be a worse time for the City of Port Phillip to be stopping and ceasing support for outstanding local arts and creative organisations. I'm going to read them out: we have the Australian Tapestry Workshop, Phillip Adams BalletLab at Temperance Hall, the Rawcus Theatre Company, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Theatre Works and the Torch. These six organisations were on an ongoing funding agreement with the City of Port Phillip. They have all been told that the funding was going to cease. There was no consultation done by the council. It was an extremely disappointing outcome.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank all of those six organisations who joined me last Friday in a conversation about this current council decision to cease supporting these organisations. I want to also thank the state Minister for Health, Martin Foley, and his team who joined us on that conversation with our six outstanding local artistic organisations. We say clearly to the mayor and to all of the councillors: 'Don't do this. Don't cut funding for our local, small and independent theatre and creative organisations at the this point in time. It's part of our community's identity. It's part of who we are in the City of Port Phillip. It's part of who we are in St Kilda, in Southbank and in Port Melbourne—in all of the places where we are so proud to have all of these incredible local organisations. Don't cut funding to these organisations. We must do better.' These organisations, Minister Foley and I will be fighting these cuts. We will be asking and calling on the council to reverse their decision and to reinstate the funding for a full three years to ensure that at this point these organisations, who absolutely need certainty and who need time to get back on their feet after the devastation of this pandemic, know that they will have the support of their councillors and their council and the financial support in order to get them through this really devastating period of the pandemic.

We need all levels of government working together right now to support our creative industries and to support those working in our creative industries. We need all levels of government to be supporting those people who have had an absolutely devastating time of it during the pandemic. I also say right here that Macnamara is synonymous with our creative industries. My electorate proudly hosts some of the most talented and hardworking creative workers in this country. We will, for as long as I'm in this place, work with anyone across any level of government from any political party to help ensure that our creative workers have the support that they need and the support that they deserve. This means that we at a council level are not ceasing funding to these organisations, it means that we at a state level are constantly supporting and finding new ways to support our creative industries, and it means that we at a federal level don't just do announcements with Guy Sebastian and then forget about them during a pandemic; it means that we actually deliver support for our creative industries, it means that we actually deliver on at announcements that are made by the Prime Minister and not forget them, it means that we don't deliberately leave off our creative industries like what they did with the JobKeeper wage subsidy program, and it means that, when looking at quotas and looking at ways in which we can support Australian stories being shared, we can support Australian talent being nurtured and that we can support Australian industries not just growing but surviving this pandemic. We on this side of the House clearly say that what the government has bowled up is not good enough. It's not good enough.

I'll finish with this final point: you can't come into this place and talk about the way in which the government has dealt with creative industries without mentioning their constant attacks and cuts on the ABC. Forget some of the more eccentric backbenchers that want to privatise and want to sell off the ABC—they're not even worth engaging with. What I'm interested in is why this minister constantly, year after year, seeks to squeeze the ABC of their budget and squeeze the ABC of their ability to manage the natural increases in costs of operation by basically freezing the amount of money that the government has each year. What that means is that journalists lose their jobs. It means that content doesn't get produced. It means that budgets are tightened so severely that the ABC is constricted and is unable to perform all of its duties. We've already seen programs that have been taken away, including the 7.45 news program.

We, on this side of the House, want a federal government that supports our creative industries, not one that does everything it can, bit by bit, to break them. We need to do better. These are Australian jobs. These are Australian workers. These are Australian talent. We must be wholeheartedly and fully supportive of them and not, bit by bit, attack them, just like this federal government does at every opportunity.

11:31 am

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

What sort of government attacks workers in the middle of a pandemic? Because what's in front of us now is nothing more than an attack on people who work in creative industries. Let's not gloss it over. This is not like what we were dealing with when we were arguing they needed to redesign JobKeeper to make sure people who were actors and creatives got access to it. This is not negligence on the government's part. What's in front of us right now is a direct attack to halve the contribution to Australian drama from Foxtel. That's what's in front of us.

If you're working in television, if you're working in scripted drama, whether you're an actor, whether you're a scriptwriter, whether you're a producer, whether you hold the camera, whether you're a make-up artist, whether you're one of the many people employed in this area, have a think about the number of attacks that are on from this government right now. First of all, you've got the lack of protection in terms of support during the pandemic itself, and we've canvassed that many times in this chamber. But then you have direct attacks from this government. They chose now to reduce the obligation on free-to-air television for scripted drama. Now! During a pandemic, when people are already out of work, when people are already struggling to make a living, they decide now is a really good time to say to free-to-air TV, 'Oh, you don't have to do as much scripted drama as you used to.' Of all the times!—they wait until an industry is on its knees and then say, 'Oh, now's a good time to attack them.' They do that for free-to-air TV, they do that in cuts to the ABC and then they use the fact that these cuts have been made to say: 'Oh, now Foxtel is at a competitive disadvantage. We need to reduce their obligation.'

I've got to say our opposition to this bill is not a criticism of Foxtel in any way, shape or form, because I will say Foxtel has been a good citizen when it comes to Australian drama, for their whole history. Productions like Love My Way, starring Claudia Karvan, Asher Keddie and Dan Wyllie, really show Australians doing the kind of complex long-form drama which the Americans pioneered with shows like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. The Kettering Incident is an unsettling, brilliant, horror drama set in Tasmania. Wentworth is a gritty Australian drama inside a women's prison, with actors like Pamela Rabe, Danielle Cormack, Susie Porter and, this year, Marta Dusseldorp joining the cast. It's good drama coming from Foxtel.

What's the government's response? 'We'll cut it in half.' You think that doesn't mean jobs? You think that doesn't make a difference to all the small businesses that proliferate in this industry? And there's all of this in the context of a change that needed to be made that the government has refused to make, because there is a competitive disadvantage that Foxtel is in at the moment.

There is, in fact a competitive disadvantage that free-to-air TV is in as well at the moment, and it's a competitive disadvantage that should have been fixed eight long years ago. It's this: the streaming companies have come through with absolutely no requirement for Australian content—and Australian content is more expensive. We get that. But it will always be so for a very simple reason. We are a population where, predominantly, English is the first language of most of the country. That means that when you produce drama in this country you are competing for stories with all the other English-speaking countries of the world, many of whom have a population base way in excess of ours.

So we have a competitive disadvantage when it comes to scripted drama, and quotas are the only way you can make sure that Australian stories will be told. That's why we have quotas. That's why the Foxtel scripted drama rule was put in place. That's why we need to have a system put in place for the streaming services. Every year of inaction makes it harder to do this. Why is it getting harder now? It's because, in the face of complete inaction from the government, some of the free-to-airs have now got their own streaming services. Now they're in both camps, which means there will be a level of resistance that would not have been there eight years ago if action had been taken at the start. But the inaction from this government is the reason we are in this mess now. What's the government's solution to an inequity? What's the government's solution when they say, 'Oh, well, Foxtel is now at a competitive disadvantage to the free-to-airs, where we cut their drama quotas'? The solution is, 'Oh, well, let's keep the race to the bottom going and let's make the cuts apply to Foxtel as well.'

When we started with a situation where Foxtel had good obligations and free-to-air had good obligations but there were no obligations for scripted drama on the streaming services, the government's approach, instead of having the guts and the policy and the intellect to do something about raising streaming services' obligations to provide Australian content, was, 'Well, let's just lower everything else.' What's in front of us now? Let's not pretend that this will be the end of the story, because as long as there is no obligation for Australian drama on the streaming services the objective of this government will be to lower and lower and lower the obligations. What we see today will be the beginning of a continued process of taking away obligations on free-to-air TV and taking away obligations on Foxtel, and the outcome will be simple—

Mr Fletcher interjecting

I hear the minister say, 'Oh, that's a small blessing.' I hear the minister refer to the fact that his colleague gets to leave and he's stuck here. It's about time he listened to what is happening in the sector, because in a moment he's going to vote to cut the contribution to Australian drama in half. Do you reckon that doesn't affect half the jobs? Do you reckon that doesn't affect half the businesses? Of course it does. But let's not pretend that the government sort of stumbled into this. This is eyes wide open. This is a deliberate strategy of not caring about Australian stories being told.

As I said, we don't criticise Foxtel. Foxtel has been a good player. But there is a way of delivering a fair playing field here. It's to look at the section which has no obligations and put obligations in that area—and to get back to the first principles of it all. Why do we have quotas in the first place? We have them because there is a belief that seeing our stories on screen matters, that Australians should be able to watch stories that are set in their own country, that they should be able to watch stories where the accents and the voices and the language that they hear from the screen are the same as what they hear in their community.

Not every one of these productions is going to be commercial without quotas or funding obligations. That's okay, because the alternative is that we end up in a situation where we only judge success in scripted drama by whether it ends up being a big profit-making activity. I don't want us to continue to be in the world that we were in 20 years ago, where you could have a show like The Man From Snowy River but Kirk Douglas had to be one of the main actors in it, where the only way you could tell an Australian story was if you got the foreign buy-in, because then you could legitimise it and turn the thing into a commercial success overseas.

If a show only talks to our own people, it is still a story worth telling. Most people here would have watched Secret City, set in this building. It was a partnership with Foxtel. The people who got work from that weren't just the actors on the screen. There was the soundtrack for that show, with music by David Bridie. Some of you would know him from My Friend the Chocolate Cake. He's a serious composer. The work of a whole lot of creatives is delivered by quotas. That's where it comes from. The Devil's Playground, one of the iconic Australian stories, had a complete long-form drama on Foxtel. The actor Simon Burke—not related to me—played the child in the original movie and then played the same character years later in a new Australian story, speaking so directly to a whole lot of the stories of abuse that came out of the royal commission. These stories don't get told because they're automatically commercially viable. They get told because there is a guarantee of investment.

There is no way of looking at this bill other than to say that, for one of the good corporate citizens, Foxtel, that obligation gets cut in half. When you move from 10 per cent to five per cent, that's half. There is no other way of looking at this. This is an appalling decision, and it's no wonder they took the word 'arts' out of the name of the department. It's no wonder that for eight years we've been without a cultural policy in Australia. George Brandis—a lot of criticisms of him, but at least he wanted the portfolio. Since then we've had people who just get it because it's lumped in with something else. There's been no commitment to making sure that our stories are told.

This bill is part of the race to the bottom. Let's not pretend that what was done to free-to-air TV, under the cover of the pandemic, will be the last thing that this government does with respect to Australian content quotas. As to what they've already done, does that hit scripted drama? You bet it does. And does this hit scripted drama? Yes. It cuts it in half. It cuts in half the obligation on Foxtel, and, all the while, a government that seems very happy to be asleep at the wheel does nothing on streaming services. I want Foxtel to be on a level playing field, and the way to do that is for the streaming services to have an obligation as well. It is a ridiculous situation at the moment. If you use a smart TV and you go through Binge or one of the Foxtel apps, or through Foxtel itself on a cable connection, there is an Australian content obligation, but, if on the same TV you shift your remote control to a different icon, suddenly there's no Australian obligation.

The reason that we have quotas is not that we're obsessed with the measure of bandwidth and how something comes to our home, whether it's via Foxtel cable or whether it comes through the sky. We don't care if it comes through an internet connection. It's because we care about our stories going from the screen to whoever is sitting on the lounge. If the government believes that those stories should be cut in half, it should have the guts to explain why. Front the small businesses that rely on these quotas and tell them that you think they should have only half the profit or that only half the company should be there. This government understands jobs in film when it's a Hollywood production. This government understands that you get a whole lot of extra businesses involved if it's a Hollywood story being told on the Gold Coast or at Fox Studios. And we have supported those processes and those policies because of the jobs that they create. But Australian stories create jobs too.

How on earth does a government get it into its head that it will put taxpayers' dollars behind the jobs that come from the telling of American stories and, in the same year, during the same pandemic, at the same time the sector's being smashed, decide it's time to cut the obligations for Australian stories being told? Maybe they just like it, when they go to a Hollywood set, that they get photographed with people who are more famous around the globe and that makes a better Instagram pic. I don't know. But, I tell you what, it means nothing to people who want to see their stories being told. It means nothing to people who, when they turn on the television in Australia, want there to be a decent chance of the story being an Australian story. And, please, never come back with some jingoistic pride in the country, when as a government you have made deliberate decisions to cut the telling of Australian stories in half.

11:46 am

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

I would like to thank the members who have contributed to the debate on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021. This bill will make amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to reduce regulatory burdens, reform outdated regulations and assist Australia's media industry to keep providing content valued by Australians.

The amendments to the drama expenditure obligations on subscription broadcasters and their channel providers are an important part of the government's broader reforms to the regulation of Australian content. Subscription broadcasters have been significantly impacted by digital disruption and the shift of audiences to other, unregulated services. With falling revenues and audiences, it is important to recalibrate the regulatory burden on this sector and create a level playing field in terms of the obligations imposed on traditional and new media. These amendments continue the government's efforts to simplify regulations, provide effective support for the production industry and enable Australians to have access to Australian content across a range of media.

The bill will allow future rules for subscription television captioning to be made through the means of a disallowable ministerial instrument. This will facilitate the simplification of an extremely complex and onerous set of rules that currently offer little transparency to consumers about what is being captioned.

I am tabling an addendum to the explanatory memorandum to provide further information which addresses the questions raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills on the proposed subscription TV captioning scheme.

The bill proposes to clarify the operation of grandfathering powers under section 43C(4) and section 52 of the Broadcasting Services Act that protect regional radio broadcasters from inadvertently breaching statutory control and local content requirements with respect to the making of new population determinations under section 30 by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. The bill also provides for a five-year sunset arrangement in relation to the operation of these grandfathering powers. This measure will signal to licensees the government's intent to review the state of the media sector to take account of the evolving nature of Australian media markets and the populations they serve when determining the ongoing application of these provisions. The intention of these sunset arrangements under section 43C and section 52 are clarified in the addendum to the explanatory memorandum to the bill. The government anticipates that these grandfathering arrangements will remain as drafted in the absence of significant population changes relating to a section 30 determination.

The bill also proposes to make two minor amendments to ensure that the provisions for the broadcasting industry remain current. The first amendment proposed is to remove a redundant requirement for digital radio planning in the Radiocommunications Act. As digital radio is now only provided in one part of the spectrum under one standard there is no need for the requirement to ensure that planning within a licence area is within the same spectrum band. The second proposed amendment is to extend the time frame currently provided to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to administer financial grants. This would enable funding under the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund that may have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic to be allocated within the 2021-22 financial year, if required. The amendment will not change the total quantum of funding awarded to grantees under the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund.

These five measures demonstrate the government's commitment to reform and to streamline regulation across broadcasting services. I thank members for their contribution to the debate and I comment the bill to the chamber.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) 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 words proposed to be admitted stand part of the question.

11:59 am

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is this bill be now read a second time.