Senate debates

Monday, 2 March 2015


Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2015; Second Reading

9:05 pm

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2015. Labor supports this bill. This bill is part of the government's so-called regulation repeal day. This is another government stunt designed to do little more than simply generate a news headline. The former Labor government repealed 16,974 acts and regulations during its time in office. Let me repeat that: the former Labor government repealed 16,974 acts and regulations during its time in office. We called this 'governing'.

This bill saves industry about $350,000 according to estimates from the Department of Communications. Important—yes. But hardly worth a special day. The last time I spoke in this place on red tape repeal it was to amend the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2014) Bill 2014. The Senate agreed to this amendment which would ensure a proper process for Australia's Future Submarine project. Given what has happened in the recent past on this issue, since this amendment was passed, it shows how vital this amendment was; it languishes in the other place, sitting at the bottom of the Notice Paper.

It is another indication that the Prime Minister is still committed to his captain's pick on Japanese submarines.

On the bill before the Senate now, Labor does not propose any amendments. But I do have to note, particularly as there are some South Australians in the chamber today, that this morning in The Australian the government finally admitted that, yes, they did draw up press releases to announce the Japanese had won the submarine contract and they were going to announce it at G20. So despite all of the fabrications that have taken place over the last six months, there is a little paragraph at the end that said: look we might have done a deal with the Japanese before but trust us we have got a proper process in place now. We have misled the entire population of South Australia about our promise to build 12 submarines in Adelaide but trust us, now we have got a proper process. That was part of the last debate on a regulation repeal day bill.

This bill is straightforward and we agree with it. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Radio Communications Act 1992 and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005. Firstly, it removes a number of provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act which were associated with the simulcast of analogue and digital TV signals in the transition to digital television. Given the switchover to digital TV roll out is now complete, these changes should be supported. This bill also amends the framework used by the Australian Communications and Media Authority to plan the broadcasting services band spectrum by removing requirements in the Broadcasting Services Act and the Radio Communications Act, which are no longer necessary.

The original bill also made an array of changes to captioning. Here again, Senator Ludlam, is yet another example of the Minister for Communications thinking that he knew best and of him ignoring the concerns of the deaf community. It is a clear sign yet again of this minister's arrogance and his disregard for the views of others. The original bill sought to remove the requirement of the free-to-air broadcasters to report annually on compliance with their obligations to provide captioning of programs to assist vision and hearing impaired consumers with access to electronic media and to replace this obligations with a complaints based assessment process. It changed aspects of captioning targets obligations for subscription television and the assessment of the quality of captioning of live and pre-recorded broadcast for free-to-air and subscription broadcasters and remove the requirement for a statutory review of captioning obligations.

These provisions were put in without any serious consultation with the affected communities. They did not bother to talk to the blind community. When the minister introduced the bill, he claimed that proper consultation had taken place—perhaps he had a chat to himself in the mirror while shaving, who knows? But what we all know is he was wrong. You always have to be careful when the Minister for Communications talks. He says one thing but he often means the opposite—I am sure his colleagues know exactly what I mean at the moment. It reflects poorly on the management and consultation skills of the Minister for Communications.

On an issue as important as proper process and proper access to television for the hearing impaired, I would have expected better from the person who wants to be Prime Minister. Although the minister failed to properly consult, the opposition did do this work. The deaf community in particular raised concerns with the government's original bill. The deaf community actually said: just a minute, we are a bit worried about this, Minister. The shadow minister for communications has done what the minister should have done. He has been the one who was taken the time to sit down with the affected communities and advocacy groups as well with the broadcasting industry to work through their concerns.

These consultations have resulted in a reasonable compromise, which is why Labor will be supporting this bill. It adopts those compromises that have been worked through with the deaf community and they are now comfortable. Through the work of the shadow minister, this bill will now restore the requirement for free-to-air broadcasters to report annually on their compliance to captioning obligations and restore the statutory review of captioning to occur in 2016. This will allow a comprehensive review of all the issues that concern the deaf community and broadcasters. This is the hard work that the minister for Communications should have done himself. Maybe he is too busy focusing on other matters instead of his own portfolio responsibilities. Who knows? It certainly gave us an insight yet again into the arrogance of the Minister for Communications, who knows better than all of the experts on every issue. It certainly gives us an insight in how the minister operates—something that everyone on the other side of this place should contemplate in the days and months ahead. The bill we are now debating, which Labor supports, gets the minister out of the mess all of his own making.

Before I finish, I also want to say that Labor will not be supporting the amendment raised by Senator Xenophon. It is not a reflection on him. I know how passionately Senator Xenophon takes the issue of ensuring maximum levels of local content in regional areas, particularly in South Australia. This is a passion that Labor senators share. However, there has been no consultation or engagement on this amendment and no time for the opposition to consider its implications. While we appreciate Senator Xenophon's intentions, we are not in a position to support his amendment without being given enough time to consider its broader applications.

For that reason, Labor do not support Senator Xenophon's amendment, but we do support this now heavily amended bill as put by the government. Once again, we just note that, if the arrogant minister had just been prepared to sit down with the deaf community, there would have been no need for some of the angst that the shadow minister has now had to fix.


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