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 the Prime Minister's comments this morning that the appointment of the public media advocate would be made in consultation with the opposition. Can the minister confirm what the criteria for selection will be?
I think I outlined yesterday that it should be someone with the experience and knowledge in the sector. I was asked today on radio whether that would include politicians or ex-politicians. I have to confess I probably thought I should give us all a get out clause by saying no, I did not think it would be a great idea for an ex-pollie. But, having said that, the Prime Minister has committed, as we said yesterday, that we would follow the Nolan principles whereby we would consult as we do with the head of the ABC. In terms of the process, I can confirm—I think this came out in discussions yesterday also; it was not something new today—
Honourable senators interjecting—
I probably would lean towards a view that ex-politicians perhaps might not be the appropriate people to be on this. But, having said that, as an example, I think on the Western Australian press council a former politician is on the panel that considers things there, and that seems to be working fairly well. I am open to suggestions, but my gut reaction would be that we probably should not inflict something like this on one of our former colleagues. There will be an open process, an advertised selection process, and that will be very transparent.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I do not believe we have any intention of instructing the public interest media advocate. The whole point of the advocate is that it is at arm's length from us—just as we do not direct the head of the ACMA, an organisation that regulates the codes of conduct of the broadcast industry. And Mr Chapman and the head of the Productivity Commission are statutorily independent. We also have the ACCC, where we have a head, and we do not instruct any of those. I would envisage that we would have the same procedures for appointments and dismissal as all of those other independent statutory officers have.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. If the public interest media advocate is appointed by the government of the day, can be removed by the government of the day and can be in any way instructed or pressured by the government of the day, aren't they more an advocate of government interest than the public interest?
One of the problems when you are reading out a question that has already been written before you hear the answer is that you do not always get a chance to adapt the question to the previous answer. But let me be clear. I repeat: the head of the ACMA is a statutory independent officer. The head of the ACCC is a statutory independent officer and the head of the Productivity Commission is a statutory independent officer. The government does not give them instructions. Just because the government appoints them does not mean they follow a government order. That will certainly continue to be the case with this new position. So you can continue to create conspiracies, you can continue to make allegations, but this will be a perfectly normal, proper process, similar to the appointment of those other— (Time expired)