Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. I refer the minister to his demand that parliament pass laws by next Thursday which impose a public interest on media acquisitions. What is the criteria he believes to be in the public interest?
I thank the senator for her question. The government believes—I repeat—that in a democracy it is vital we have a diversity of voices within the media. It is absolutely vital, and the government's reforms will support both of these principles. Media organisations are provided with certain exemptions from privacy legislation, and we are continuing to allow and support self-regulation of the media despite what those opposite keep trying to claim.
The office of the Public Interest Media Advocate's role is limited to authorising the schemes proposed by the industry. This is the same role as performed by ASIC in relation to the Financial Ombudsman Service's schemes. Media ownership is currently regulated by both the foreign ownership requirements and the competition requirements, but we do not believe that is sufficient. We believe there should be a protection.
The public interest test talks about whether or not there is a reduction in voices, whether or not the reach is affected, whether or not there is a sustainability position whereby you might lose the voice completely if you do not allow it to merge. It is about the reach of the voices. Those are the sorts of issues that go to a public interest test. As I have already demonstrated in answers to the last question, a range of other countries—the US, the UK, Canada, and others—also have public interest criteria. This is not a new— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. If the minister is unable to define public interest in anything other than vague generalities, will Labor's new regulator not enjoy enormous power to make subjective decisions?
I utterly reject the premise. Let me give you an example: the final report of the convergence review was released last year after extensive consultation with stakeholders and the general public on these issues. Seven discussion papers were issued throughout 2011, with more than 340 detailed submissions and over 28,000 comments, and there were personal consultations around the nation, including in regional areas. This topic has been debated the length and breadth of this country. The convergence review went out and spoke to people in regional areas. There has been extensive public discussion on this matter. Those opposite, who are not interested in diversity, in what the public is interested in—
Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. Does the minister agree with his colleague John Murphy's description of certain media outlets as 'a cancer on our democracy', or with those of his Senate counterpart, Doug Cameron—
At the end of the day we should finally see those opposite exposed as what they are really about. This is just a hate-media attack according to those opposite. This is what you claim: vengeance is what you claim. This has been policy that I have already demonstrated: seven discussion papers throughout 2011; 340 detailed submissions; and over 28,000 comments, and that is just in the convergence review before we get to the Finkelstein inquiry. Many people have many views.
Some might describe today's front page of the Daily Telegraph as colourful. Some might call it that. Senator Murphy's comments could be called colourful. Senator Cameron is always colourful. Not a day goes by without Senator Cameron being colourful. Let us be clear: I am not endorsing anybody's views other than the policy that we are putting forward. We are proceeding to protect diversity. You have a choice in a few weeks— (Time expired)