Senate debates

Monday, 2 March 2015


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

9:15 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak on the Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2015. I will leave comments on the issue of captioning, which was addressed briefly by Senator Conroy, to my colleague Senator Rachel Siewert. I am going to confine my remarks to another issue that has been canvassed in this legislation tonight, principally around local content on free-to-air television.

I note on behalf of the Australian Greens the degree of compliance by the television industry with the new eligible drama expenditure scheme, which requires a number of subscription TV licensees, channel providers and part channel providers to spend at least 10 per cent of their total programming expenditure on new Australian or New Zealand drama productions or co-productions. I understand that this system is not without its loopholes and its flaws, and it is occasionally given a degree of critique by the industry. Nonetheless, it is a system that works, and it is one of the underpinnings of a vibrant and lively local screen culture here in Australia. It is our view that insufficient evidence has been presented that would indicate that the removal of auditing requirements for this scheme would not result in a lower level of compliance with the scheme.

The Greens believe that the government and the TV sector must continue to strongly support the development of original Australian content. The industry has long enjoyed a fairly favourable and permissive regulatory environment which has driven strong profitability by a number of companies. In this context, we believe it is entirely fit that, in turn, it supports the broader Australian community by generating content that will highlight Australian culture. We know that the commercial TV sector is under a degree of competitive pressure at the moment and that arguments are being raised to either (a) cut licensing fees or (b) water down local content obligations. We think that these obligations are too important to sacrifice.

I draw the chamber's attention to comments by the Communications Law Centre, at UTS, in Sydney, who argue that, if auditing requirements around the new eligible drama expenditure scheme were removed, 'the ACMA should undertake regular compliance monitoring' and that 'the provision of Australian content on a range of platforms' is strongly in the public interest. We concur with these comments. The CLC states:

Although there has been a high level of compliance with these regulatory requirements to date, this does not necessarily mean that these levels of compliance will be attained in the future in the absence of robust regulation.

This is one example, I guess, where the Australian government have seen a regulation and they have decided, as part of this grand theatre of red-tape removal and deregulation, to knock something over that was actually there for a reason. It was there in the public interest, and it was performing a purpose.

The Greens further note comments from Screen Producers Australia which state that 'further analysis' is needed to ascertain the impact of the removal of these auditing requirements. It might seem simple enough to the government to just start wiping these regulations out with the stroke of a pen. We have to be very careful with the unintended consequences—presumedly not the intended consequences—of degrading the ability of local Australian writers, producers, actors and everybody in the screen industry to get their work broadcast. SPA state in their submission:

The relative costs and benefits have not been clearly communicated and importantly, the degree to which the high-level of compliance has been achieved as a result of the auditing requirement remains unclear.

People are congratulating the government—this one and the former government—for seeing the industry maintain this degree of compliance, but it may well be that the auditing requirements in the act are precisely what has kept it there. So we recommend that the auditing requirements for the new eligible drama expenditure scheme remain firmly in place.

I want to add some comments as well while we are on the subject of vibrant local screen culture and Australian content. Through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, I respectfully ask the present—at least for the time being—Minister for Communications, Mr Turnbull, to rethink his objection to allowing community broadcasting stations around Australian metropolitan areas spectrum continuity. The idea of knocking these stations over, freeing up the spectrum for purposes that have never actually been made clear to anybody and just having them go and make their way on YouTube and hope that audiences will follow them online I think is incredibly retrograde and quite destructive.

The Australian Greens believe that community TV stations are a really powerful and important part of our cultural mix, particularly in the broadcast space, and that allowing them to just take their chances online is completely unacceptable. If the National Broadband Network had not just had a huge kick in the guts and a massive setback, you might be able to say in four, five or six years that, yes, broadcast is quite clearly moving online and community broadcasters should not only maintain their incumbency but get out there in front of the pack. But the fact is that, if you went in to Channel 7 or any of the big commercial broadcasters tomorrow and said, 'We're pulling your spectrum at the end of 2015; good luck on YouTube,' there would be a riot. I do not understand why this minister thinks it is appropriate to treat community broadcasters that way.

To that end, I would like to now move a second reading amendment. It has only recently been circulated. It is very brief. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

but the Senate calls on the Australian Government to guarantee continuity of broadcast spectrum to the community television sector; so that community TV stations can continue in their role of training Australian talent and providing much-needed diversity to the Australian media market.

It is not enough to say that, because these broadcasters have small audiences, they should go to the wall. If they have audiences that the communications minister thinks could do with a measure of improvement, let us support the stations. Let us do what we can. Let us find out what they need to increase their reach, because, in an age of incredible concentration of power in the hands of a very small number of corporations and media oligarchs, why on earth would we be taking our precious community TV broadcasters off the air?

I look forward to committing that second reading amendment to a vote. As I indicated at the outset, I will leave the remainder of the comments on behalf of the Australian Greens to my colleague Senator Siewert.


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