Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Bill 2017, Commercial Broadcasting (Tax) Bill 2017; In Committee
I want to put on the record that the Australian Conservatives support the need for media reform. I said this in my second reading contribution and I have said it in the media leading up to this debate. But I believe that we cannot look at media reform in isolation by only considering the commercial media. We have what I would term the elephant in the room—it was addressed by Senator Siewert's and Senator Hanson-Young's amendments—which is our national broadcaster. We may be approaching this from different angles, but the national broadcaster has been brought into this debate. The national broadcaster is the elephant in the room. Between the ABC and SBS, it consumes about $1.5 billion worth of taxpayer dollars. It competes in a media landscape which is highly competitive and, as I think the Senate is about to acknowledge or has acknowledged through the second reading debate, is in need of significant reform, if only to allow the commercial operators to be competitive and to remain viable. Other senators have discussed the need to maintain the rural and regional presence in the diverse media landscape we see in this country. Whilst Senator Xenophon's amendments, which have been accepted by the government, don't sit particularly well with me, I will not let the perfect get in the way of the good and the necessary.
However, I do think it is in the country's interest to be done with media reform, at least for the rest of this year. I have noted that the government has given some undertakings to One Nation in particular. I think the term was, 'A deal has been done,' over some substantial changes to the charter and conduct of the ABC. I also note that the minister acknowledged the importance of those things and his willingness to bring them into being. I also note that Senator McKenzie has a private senator's bill about ABC reform as well, with a particular focus on regional and rural areas.
It was in the interests of facilitating the speedy resolution of these things—to allow the government to have more time to deal with important things such as reducing the national debt and spending less money and so forth, rather than revisiting media reform again and again—that I thought it would be much better for this place to ask the government and the Senate to render their judgement on the deal that One Nation has done with the government and on Senator McKenzie's reforms as well. So I've incorporated these into two tranches of amendments, which I'll address shortly.
But I need to spell out that, whilst I have introduced them into this bill, they are not my amendments. I know Senator Hanson was very concerned in her speech in the second reading debate that the amendments that she'd seen from me bore a remarkable resemblance to the deal she had struck with the government. That is because they are the amendments in the deal that One Nation did with the government. I have no ownership of them. In fact, I reserve the right to vote against those, should it come to a division, if I don't like them as such. But make no mistake: these are the very amendments that the government has agreed to do a deal with One Nation on in respect of the ABC. So we can put that to rest forever and a day, or at least for the next few weeks, to allow the government to focus on other things.
Then, when considering how that would facilitate the Senate and make things that much more easy for all of us, I thought: why not incorporate the very prudent amendments from Senator McKenzie? Senator McKenzie's amendments go to such things as strengthening the rural and regional impact of the ABC. I have to say, in discussing the ABC briefly, that there are people out there who say, 'Let's sell it off or get rid of it.' I'm not one of those. I believe the ABC plays an important role in the Australian psyche. I just happen to think the ABC and SBS are too big and they get too much money. I would like to see them pared back, and I would like to see them have a renewed focus on rural and regional issues. So, whilst in sentiment I agree with many of Senator McKenzie's amendments too, they are incorporated into the amendments that I'm proposing and will be moving later on today.
As I said earlier, I believe the ABC and SBS should be merged. I think we could look to save a substantial amount of money, and that's indeed what I'm trying to do. Part of the reason for that, if I can give you an example, is that the focus seems to be way off for them. Just last week, ABC Radio National ran a segment on Marxism for beginners. I really don't think that we should be having Marxism for beginners lessons on our national broadcaster. Whilst we may think it's a bit of a laugh, I can only imagine the outrage if they had conservatism for beginners or something like that. It wouldn't be allowed on the ABC. Their focus has been taken away from providing news and information and public and current affairs to what some would term 'propaganda'.
So I think there does need to be some significant reform, and I think we can do it to save some money. I think we can do it tonight by honouring the commitment that the government has given to the One Nation team in the interests of openness and transparency and also to back in Senator McKenzie and the Nationals in their reform of the commitment of the ABC to regional areas.
With that, I have two sets of amendments. The first one, amendment (2) on sheet 8253, is to schedule 7. This amendment was part of the One Nation tranche of demands in their deal, and it is essentially a register of foreign ownership of media corporations and a review of taxation arrangements. I say once again that I don't necessarily agree with this. I'm doing it because I think it is in the interests of this parliament to establish once and for all the playing field which we are all dealing with. The level of trust shown between senators has rarely been higher but, whilst we may trust, I think we should verify, in the words of Ronald Reagan. With that, I move amendment (2) on sheet 8253:
(2) Schedule 7, page 53 (line 1) to page 54 (line 6), omit the Schedule, substitute:
Schedule 7—Register of foreign ownership of media corporations and review of taxation arrangements
Broadcasting Services Act 1992
1 After section 215
215A Public Register of Foreign Owned Media Corporations
(1) ACMA must establish and update each month a register to be known as the Public Register of Foreign Owned Media Corporations.
(2) The register is to be maintained by electronic means.
(3) The register is to be made available for inspection on ACMA's website.
(4) The register must record the ownership, by country, of:
(a) all commercial broadcasting service licensees;
(b) all subscription television broadcasting service licensees; and
(c) all international broadcasting service licensees.
2 After section 216A
216AA Review of taxation arrangements etc.
(1) After 30 June 2019, the ACMA must conduct a review of the following matters:
(a) whether the Commercial Broadcasting (Tax) Act 2017 should be repealed or amended on or before 1 July 2022;
(b) such matters (if any) as are specified in an instrument under subsection (2).
(2) The Minister may, by notifiable instrument, specify one or more matters for the purposes of paragraph (1) (b), so long as those matters relate to:
(a) commercial television broadcasting licensees and commercial radio broadcasting licensees; and
(b) the use of spectrum (within the meaning of the Radiocommunications Act 1992) by those licensees to provide commercial broadcasting services.
(3) In conducting the review, the ACMA must consider such matters (if any) as are specified in an instrument under subsection (4).
(4) The Minister may, by notifiable instrument, specify one or more matters for the purposes of subsection (3).
(5) In conducting the review, the ACMA must make provision for public consultation.
(6) The ACMA must give the Minister a report of the review before 1 July 2021.
(7) The Minister must cause copies of a report under subsection (6) to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sittings days of that House after receiving the report.
I acknowledge Senator Bernardi's contribution. I should indicate, or reinforce, that part of the agreement that the government has with Pauline Hanson's One Nation party is a series of measures that relate to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. We have indicated that we will be seeking to introduce those in a subsequent piece of legislation, which will go through the usual processes that we have, but we have agreed to bring that forward.
Again, I want to acknowledge Senator Bridget McKenzie's role, and Senator Bernardi made reference to the private senators' bill that Senator McKenzie has introduced. The fundamental elements of that will be incorporated into government legislation. They will be government policy, and they are part of the agreement that we have entered into with Pauline Hanson's One Nation. To recap very briefly, they include: putting the words 'rural and regional' in the ABC Charter, something that isn't presently there, which we think is a good thing to do, to have that recognition of rural and regional Australia; they will require that there always be two people on the board of the ABC who have experience living or working in rural and regional Australia, and we think that is a good thing; we also think a positive is the establishment of an ABC regional advisory committee, which the ABC management would need to consult with when there is any significant decision that relates to rural and regional Australia. There are also a range of transparency measures that will be incorporated that had their genesis with Senator McKenzie, such as having in the ABC annual report a better breakdown of the resources and staff in metropolitan and rural Australia.
We have also agreed with One Nation that the words 'fair and balanced' be put into the ABC Act. At the moment, the ABC Act says that the ABC, in its news and current affairs, needs to be accurate and impartial. We have agreed that we will also incorporate the words 'fair and balanced'. As I indicated earlier, in chapter 4 of the ABC editorial guidelines it does make reference to the 'weight of evidence' being taken into account when considering balance, so it does indeed refer to 'balance'. Also, the ABC editorial guidelines in chapter 4 talk about 'fair treatment', so 'fair' and 'balanced' are already in the ABC's own editorial guidelines. That being the case, there shouldn't be an issue with that being reflected in the ABC Act. Also, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance's Journalist Code of Ethics makes reference to 'fairness' on six occasions, so I don't think that should be a matter that is controversial.
It has also been referenced that the government will be seeking, as part of that agreement, to establish a competitive neutrality inquiry, which is to examine the claims that are made by commercial broadcasters and also to look at what the ABC and SBS have to say in relation to these matters. Competitive neutrality is a well-established concept. I think it was Paul Keating who really first pioneered it. Essentially, what it relates to is whether a government organisation is using its status to compete with commercial organisations in a way that isn't reasonable. That is just a summary of those ABC measures that the government intends to pursue.
As I indicated, part of our agreement with One Nation is that we will introduce subsequent legislation to give effect to those things. So, while we obviously support the spirit and intent of Senator Bernardi's amendments, we won't be supporting those here in this place. We will be introducing our own legislation to give effect to those, and that, of course, will go through our own internal processes.
I rise to speak on Senator Bernardi's amendments, which of course, as he would probably anticipate, we don't support. But that was a very interesting contribution by the minister. Really that contribution laid bare some of the architecture of the deals that are being done to stitch together this majority. First, it confirmed yet again what Senator Burston made clear when he stood in the second reading debate and said:
In return for our support for this bill, One Nation negotiated with the government for the term 'fair and balanced' to be part of the ABC's charter, increase its commitment to regional areas and to reveal the salaries of its top broadcasters, amongst other things.
Amongst other things! I wonder what the other things are, given that Senator Hanson, who isn't here in the chamber, has already called for a reduction in funding to the ABC. So it's pretty clear that a deal has been done with One Nation that is about attacking and gutting the ABC. The minister just said so. Senator Burston said so. What they won't tell us is all that is in it.
It also, frankly, shows two things. It shows something about Senator Xenophon and the Nick Xenophon Team's position. They are trying to wash their hands of the deal which has just been outlined. Were you party to it? You have it from the horse's mouth in here. The minister is very clear that the support of One Nation for the bill that you're supporting is contingent upon an attack on the ABC. You are complicit in it.
The final thing I'd say is this: I don't agree with Senator Bernardi on a few things—I think we probably both like Adelaide—but at least he's got the courage of his convictions. He's prepared to move an amendment on the issues that One Nation say they support. He's prepared to back it. Are they going to stay out of the chamber and hide because they want to make sure that the dirty deal stays quiet so as not to embarrass Senator Xenophon? Is that what's going to happen? I have to say those people who agree with One Nation's position, with which I fundamentally disagree, that there should be an attack on the ABC might question how fair dinkum they are if they don't come down to vote for Senator Bernardi's amendment. Oh, here they come—fantastic! They might question how fair dinkum they are if they're not prepared to come down and vote for this amendment and if all they want to do is hide in the shadows and do a deal that they hope might be delivered down the track. You should have the courage of your convictions and vote for an amendment that reflects your position. It's not one I agree with, but at least Senator Bernardi is being honest.
Senator Bernardi, I don't agree with your amendment at all, of course. However, you have belled the cat with what is going on here tonight. You've made it absolutely clear what at least part of this deal means for our public broadcasters and what those who are voting with the government tonight are handing the Australian people, and that is a massive whack and attack on the ABC, our public broadcaster. It is just irrational to argue that it's an isolated arrangement between Senator Fifield and the government on one hand and Senator Pauline Hanson and One Nation on the other, totally separate to how other crossbenchers might vote or are voting on this legislation. It is absolutely nonsense and untrue to try to argue that the Nick Xenophon Team voting with the government doesn't facilitate and enable this attack on the ABC. It is the fundamental part of this package getting through. There is a reason that the government and One Nation went out and announced their deal before they had anyone else across the line. It is the fundamental grounding votes that they needed.
To argue that Nick Xenophon and his party are not complicit in this is ludicrous. No-one buys it. Everyone can see what's going on here. At least be up-front with people. In this place, far too often, we have debates around issues where people speak with conviction and they speak passionately, and far too often we get accused by the public of not being up-front. Here is an opportunity to show that you can be up-front, stand by your convictions and at least tell the public the truth. The truth is that you're enabling the deal and the attack on the ABC from One Nation by voting with the government tonight on this bill. That is actually what's going on here. It is absolutely what is going on here.
Of course, Senator Bernardi's amendments only go to some parts of this dirty deal with One Nation and the government. The remaining issue which was spoken about by Senator Fifield, in relation to the competitive neutrality review, really is the kick in the guts coming down the line to ABC and SBS. We all know what this is about. This is about restricting the public broadcaster from being able to do a good job in delivering online services to the Australian people, and that's because we have a bunch of commercial broadcasters who don't like the fact that iview and SBS On Demand are so popular. They hate it. They say they can't compete with it. Maybe deliver a better service, and people might watch your demand and streaming services. The idea that you're going to set up a review to hobble the ABC and SBS from being able to deliver services online through ABC iview and SBS On Demand is just terrible. The Australian people are not going to cop this very well. They're going to hate it. So at least be up-front about what you are doing.
The amendments put forward by Senator Bernardi go to some of the rankest and most obvious parts of this deal with One Nation. The competitive neutrality review isn't in his amendments, but that is what is being facilitated by this deal here tonight. I saw, while Senator Wong was speaking about whether One Nation were actually going to have the guts to vote for these amendments seeing that it is what they have begged the government to do, that they came into the chamber and then scuttled off. This is all about a personal vendetta that Pauline Hanson has against the ABC.
The CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, I remind you to address senators by their correct names.
This is all about a personal vendetta that Senator Hanson and One Nation have against the ABC. She said it herself: she was sick of the ABC running stories about her and her party. Well, I'm sorry, but sometimes journalists will write things you don't like when you are a politician. It happens to the best of us. Suck it up, sunshine. But we see this attack being facilitated by Senator Xenophon, and then the Nick Xenophon Team senators are pretending that somehow they can wash their hands of it. No-one buys it. No-one's going to believe it. Be up-front and tell the public the truth.
I will be supporting Senator Bernardi's amendments because I want to see whether One Nation has the guts to come down here and support what should be theirs. I'll tell you right now. I'm going to call it out like Senator Bernardi has, and I can't wait to see the end result on this one. Quite frankly, if people were half serious out there, you would lock in the bill. You would have put that in already. So, let's face it: we all know what you're like down here. You always know when there are newbies in, because they have obviously still got their trust in you. Let's face it: when you offer something, it never ends up like the original deal. You never pay it out. The bottom line is that you think we're going to forget about it as we go along. I've had a few of them myself, and I haven't forgotten about them either, by the way. Next time you need a one-up deal, be prepared to deliver there and then on what you still owe me for the last two years, because right now there are no deals.
You are a disgusting bunch of individuals at times. You have no moral values. To go after the public broadcaster is an absolute disgrace. Absolutely! You'll give $30 million to others that are already making an absolute motza out there and you're going after and attacking our very own public broadcaster. What is that? Is it because they're one step ahead when it comes to iview and their social media platform? You're going to punish them for that? The rest of them should have seen this coming 10 years ago. They should have got with the bloody program of the 21st century. They've got their hand out saying, 'Help us, government.' This is crap. This is the worst lot of crap I have seen. I've never seen anything like it.
So I will be supporting you, Senator Bernardi, and I will be enjoying every bit of it. Don't tell anyone. I know it is going to kill our reputation. I'm right there with you. Let's see what One Nation is made of.
I scarcely know what to say. I genuinely thought I was alone in this. I'm always grateful for any support that can be cobbled together in the coalition. In the interests of facilitating the entree of the Senate, I will make some brief comments and then I will seek leave to do something.
Minister, you have basically outlined that you support every single one of these amendments, yet you also indicated that you are not going to vote for them. I find that extraordinary. You have your political reasons for doing it, but I do find it extraordinary. I do recognise and I certainly agree with you that, if we pass these amendments tonight, the commitment which the government has given to One Nation to conduct an inquiry into competitive neutrality would not be incorporated. That would have to be done as an extra—plus the other things that we don't know about. I'm dealing with the known knowns, at the moment. There are the known unknowns, or the unknown knowns—or however Donald Rumsfeld once said it!
I'm heartened by the support from Senator Lambie. I don't agree with all the sentiments that she put forward, but we rarely agree on anything. I don't even agree with all of these amendments, quite frankly, but I have read the standing orders and I'm compelled to vote for them. I want to put that on the record. But please do not refer to these as the 'Bernardi amendments'. This is the Burston-McKenzie amendment package. I am just the conduit, the vessel, through which they have been introduced into the Senate in the most effective and efficient manner that there can possibly be. That is what I seek to do. I seek to streamline government to minimise the bureaucracy and the duplication of it. This, I think, is one of those opportunities where we can demonstrate our commitment to integrity, honesty and transparency. With that, I seek leave of the Senate to also include amendments (1) and (3) on sheet 8253, with the amendment that I have moved already. Then we can perhaps put them as a package, with the concurrence of the Senate.
I move amendments (1) and (3) on sheet 8253, in addition to amendment (2) on sheet 8253, and seek the support of the Senate:
(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 16), omit "Schedule 7", substitute "Schedules 7 and 8".
(3) Page 54, (after line 6), at the end of the Bill, add:
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983
1 Subsection 3(1) (paragraph (a) of the definition of Advisory Council )
Repeal the paragraph, substitute:
(a) the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Advisory Council established under paragraph 11(1) (a); or
(aa) the Rural and Regional Advisory Council established under paragraph 11(1) (b); or
2 Subsection 3(1)
Rural and Regional Advisory Council means the Rural and Regional Advisory Council established under paragraph 11(1) (b).
3 Subparagraph 6(1 ) ( a ) ( i)
Repeal the subparagraph, substitute:
(i) broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of regional and national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the geographic and cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and
4 At the end of subsection 6(1)
; and (d) to encourage and promote journalistic excellence in Australia, foster an environment conducive to the promotion of regional journalism and allocate the resources necessary to carry out the Corporation's functions and duties in rural and regional Australia.
5 After subparagraph 6(2 ) ( a ) ( iii)
(iiia) the responsibility of the Corporation to maintain an effective presence across Australia, including throughout rural and regional Australia, consistent with its status as an independent national broadcasting service; and
(iiib) the responsibility of the Corporation to maintain regular transmissions of local content across a variety of platforms;
6 At the end of paragraph 6(2 ) ( a)
(vi) the responsibility of the Corporation as the provider of quality regional services to provide services that transcend commercial objectives so that the Corporation can meets its obligations to regional Australian areas with small populations; and
(vii) the expectations of communities in regional areas as to the frequency and content of broadcasts; and
7 After subsection 8(2)
(2A) Before implementing any policy affecting regional areas the Board must consult:
(a) regional employee stakeholders; and
(b) the Rural and Regional Advisory Council.
Note: Details of the consultations undertaken under this subsection are to be included in the Corporation's annual report (see paragraph 80(ea)).
8 Subsection 8(3)
Omit "subsection (1) or (2)", substitute "subsection (1), (2) or (2A)".
9 Subsection 11(1)
Repeal the subsection, substitute:
(1) The Board must establish:
(a) an Advisory Council under the name Australian Broadcasting Corporation Advisory Council; and
(b) an Advisory Council under the name Rural and Regional Advisory Council.
10 After subsection 11(3)
(3A) The functions of the Rural and Regional Advisory Council are:
(a) either on its own initiative or at the request of the Board, to advise the Board on matters relating to:
(i) the Corporation's broadcasting programs in rural and regional Australia; and
(ii) other matters relating to rural and regional Australia; and
(b) to conduct a biennial survey of rural and regional audiences relating to community satisfaction with the Corporation's broadcasting in rural and regional areas.
Note: The results of the survey are to be included in the Corporation's annual report (see paragraph 80(i)).
11 After subsection 11(6)
(6A) In making appointments to the Rural and Regional Advisory Council, the Board must have regard to the desirability of including in the membership of that Advisory Council representation of individuals who reside in rural or regional Australia.
12 Subsection 11(10)
After "Advisory Council", insert ", or the Rural and Regional Advisory Council,".
13 Subsection 11(12)
After "Advisory Council", insert ", the Rural and Regional Advisory Council".
14 After subsection 12(5AB)
(5AC) When appointing Directors referred to in paragraph (1) (b) or (c), the Governor-General must ensure that at least 2 of the Directors reside in regional areas.
15 Subsection 27(2)
Repeal the subsection, substitute:
(2) Subject to subsection (5), the Corporation must:
(a) broadcast daily from each broadcasting service regular sessions of news and information relating to current events within and outside Australia; and
(b) broadcast daily from each radio broadcasting service, at regular intervals, at least 5 radio bulletins that consist solely or primarily of regional or local news between the period:
(i) beginning at 5 am each day; and
(ii) ending at 8 pm each day.
16 After section 33
34 The Corporation as an employer in regional areas
The Corporation must:
(a) ensure that there are procedures in place to ensure that emergency regional broadcasting events are staffed in accordance with occupational health and industrial safety standards; and
(b) employ a proportion of its employees in regional areas in support of greater per capita investment in rural and regional areas of Australia than population density and commercial aims would otherwise dictate.
17 After paragraph 80(e)
(ea) particulars of any consultation undertaken by the Board during the period under subsection 8(2A); and
18 After paragraph 80(g)
(h) particulars of any advice received by the Board during the period from the Rural and Regional Advisory Council; and
(i) if a biennial survey is carried out during the period by the Rural and Regional Advisory Council—the results of the survey; and
19 Paragraph 80(l)
Repeal the paragraph, substitute:
(l) particulars of any significant changes during the period in transmission coverage, or transmission quality, of national broadcasting services provided by the Corporation:
(i) in Australia generally; and
(ii) in rural and regional areas; and
(m) particulars of the total number of employees at the end of the period aggregated by:
(i) location of employment; and
(ii) type of employment; and
(n) the percentage at the end of the period of the total number of employees that are employed in:
(i) regional areas; and
(ii) metropolitan areas;
(o) particulars of the average ratio of individuals employed by the Corporation as journalists to support staff in:
(i) regional areas; and
(ii) metropolitan areas; and
(p) particulars of the hours of local, rural and regional news broadcast, aggregated by broadcast area.
Part 2—Australian Broadcasting Corporation Charter and Remuneration
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983
20 After subsection 6(2)
(2A) The Corporation shall take measures to ensure that broadcasting of programs for news and current affairs is fair and balanced.
21 Subsection 6(3)
Omit "under subsection (2)", substitute: "under subsections (2) and (2A)".
22 After section 33
33A Reporting of ABC staff remuneration
(1) After 30 June 2018, the Corporation must publish an annual report of employees whose total remuneration exceeds $200,000 per annum.
(2) The report must include the name of employees, whose total remuneration, including salaries, allowances and other benefits paid by the Corporation exceeds $200,000 per annum
(3) The report must not disclose the actual amount paid to employees by the Corporation, but divide employees into classes, by increments of $50,000.
Part 3—Special Broadcasting Service Charter and Remuneration
Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991
23 After subsection 6(2)
(2A) SBS shall take measures to ensure that broadcasting of programs for news and current affairs is fair and balanced.
24 Subsection 6(3)
Omit "under subsection (2)", substitute: "under subsections (2) and (2A)".
25 After section 55
55A Reporting of SBS staff remuneration
(1) After 30 June 2018, the SBS must publish an annual report of employees whose total remuneration exceeds $200,000 per annum.
(2) The report must include the names of employees, whose total remuneration, including salaries, allowances and other benefits paid by SBS exceeds $200,000 per annum.
(3) The report must not disclose the actual amount paid to employees by SBS, but divide employees into classes, by increments of $50,000.
The CHAIR: The question is that item (2) on sheet 8253 and items (1) and (3) on sheet 8253, moved by Senator Bernardi, be agreed to.
Senate adjourned at 2 3 : 02