Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017; In Committee
I have a couple of questions for the minister. Could the minister please explain why it is that the narrow definition of who is entitled to receive this fund cuts out organisations like The Guardian, BuzzFeed and The New Daily simply because they may have a parent body based internationally and how that aligns with this fund being able to be accessed by News Ltd publications, which, of course, have huge reach through the Murdoch empire across the rest of the world.
The News organisation, because of its size, would not be eligible under the innovation fund. Regarding the other organisations that you mentioned, I'm not aware of the individual ownership arrangements or structure of each of those organisations, so my advice to all organisations is that they look at the criteria of the fund to determine for themselves if they're eligible to make an application.
I should emphasise that just because an organisation is eligible to make an application doesn't mean that it will necessary receive funding, because there is a process to assess applications. But we were very conscious of the need to focus this support on organisations which are based within Australia and are Australian owned. As you would be aware, we do have a number of tests: a primary purpose test around the journalism that they undertake; an Australian residence test, to demonstrate that the organisation is incorporated in Australia; an independence test, to demonstrate that they are not associated with, for example, a union, a political party or an NGO; and a control test, to demonstrate that they are not controlled by an entity which isn't managed by Australians.
By that I take it that the only set of amendments are my amendments?
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: That's correct.
I was under the understanding that there were other amendments being circulated but they, obviously, haven't happened.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Yours are the only ones, Senator Hanson-Young.
Thank you for that clarification. Could the minister explain to the chamber why the government has decided to cut $83 million from the ABC budget, as outlined in the budget last year? The reason that this is important in relation to this issue is that this bill is meant to be looking after and supporting public interest journalism yet, at the same time as giving money to small publishers through an innovation fund in rural and regional areas, we're seeing the government cut funding to our public broadcaster. It's going to make it even harder for the ABC to carry on their good services in rural and regional Australia if they don't have the funding. The government is willing to put money on the table for these rural and small publishers through this innovation fund—notwithstanding their ridiculous ideological blindness to locking out organisations like The Guardian,The New Daily and others—but, at the same time, as we learned in last night's budget, they have made a cut to the ABC of $83 million. Could the minister please explain why this cut is being made and how it is going to impact on the delivery of public interest journalism in rural and regional Australia.
Although it's not part of the bill that's before us, I'm happy to address Senator Hanson-Young's question. In the budget last night, the government did indicate that there would be a pause on the indexation of the ABC's base funding from the next triennium. The funding for the ABC in the current triennium remains intact and that has another year to go. We think, as a government, that it's important that the ABC be the best possible steward that it can be of each taxpayer dollar that it has. We have indicated that we will have an efficiency review which will assist the ABC in that task.
I should point out that, in the next triennium, total ABC base funding will be $3.16 billion. The ABC will continue to receive in excess of $1 billion a year. This funding is one of the important underpinnings of the diversity in the Australian media environment and is one of the important supports for civic journalism in Australia.
We are fully confident that the ABC will be able to discharge its responsibilities to the nation, and particularly to rural and regional Australia. Indeed, in an effort to underscore the importance of the ABC's work in rural and regional Australia, we have legislation before the parliament to put specific reference to their obligations to rural and regional Australia in the ABC Act, which is something that people assume is in their legislation but isn't currently the case. I should acknowledge Senator McKenzie's role in putting that proposition forward in her pre-ministerial incarnation.
The minister says that this cut of $83 million won't have any impact on delivery of services in regional areas. We will take a raincheck on that when it comes to the time. Could the minister detail and inform the committee how many job losses at the ABC this cut of $83 million will deliver.
The ABC have legislated independence in relation to operational matters and programming matters, so it will be a matter for the ABC as to how they organise themselves in line with the budget that they will have in the next triennium. I don't think that there is yet to be a public sector organisation that has reached a state of administrative perfection. I don't believe that the ABC have achieved that state. There is scope in all public sector organisations to always strive to be even better stewards of the taxpayer dollar, and that's what I'm sure the ABC will do.
I take it from that that the minister expects that this $83 million cut will mean 'efficiencies', as he referred to it. 'Efficiencies', of course, is code in Liberal speak for cuts—job cuts, job losses and cuts to people's livelihoods. Journalism jobs will be gone. People's jobs in programming will be gone. People in the administration of the organisation will have their jobs cut and will be gone. Eighty-three million dollars is a big whack out of the public broadcaster. Could the minister outline whether he has had any conversations with the director of the ABC in relation to the impact that this $83 million cut will mean for her organisation?
Just for context, I should indicate that the indexation pause represents the equivalent of about 2.6 per cent of the ABC's budget—that is, 2.6c per dollar that the ABC receives. This is, in the context of the ABC's overall budget, something that is fairly modest. The ABC was aware before budget night that this was to be the case. We, as I mentioned before, are not altering the ABC's funding in the current triennium, which has a year to go, which means that the ABC is well placed to consider its operations in the context of the funding that will be in the next triennium.
I can only speak to those conversations that have occurred with me. I can't speak to what may have passed between other people within my office or department and the ABC. All I can tell you is that I have not had discussions about issues of employment for the next triennium.
It's quite extraordinary that the minister can't find out, doesn't know or can't be bothered to find out what the discussions in his office have been in relation to discussions with the director of the ABC about job losses. Is the minister putting to this chamber that he has no control over what happens in his office, or is it that he just doesn't want to tell us?