House debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021


Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021; Consideration of Senate Message

4:16 pm

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

I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

The effect of the first amendment would be to remove schedule 1 to the bill, which would have made a change to the obligations applying to eligible subscription-television broadcasting licensees in relation to their drama expenditure. By reason of the amendment, that schedule will not proceed; it does not form part of the bill now before the House—well, to be precise, the amendment the House is asked to make is to remove schedule 1.

The other amendment deals with community television. It would allow the Australian Communications and Media Authority to extend the licensing arrangements of Australia's two remaining metropolitan community television broadcasters, channel 31 in Melbourne and channel 44 in Adelaide, for up to three years. The amendments also ensure that channel 31 and channel 44 will vacate the terrestrial broadcasting spectrum by 30 June 2024, in time for any changes to spectrum allocation arising from the government's media reform green paper process. I commend the amendments to the House.

4:18 pm

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

I rise to support the motion. You could be forgiven, if you heard the minister's speech, for not understanding exactly what has just happened.

We had a debate in this chamber and we heard it was about a change in the drama content obligations. What the minister tried to do was to cut Foxtel's obligations for Australian-scripted drama in half. He tried to cut it in half! The Senate, including members of his own party, said that would be an appalling thing to do. We had the debate in this House, and he sat here scoffing while I was making the points about the importance of Australian drama.

This is not the only attack on Australian drama that has come from this minister. We have also seen the demand for scripted drama as part of free-to-air television to be cut. And when has he chosen to do these cuts? In the middle of a pandemic, when this exact sector was the first to be hit and was hit so hard. The concept of 'minister for the arts' is meant to imply that in some way you're for the arts. It's not meant to be that you're somebody who sees an industry going through its toughest time and says, 'Now's the time to attack them.'

I want to commend those members who stood up to this minister. I want to commend those crossbenchers who stood up to this minister. I want to thank my own party for being willing every time to defend Australian stories. I simply say to the minister: you might not be willing to acknowledge what's happened in the chamber, you don't need to, just stop the attack. There's been a really good effort from the government in making sure that we get extra jobs from Hollywood stories being told here, and we support those jobs. We support those efforts. Why do you hate the Australian stories? Why on earth is it really good for Marvel to make stories here in Australia and it's not really good for Australian companies to tell Australian stories here?

You would have thought if those businesses and those workers had one defender on that side of the House, it'd be their own minister, but, instead, who do you think's led the attack? It's actually been their own minister. What the sector needs is for the attack to end, and there's one action the minister needs to take. Streaming companies hadn't seriously arrived when we were last in government, but even then we were flagging, in the lead-up to the 2013 election, that for the next term action needed to be taken to make sure there are obligations on the streaming services to provide Australian content. We have now had eight long years—we're about to have a government enter its ninth year—and before we know it they're going to be asking the Australian people for 12 years. Take action on the streaming services. Demand Australian content. The relationship that matters isn't whether someone's viewing something through bandwidth or through cable; what matters is when you're watching your screen at home, are Australians going to be seeing the stories of our own nation? Are Australian children going to be growing up watching Australian stories, whether the remote goes to free-to-air, to cable or to the apps that come in through the web. Whichever way you're getting those stories, you want to make sure that Australian stories are part of it.

A whole lot of people in this parliament, a clear majority of this parliament, and, I acknowledge, a good number on the other side of politics, showed a real commitment to delivering on Australian stories. This minister has not. He has been dragged there every time. I simply say: (1) stop the attack, and (2) finally act on putting obligations on the streaming companies to produce scripted Australian drama and to make sure that children's content is a component of that. We all grew up watching Australian content on our screens. Don't rob the next generation of that.

4:22 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll only speak briefly, and I would like to go to the amendments with respect to community television. A very exciting development happened in the other place late last evening when Senator Rex Patrick moved some amendments that allowed for community television to have a three-year life while broadcasting to allow them to plan for their future. This is really, really exciting.

I would particularly like to acknowledge and thank the minister for always having his door open to me. I have pounded on his door many, many times. I'm sure he's quite relieved that he won't have me talking to him about community television again.

I think this is a great development, because community television tells our stories. The previous member was talking about Australian stories, and that is so true: Australian stories need to be told. But I also say that, with community television, it's not just Australian stories; they're your local, local community stories.

In South Australia, we have a wonderful community television network in Channel 44. We have fishing shows that are in my own community, that are in the electorate of Mayo. In the morning we have exercise programs particularly dedicated for old people, and it's our churches that are delivering mass and other church services on Sunday morning for people who can't physically get to church anymore. So I again send my enormous gratitude to the minister for listening, and I'm really pleased with these amendments. I commend this bill to the House.

4:25 pm

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

The bill we have before us—the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021—demonstrates the utter incompetence of this minister at the table. It is a complete humiliation. He has no authority and no credibility. From go to whoa, this has been a complete and utter stuff-up. He stuffed it up even when he introduced this bill. He made an incorrect second reading speech and had to come in here and correct it. I haven't been here for that long, but I've been here for just over 10 years and I have never seen this happen. For those of you who might be watching at home, just so you're aware, the second reading speech given by the minister is very important. It goes to the interpretation of law. It goes to an important point of statutory interpretation. For the minister to not even know what was in his own bill when he introduced it says everything about his incompetence not only in his portfolio but in his ability to conduct himself in this chamber. He stood here and stated things the bill did, when, in fact, it didn't do them. He didn't even know what his own legislation was about, so he had to come in here and correct it.

Let's be very clear. As the member for Watson stated: with this bill, the minister wanted to halve Foxtel's Australian content obligation. He wanted to halve it, and he gave all the reasons why that was going to be a fantastic idea. Today he comes in like nothing ever happened, when, in reality, the Senate has completely rejected the bill. And it's not only members of the crossbench that have rejected it; members of his own government have rejected it. All of this comes on top of this government's decision last year to suspend the Australian content quotas for the commercial TV broadcasters, as well as their decision to then water down those obligations for good. They have created huge angst and uncertainty for the Australian screen sector. They've cost jobs during a pandemic, during a recession and during economic recovery. Let's not forget that the minister even managed to stuff up the suspension of the content quotas. He falsely claimed to have suspended the commercial TV content quotas himself when he had not, because that's the job of the independent regulator, the ACMA. The government has also failed to introduce Australian content obligations for streaming services, just as the member for Watson said. Wait for this! I kid you not: it has been over four years since this government announced a review of Australian and children's content to 'ensure the ongoing availability of Australian and children's content to domestic and international audiences, regardless of platform'. It needs another birthday cake. Can you believe it? Four years! And there is still no sign of an Australian content obligation for streaming services.

The minister has even failed his own test. In December 2019 he announced that he would harmonise the regulatory framework 'towards a platform-neutral regulatory framework covering both online and offline delivery of media content to Australian consumers'. Where are we today? Other jurisdictions, including France, Germany and Canada, have moved to require platforms like Netflix and Amazon to invest in local content. All this government can do is dither and delay. He's all over the shop.

I refer you to Amanda Meade's article from 1 April this year in the Guardian:

'As the green paper proposes, as well as reducing the Australian content spend that Foxtel has, we will for the first time impose an Australian content spend requirement on the streaming platforms,' Fletcher told ABC radio Melbourne. 'The idea would be to harmonise both of those at 5%.'

So he tries to halve the content obligations on subscription TV, yet he says he wants to bring in this harmonisation. He has no idea; he is making it up. The article goes on to say:

A spokesman for Fletcher confirmed there was no current proposal for a 5% quota for the streaming giants but declined to elaborate on what the minister meant.

What did the minister actually mean? What could he possibly have meant?

This is, as I said, in 2019:

In 2019 Fletcher said that Netflix, YouTube and other streaming companies could be forced to produce more Australian content, but two years later there was no policy.

Absolutely no idea—a complete shambles! He is making it up as he goes along, and now he has been completely repudiated by the crossbench. (Extension of time granted) He has failed to 'make it Australian'. He has done the wrong thing by Australian creatives. Not only that; as I said, he has lost the confidence of his own side. Government senators literally served up his backside in this report to the Senate inquiry into this bill. His own team backed Labor's amendment to omit schedule 1 from this bill. They sent the minister packing back to his own desk and said, 'Make it Australian.'

This minister is only too happy to cosy up to Hollywood, be it Ron Howard or The Rock. He even had an op-ed in the Courier Mail today, which would have to be the most whiny man-child piece of drivel I have read in a long time. I can assure the minister: Premier Palaszczuk has no idea who you are, so don't worry about it! He was trying to claim credit for the success of Queensland in attracting screen production. But while the minister obsesses over Hollywood he's trying to halve Australian content obligations for subscription broadcasters, which would mean fewer Australian stories on our screens and fewer jobs for our creatives.

Going to community TV—I'll pick up on the comments of the member for Mayo, which I back: someone who does know who the minister is, though, is deputy mayor Nicholas Reece—a bit of a star on Sky 'after dark'—who has quite correctly described the minister's decision to kick community TV off the air as 'boneheaded, almost bloody minded'. Not only has this minister lost his own side; he's lost Sky 'after dark'! When you lose Sky 'after dark', you should really start considering a new career path!

We were very pleased to see the Senate's support for an amendment to keep community TV on the air. This has been a hard-fought campaign by the sector and by the members representing those areas where community TV is still around; there are not that many areas, unfortunately. It is clear that this amendment overrides the minister's discretion on community TV—a discretion he has shown he can't be trusted with. He can't be trusted to exercise his discretion in accordance with the objects of the Broadcasting Services Act or the radcomms act to encourage localism and the efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum. The government's support for this amendment is literally a cry for help: 'Please save us from our own minister! Save us from a mess of our minister's making!'

As I said, Labor applauds the community TV sector—the staff, the volunteers and the supporters—who have sent a very loud and clear message that kicking community TV off the air, whilst there is no alternative use of that spectrum at the moment, is an act of vandalism. We on this side are proud to have backed community TV every step of the way to keep TV local. And we are proud to back the Make It Australian campaign for the Australian screen sector. Not only do Labor reject this government's destructive plans to undermine Australian stories, local TV and Australian creatives; we reject this minister, who can't get anything right, gets every call wrong and doesn't even have the confidence of his own side. Labor will never be part of dismantling the rules that foster Australia's world-class screen sector which tells Australian stories to us and the world. This minister and this government should hurry up and 'make it Australian'.

Question agreed to.