Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I rise to put Labor's position with regard to this bill on the record today in light of the deals that were done—that may or may not live long in the memory of Australians, as so many dirty deals have been done by this government. But, with regard to this particular one, the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund exists only because of a shoddy backroom deal between the Turnbull government and the Nick Xenophon political party, who now call themselves Centre Alliance.
This fund is the result of a heavily compromised trade-off. The fund didn't come about because the Turnbull government genuinely committed to promoting public interest journalism. Far from it. It came about as a result of one of many backroom deals done to grease the path for the Turnbull government's repeal of the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule. This is a rule that, until September last year, acted as a public interest safeguard by stopping any one voice in the media landscape from becoming too dominant and by promoting diversity and competition between different voices. The two-out-of-three rule ensured that no individual or company controlled more than two out of three regulated media platforms—commercial television, commercial radio or associated newspapers—in the same licence area. In essence, it was to preserve diversity of opinion on our airwaves.
In a democratic country like Australia, which has one of the highest levels of media concentration in the world, you would think that removing such a significant safeguard would be understood as being seriously misguided. But not for this Turnbull government. You would think that senators from South Australia, a state one point above the minimum floor for the number of media voices, would comprehend the importance of maintaining a rule that serves media diversity. But, no, not for former Senator Xenophon and not for Centre Alliance. Last year the Turnbull government junked a safeguard that prevented Australia's already high levels of media concentration getting worse, and it did so with the help of Nick Xenophon and the Centre Alliance senators. What sad irony that a law that acted as a democratic safeguard in promoting media diversity was done away with by deal making conducted behind closed doors and away from democratic scrutiny.
So, why all the deals? Well, after trying for over a year to get the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule through parliament, the Turnbull government was not able to persuade this chamber on absolute merit. You may ask why, and the answer is a very instructive revelation of this government's intention. The repeal of this rule was contrary to the public interest. They were unsuccessful in getting it through on merit, so they went to the deal making that characterised the final passage of this bill. Instead of accepting the reality of acting against the public interest, the Turnbull government started on a series of grubby backdoor deal-making adventures, including a grant of $30 million of taxpayer funds to Fox Sports. At Senate estimates in October last year, the Australian Sports Commission and the office for sport officials confirmed that they had not been asked to provide any advice in relation to this dubious deal. The Liberals would rather have Australians believe that this payment is about promoting women's sport. But the fact is this government didn't even consult their own sports advisers about whether or not it was a good idea before they just went ahead and did the deal anyway. Yet, even that grubby deal wasn't quite enough to get them over the line. Further deals were yet to be done.
Next, the Turnbull government sidled up to Pauline Hanson and the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party, going so far as to use the ABC as a bargaining chip to ensure One Nation's support for these very flawed media ownership changes that their legislation proposes. Last year, the ABC's Four Corners aired a program into One Nation called Please Explain and ABC News published leaked recordings of conversations that Senator Hanson's use of a donated light aircraft featured in amongst other things. In response, Senator Hanson threatened to refuse to support the federal budget unless the ABC's funding was cut by $600 million over four years. This ridiculous retaliatory threat didn't hit its mark and $600 million didn't disappear, but that does not mean that the ABC has not been under attack constantly by this government, with Senator Hanson cheering from the sidelines.
In August 2017, the government announced a deal with the One Nation party on media ownership changes inclusive of a number of unnecessary and unwarranted amendments to the ABC Act and charter as well as an insidious competitive neutrality inquiry aimed at reducing the role of the ABC to that of a market failure broadcaster. In announcing the deal, Senator Hanson also made it clear that she'd be speaking to the Treasurer and going after the ABC in the budget in 2018. Fast forward to the budget last night and—lo and behold!—further savage cuts were handed down to the ABC. This budget of 2018 contains a further $127 million in cuts to the ABC over four years on top of the $254 million in cuts that the Liberals have imposed on the ABC since 2014. The Liberals have now broken their election promise, which you might recall, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, of no cuts to the ABC. That was one of the things that was written in the blue blood of the other side. Well, they have broken that promise many, many times over. Part of breaking it was securing this dirty deal to get rid of the two-out-of-three rule.
In this budget, the Liberals have frozen the indexation of ABC's operational funding, amounting to a cut of $83.7 million. They articulated that it's to ensure the ABC continues to find back-office efficiencies. But the government know they can't squeeze blood from a stone. They know full well that this cut that they are inflicting on the ABC means cuts to jobs, content and services at the ABC. The Liberals and Nationals complain that the ABC isn't doing enough news coverage, yet these hypocrites have left a $43 million hole in funding for ABC News and Current Affairs. The ABC said that the impact of the cuts cannot be absorbed by efficiency measures alone because the ABC has already achieved significant productivity gains in response to past budget cuts. The Liberals claim their budget is about investing to create more jobs every day and to support essential services, yet these cuts to the ABC will inevitably lead to job losses. Redundancies at the ABC are on the horizon as a result of the government's cuts to the ABC in last night's budget, and reductions in the ABC services that Australians value will be the consequence of the budget delivered by Scott Morrison, the Treasurer, last night. We will have less news and fewer jobs as a result of these attacks on the ABC.
As a result of all these deals, there are now three bills before the parliament to meddle in the ABC Act, to have a faux competitive neutrality inquiry and to have a further efficiency review to undermine the ABC. Yet, despite all of that, it still wasn't enough. To secure their legislation against the public interest, the government still needed the senators in the then Nick Xenophon Team—now called the Centre Alliance—to get them over the line. So off they went, money in hand, to do a deal. Nick Xenophon and his senators from South Australia knew that if he did a deal with the Turnbull government to scrap the two-out-of-three rule he would be responsible for handing unprecedented media power to the hands of a privileged few, despite the fact that Australia has one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. Yet Senator Xenophon—with the approval of his party, you'd have to suggest—did the deal.
What's more, Senator Xenophon knew that, if he did the deal with the Turnbull government to scrap the two-out-of-three rule, he'd be responsible for the unleashing of an unprecedented attack on our very highly respected national broadcaster, the ABC, and also the SBS. Each member of the Xenophon team knew well that a vote for the government's media ownership changes was a vote for the competitive neutrality inquiry, which is designed to cruel the ABC and SBS, and that they were also signing off on a raft of other retaliatory attacks designed by the government, with Pauline Hanson's One Nation party, against the ABC. Yet, despite all of that, the Xenophon party did the deal. What's more, former Senator Xenophon knew that, if he did the deal with the Turnbull government to scrap the two-out-of-three rule, he wouldn't even get the kind of journalism fund that he wanted. He knew that the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund was compromised and that it excluded publishers like The Guardian Australia. By his own admission, the deal was ideologically motivated and, therefore, fundamentally flawed as a public interest intervention. But—that's right—despite all that, Senator Xenophon went ahead with the deal. Just weeks after supporting the Turnbull government's flawed media ownership changes in exchange for a handful of beans, Nick Xenophon announced that he was leaving the Australian Senate and federal politics altogether, and his departure ensures that he will not be accountable for the consequences of the damage that he did when he signed up to that dirty deal.
The government's repeal of the two-out-of-three rule permits media mergers and further concentration of Australia's already highly concentrated media market, and it begs the question: why expend taxpayers' money on a fund for journalism cadetships and scholarships when there aren't enough jobs to go around for existing journalists? Where will the new journalism cadets work when the media mergers, consolidations and job losses that follow the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule occur? What we've seen since the repeal of that rule is absolutely alarming. In the media sector, we've seen yet more closures and job cuts. The Blacktown Sun, for example, and its sister publications, including the Rouse Hill Couriertrusted sources of local news and information—closed in December last year. Sadly, right on the heels of the closure of those local papers, the only dedicated national newspaper for young Australians, Crinkling News, has also announced it will cease. This innovative outfit ticked so many of the boxes, informing the child audience, developing literacy skills and promoting critical media thinking, but it wasn't saved by anything that Senator Xenophon claimed he was hoping to achieve. The fact that these closures come after the Turnbull government's changes to media ownership laws were enacted in the announcement of this Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund shows how inappropriate these measures actually are.
We've learnt for decades that public interest journalism is under immense pressure from digital disruption, yet this government has cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the ABC and SBS, trusted sources of investigative journalism in Australia. It's repealed the two-out-of-three cross-media rule to permit even greater consolidation of Australia's already highly concentrated media sector and it's now threatening journalists with criminal sanctions simply for doing their jobs, with its flawed Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. Clearly, the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund is a meagre short-term bandaid. It's too little and it's too late for too many.
Over the six months that have passed since the Turnbull government abolished the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule, in an orgy of deal-making and back-scratching, cross-media mergers have begun to result. How many have actually come through? The answer is zero. The milestone makes a mockery of communication minister Mitch Fifield's alarmist urgings that parliament must act on media reforms to protect Australian jobs and give industry a fighting chance and his dire predictions of the failure of Australian media organisations.
At one point in his defence of his attack on the two-out-of-three rule, the minister said that Labor's opposition to the repeal was crippling the industry and limiting the options for organisations like Channel Ten. How wrong he was! Developments since that time clearly demonstrate just how captured by the sector the Turnbull government was and how out of touch it remains. The CBS acquisition of Channel Ten occurred thanks to the two-out-of-three rule. It was voted for overwhelmingly by Ten staff and has seen Ten go on a frenetic new hiring spree and commission the largest number of new domestic shows it has ever commissioned in one year. Contrary to Minister Fifield's doom and gloom, the President of CBS Studios International, Mr Nunez, said:
We're looking to grow Ten, we're looking to evolve Ten, we're looking to see Ten be successful in every way possible …
By comparison, it's now well understood that the alternative plan for Ten, devised to follow the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule—which I'm glad to say was delayed long enough to allow Ten to be acquired more generously—was to slash its newsroom and bring in News Corp's Sky News to reduce costs and give the Murdoch news service greater reach. That did not happen, thankfully.
As the recent joint venture for playout operations between Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment indicates, with efficiencies we inevitably see job cuts. Labor acknowledges that other media merger plans may already be in train and may yet materialise. With recent history as our witness, Labor again condemns the Turnbull government's repeal of the two-out-of-three rule, which paves the way for further job losses and consolidation in Australia's media market, which is, as I've said, already one of the most concentrated in the world.
With this deal, the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, Senator Xenophon revealed the pitiful price he put on Australia's media diversity—$60.4 million in exchange for his vote to repeal the two-out-of-three rule. Labor won't oppose this bill, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017, but regards the fund to be a short-term, bandaid solution that does nothing to fill the void left by the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule. It's too little, too late for too many media organisations. The fact that innovative outfits like Crinkling Newshave announced their closure since the changes to the media law and the announcement of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund indicates how inadequate the Turnbull government's measures are. Labor senators further note that the fund exposes the rank hypocrisy of the government when it comes to the use of taxpayers' funds to prop up commercial media instead of supporting our national public broadcasters. The Turnbull government handed $30 million to Fox Sports, which has a foreign based parent company, but excluded The Guardian Australia from this fund for the same reason.
Labor will not oppose the bill, which amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, by inserting a new part 14F, to establish legislative authority for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to make a grant of financial assistance to a publisher of a newspaper, magazine or other periodical, or a content service provider. The grants would be limited to the financial year commencing 1 July 2018 and the following two financial years. Labor will not oppose a mechanism to distribute a modest, short-term fund in the name of public interest journalism. But Labor will hold the Turnbull government to account for undermining what precious little media diversity Australia enjoys. Taken together, the Turnbull government's media ownership changes and its plans to undermine our public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, represent a direct assault on media diversity in Australia. This has implications for our democracy and our culture. The Turnbull government seems hell-bent on destroying diversity in Australian broadcasting. Labor condemns the Turnbull government's disastrous record on media diversity and public interest journalism. To this end, I move the second reading amendment as circulated in my name:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate:
(a) notes that the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund was agreed by the Turnbull Liberal Government as part of a back-room deal with the then Nick Xenophon team in exchange for support for the repeal of the 2 out of 3 cross-media control rule in 2017;
(b) notes that the Government's disastrous record on media diversity and public interest journalism includes:
(i) removal of a key media diversity safeguard which prevented even greater consolidation in Australia's already highly concentrated media sector with the repeal of the 2 out of 3 cross-media control rule;
(ii) budget cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars from the ABC and SBS, which are trusted sources of investigative journalism in Australia;
(iii) pushing community television off the broadcast platform to an online delivery model without an adequate transition period;
(iv) threatening journalists with criminal sanctions simply for doing their jobs under the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017;
(v) policy inaction in the face of the loss of more than 3000 journalism jobs in Australia over the past five years;
(c) notes that media diversity and support for public interest journalism are not mutually exclusive and that Australia needs both;
(d) calls on the Government to stop actively undermining media diversity and public interest journalism in Australia;
(e) calls on the Turnbull Government to drop its destructive attack on the ABC; and
(f) calls on the Government to support media diversity and public interest journalism in Australia.".
I rise today to speak in relation to the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017. I concur with many of the comments put forward by Senator O'Neill in relation to this bill, particularly when she spoke about the consistent attacks from the government on the Australian public broadcaster the ABC. And let's not forget their constant attacks on SBS as well.
We saw that again last night. Despite all the promises when Tony Abbott was vying to be the Prime Minister back in 2013, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, and he said that there would be no cuts to the ABC, well, that was wrong. Over and over and over again what we have seen from the Liberal government are cuts to the ABC. Last night more cuts to the ABC were in the budget handed down by the Treasurer, Scott Morrison. This government really doesn't like public interest journalism, and the reason they don't like public interest journalism is because they don't like the scrutiny that comes with it.
This bill before us today relates directly to the deal that was done with former Senator Xenophon at the time of the passing of the two-out-of-three rule and the media reform package. It was a pretty dodgy deal at the end of the day. It was pretty measly in terms of the bang for its buck and, ultimately, what we saw was Senator Xenophon give cover to the government—to agree, with the insistence of One Nation and Pauline Hanson, that the ABC would continue to be a punching bag for their side of politics.
One Nation, of course, hate the ABC. They always have and always will. They can't stand that we would have well-trained, quality journalists asking tough questions. They can't stand it. Senator Pauline Hanson cannot stand the fact that there are ABC journalists in this place, up in the press gallery, who ask the tough questions. She'd prefer that no-one questioned what she stood for, her motives or why she says one thing in Queensland and does another thing in the chamber here.
Obviously, when she's in Queensland, Senator Pauline Hanson, leader of One Nation, goes around telling everybody that One Nation cares about the battlers. But One Nation come down into this place and they vote with the government time and time and time again for tax cuts for the wealthy and tax cuts for big corporations. They're now asking the taxpayer to fund the compensation that the banks should pay as a result of the royal commission looking into people who have been screwed over by the banking industry. They want the taxpayer to fund the compensation. They want to give the banks a big tax cut and they want the taxpayer to foot the bill. It's just extraordinary.
So of course Senator Pauline Hanson doesn't like the idea that the ABC and SBS have good quality journalists who ask the tough questions. One Nation want to see their funding cut and, of course, last night in the budget that's what we saw: funding cuts to the ABC—funding cuts to the ABC despite the promise from Malcolm Turnbull and, previously, from Tony Abbott that that would not happen. Well, you just can't take their word for anything any more.
However, as part of the deal that was done with the Xenophon team, this bill puts aside money to help small publishers to ensure that there is some element of support for public interest journalism. But, of course, the government couldn't stand the idea that some other, smaller publishers and players in this space—people and journalists who offer good quality public interest journalism, such as journalists who write and report for The Guardianmight be able to get some of this financial support. So this bill says that only some people—small country News-Limited-owned papers, for example—can access this fund; if you're a journalist doing good investigative work for The Guardian, you're not allowed to have any of it.
This is an ideological bill in the way that it has been drawn up. It's ridiculous that we're now seeing, even though Senator Xenophon isn't even in the chamber anymore—he's not a member of the federal parliament—that his legacy is a dodgy deal put on the table that allows for the government to follow through with their ideological attack on public interest journalism. Indeed, it gave cover to the government's continual attack on the ABC and One Nation's attack on the ABC.
We know that, at the time that this bill was being negotiated with former Senator Xenophon, former Senator Xenophon said:
The government's position was that the Guardian Australia's parent entity was foreign and therefore would not qualify. I do not believe this is relevant. What is relevant is that Australian news stories and analysis are being produced by Australian journalists.
He went on to say:
I fear that there was narrow, blinkered ideology at play on the part of some Coalition backbenchers and some crossbenchers… You have to ask whether blind ideology, yet again, got in the way of sensible public policy.
It's not very often that I agree with the words of the former Senator Nick Xenophon, but on this one I absolutely do.
But, as Senator O'Neill has pointed out, despite all of that he still did the deal. So that is why we have this piece of legislation before us, which is an ideological bandaid from this government. It gives cover to the attack from One Nation on the ABC and it gives cover to the hatred of The Guardian and the ABC by some coalition backbenchers, probably some of their frontbenchers too. We know what the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, thinks of the ABC and thinks of The Guardian: he can't stand them. So they have now put in place a fund that is restricted, because of their own ideological blinkers.
The role of government is not to just support your mates because your mates want you to; it's to do things in the interest of the whole country. It is not up to the government to decide that, because they don't like the ABC reporting on them or asking the tough questions, or The Guardian doing good investigative work, they won't get funding. They will be thrown under the bus while the Murdoch press and News Limited can get a free ride. This is effectively a taxpayer handout to News Limited. That's what this bill allows for: a taxpayer handout to News Limited and the Murdoch press.
If you walked down the street and you spoke to the average Australian and you said, 'The Australian public is going to restrict money going to foreign companies and foreign journalists', do you think they'd think that the Murdoch press were foreign or Australian owned? What do you think people on the street would say? I don't think anyone thinks Rupert Murdoch is Australian—not anymore. He's got no interest in looking after Australia; all he's interested in is continuing to build his big multimedia Murdoch empire. Meanwhile, just because journalists in this country—who are covering Australian stories, doing good investigative work and ensuring that as parliamentarians we do our job—happen to work for The Guardian, or some other media outlet, they're not entitled to the same support. That's what this bill does. It's simply extraordinary.
We will be moving an amendment to this piece of legislation to try and rectify this problem and to remove the ideological blinkers that have been embedded in this piece of legislation as part of the dodgy deal with the Nick Xenophon Team in order to give cover to One Nation's attack on the ABC, SBS and, of course, The Guardian. This amendment is important. It will remove the effect of the narrow, blinkered ideology that the former Senator Nick Xenophon referred to.
Let's remember what this bill is meant to be about. It is meant to be about supporting Australian journalism. We want to support Australian journalism. The Labor Party wants to do that. We've heard from the government that they think they want to do that—I will take that with a grain of salt. The Greens want to do that. Obviously, some members of the crossbench want to do that. But, unlike the government, we don't just want to support the journalists that we agree with. We are simply saying that, if we're going to support journalism with Australian tax dollars, let's support Australian journalists writing Australian stories for Australian audiences. That should be the criteria if we care about investing, protecting, underpinning and supporting public interest journalism in this country.
This should not be a controversial position. The Greens will move this amendment to remove this blinkered ideology that says that money can only go to the government's friends on its side of politics. The government has suggested that, if this amendment passes, it will not proceed with the bill. And here drops the penny: this government doesn't give two hoots about journalists' jobs in this country. This government doesn't give two hoots about whether small publishers are able to continue doing their good work, ensuring that they can report local stories for local audiences. This government would prefer, if The Guardian was included or if there was an element that allowed for The Guardian to be included in this, no-one got any support at all. Malcolm Turnbull would rather have no money going to any news outlet than have a single dollar go to The Guardian. That's the government's position in relation to the Greens fixing this bill to remove the blinkered ideology and to ensure that we support Australian journalism across the board.
We, of course, here in the Greens, take a more balanced approach. We say that it's not the job of the government to decide which side of the political media you want to support and which side you want to let hang out to dry. Our amendment, that will be moved in the committee stage, strips out the government's ideology test on who can and who can't have access to the funding model. This is public money. It's not the government's money, it's not Malcolm Turnbull's money, it's certainly not the backbenchers in the coalition's money and it's not Pauline Hanson's One Nation's money. This is Australian taxpayers' money. Every Australian has the right to know that their taxes are being spent fairly and outside of a politically ideological bent, and yet this government reveals itself over and over and over again as having no care for anyone else unless they're on its side of politics.
Think about the tax cuts that were announced last night. The government don't care about the people at the bottom end, really. They want to go to a situation where we do away with a progressive tax system, because all they're interested in is looking after their rich mates. They don't care if people at the bottom end need public services, schools, hospitals and access to doctors, because their mates can afford to use the private system. Their mates can afford to go and spend their money where they want and get the services when they want.
People at the lower end of the income brackets are doing it really tough, but this government doesn't give a damn. It's blinded by its ideology. Whether it's media reform, whether it's tax reform or whether it's anything else that comes before this place, this government overplays its hand every time and unveils its grotesque political ideology for all to see. This bill is a blatant misuse of public money, and an abuse of public trust for Malcolm Turnbull and Mitch Fifield to decide which—
I appreciate that. This is a blatant misuse of public money and an abuse of the public trust for the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, to decide which journalists they support based on which journalists support them. That is the crux of the issue here.
The Greens want to support Australian journalism and journalists' jobs. At a time when trust in politics is so low, public interest journalism is more important than ever. The public funding to support public interest journalism must be available to all players, not just those in the right-wing media and their friends in the government. This is about ensuring that we support Australian journalism and Australian journalists, not just the ones that happen to agree with the Prime Minister.
The Greens want a strong, sustainable and vibrant news media industry, and we want a balanced one. We're not suggesting for a moment that all of the funding should just go to news outlets that promote the Greens' policies. That wouldn't be investment in public interest journalism because, in order to have proper public interest journalism, there must be balanced representation and reporting so people on all sides can get all the different views. So whether you are a Greens member of parliament, a Liberal member of parliament, a One Nation member of parliament or a Nick Xenophon member of parliament—whatever you are—you should know that when a journalist is reporting they are doing it because they are supporting and upholding public interest journalism. It doesn't matter whether or not they like our views. In turn, it shouldn't matter whether or not we like their reporting.
This government says it would rather go broke than stay balanced. This amendment is an opportunity to say to the government that it has overreached and, well and truly, this is the case. It is an opportunity for the Centre Alliance, Senator Griff and Senator Patrick, to correct what former senator Nick Xenophon said was an instance where 'blind ideology yet again got in the way of sensible public policy'. I say this to Senator Griff and Senator Patrick: Nick's gone; he's nicked off. You have an opportunity today to fix this mistake, to make sure we remove the blind ideology. Why should taxpayers fund just one reported view of how this government is going? Why should taxpayers fund the mouthpiece of One Nation and Senator Pauline Hanson but no other journalist in this country? It is an ideologically blind piece of legislation. We can fix it. We can fix it today, and I urge you to consider the amendments at the committee stage.
I feel compelled to make a contribution to the debate on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017, because of the importance of public interest journalism. This is an issue with which I've had some involvement as the chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism and, as chair, I put a significant amount of work into preparing the committee's final report which I tabled in the Senate in February this year. Through the 75 written submissions that were received by the committee and the seven public hearings that were held, the committee learned that public interest journalism in Australia is in crisis.
Accurate, quality in-depth investigative journalism is under threat from digital disruption and the news media faces significant challenges in the transition to online news delivery. The revenue of traditional media outlets has crashed, and this has led to the shutting down and restructuring of many media outlets. Despite overall growth in advertising revenue between 2013 and 2017, digital advertising is growing rapidly and sucking up revenue that used to go to traditional media. According to standard media index figures, the total advertising spend in Australia over this period increased by 11 per cent. However, digital advertising experienced an 87 per cent increase compared to a slight decline, about five per cent, in television advertising. Print advertising, however, has suffered a sharp decline, with advertising revenues in newspapers and magazines falling a massive 46 per cent. Newspapers are struggling to arrest this decline and make up revenue through subscriptions. This loss of revenue has translated to the loss of around 3,000 journalism positions in the last five years or roughly a quarter of the journalism positions in Australia.
There have been two perverse outcomes from the decline of newspaper revenues. The first is the pressure on maintaining journalistic values as newspapers fight to claw back their declining market share. Newspapers are now more averse to upsetting their advertisers and, in an effort to sell more papers, some are substituting stories that are in the public interest for entertainment and sensationalism. The second outcome is the loss of investment in quality journalism itself. Having to produce more column inches in a shorter period of time means that journalists have fewer resources for in-depth stories, the kind of stories that really hold our powerful public and private institutions to account.
A number of negative effects of the disruption to the traditional media business model were explored through the future of public interest journalism inquiry. For example, there was evidence given by Deakin University that rural and regional areas had fewer reliable sources of local news, particularly when the news was produced hundreds of kilometres away from the towns to which they were broadcast. Evidence was also given about the decline in reporting on public health issues, a function which in the past has led to scrutiny of the effects of dangerous substances such as tobacco and asbestos. And contributors to the inquiry talked about the decline in services aimed at broadcasting to and promoting the interests of minority groups such as Indigenous Australians and Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse groups.
A great deal of evidence was received by the inquiry regarding the overall decline in quality of news leading the public to lose trust in journalists and mainstream media. This problem is exacerbated by the modern media's 24-hour news cycle, which is placing pressure on journalists and publishers to break stories early with little time to check the accuracy of their facts.
Public-interest journalism serves an important democratic function, and a great example of how the crisis in public-interest journalism has threatened democracy was given to the inquiry by the editor of The Conversation, Misha Ketchell, who told one of the inquiry's public hearings:
My view is that the role of journalists for a long period of time, before this digital disruption we're talking about, was being almost a cop on the beat in the public sphere—'This information is unreliable and shouldn't be published; this information is reliable and should be published.' Part of what's happened with the collapse of the business models is there's no-one to pay the cop on the beat anymore. That role has been diminished, and what you have instead is a free-for-all of hyperpartisan debate, where everybody says everybody's lying, everybody can accuse everybody of fake news, and it's hard to know what you can trust.
So, when public interest journalism is in crisis, it's not just the media industry but also our democracy that's under threat.
The crisis in public interest journalism has been unfolding for quite some time now. It was unfolding while Labor was in government, and that's why we initiated the Convergence review and the Finkelstein inquiry. It has continued to unfold under the Abbott and Turnbull Liberal governments, yet those opposite haven't lifted a finger to tackle the crisis. Not only have those opposite been negligent in confronting this crisis; they've actually made it worse. A key plank in the government's assault on public interest journalism has been their savage cuts to the ABC and the SBS. The impact of the cuts to the ABC were outlined in detail by the journalists union, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, in their submission to the inquiry. The MEAA's submission said:
Constant cuts are also negatively affecting the ABC's ability to fund public interest journalism and local newsrooms. Budget cuts in 2014 saw the elimination of the local Friday edition 7.30 program (formerly called Stateline) from eight states and territories, diminishing the in‐depth coverage of state politics, health, education and environmental issues.
Deep cuts to reporting staff, field crews, travel budgets and other current affairs programs have also occurred across capital city newsrooms over the last three years. This month the state issues TV program Australia Wide, has been eliminated, and plans to downsize influential radio shows AM, PM and The World Today look likely. International bureaus have also been downscaled over the last decade following the cancellation of Australia Network – with many overseas bureaus manned by single‐person video‐journalists.
Another key plank in the Turnbull government's attack on public interest journalism has been their repeal of the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule, a move which threatens the diversity of voices in Australia's media landscape. I will come back to this issue in more detail a bit later on in my contribution, but before that I want to turn to the provisions of the bill.
The bill sets up the regional and small publishers innovation fund, a $50 million fund delivered over the next three years which will help regional and small publishers and other entities to transition, compete and innovate more successfully in a changing media environment. The fund is specifically aimed at promoting civic journalism in Australia, and the purpose of civic journalism is to investigate and explain public policies and issues of public interest or significance. It aims to engage citizens in public debate and inform democratic decision-making. If passed, this bill would amend the Broadcasting Services Act to give the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, the authority to disburse grants from the fund. Some of the activities that could be eligible for grant funding include things such as the purchase of a particular piece of technology or equipment, supporting a program or initiative that is intended to promote civic journalism, the development of an application for the delivery of news and other media related content services, training and upskilling of staff, and efforts to increase revenue and readership. The bill would also allow the Minister for Communications to establish an advisory committee to provide advice to the ACMA on the disbursement of these grants.
So this bill goes some small way in addressing the crisis in public interest journalism and, as such, Labor will not oppose it. Unfortunately, though, it's come too late for innovative publications such as Crinkling News, which was Australia's only newspaper dedicated to news for children. It sadly announced its closure shortly before I presented the report of the inquiry on the future of public interest journalism.
While Labor is supporting this legislation, let's recognise why the Turnbull government are pursuing it. Is it because they're concerned about the crisis in public interest journalism? I don't think so. Is it because they want to support innovation in small and regional publications? I doubt it's that either. The only reason the government are pursuing this bill is because of a deal they've stitched up with former senator Nick Xenophon in exchange for his party's support for the repeal of the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule. If the then Nick Xenophon Team, now the Centre Alliance, were trying to address the crisis in public interest journalism, they failed dismally with this deal.
I will tell you the reasons I think it's such a big deal: firstly, the fund is temporary, whereas the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule is permanent. Secondly, whatever small benefits arise from the establishment of this fund will be far outweighed by the devastating impact the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule will have on public interest journalism. Until the Turnbull government repealed the two-out-of-three rule last year, it served as an important tool for maintaining a diversity of voices in Australia's media landscape. The rule provided that no person or company could control more than two out of three media platforms—commercial radio, commercial TV and newspaper—in the same radio licence area. The government has managed to enact this repeal at a time when Australia already has one of the most concentrated media markets in the developed world.
The rise in online media I referred to earlier was the government's justification for pursuing this misguided obsession. However, as I said in my speech on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform Bill) 2016 last year, there is still a large number of Australians who rely on those traditional forms of media for their news and current affairs. We know, for example, that over half of Australian media consumers get their news from television, radio and newspapers. That figure is even higher in the older age cohorts. So, contrary to what those advocating the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule will tell you, digital disruption is not necessarily leading to a diversity of voices in the media landscape. In fact, the majority of the most popular news websites accessed by Australians are directly or jointly owned by traditional media platforms.
The repeal of this rule is a threat to informed democratic debate, as it allows a single person or organisation to control how local news is reported. This potentially gives one person a lot of power in a market where big media players are already wielding a great deal of power. When the government tried previously to repeal the two-out-of-three rule in a 2016 bill, that bill was referred to an inquiry. Labor's dissenting report quoted eminent academics who argued for the retention of the two-out-of-three rule. While I used these quotes in my speech on the government's 2016 bill, I think a couple of them are worth repeating. Professor Michael Fraser from the University of Technology, Sydney said:
It is notorious, in terms of news and current affairs, that we, among the democracies, have the least diversity in our newspapers and have very little in television.
Professor Rodney Tiffen from the University of Sydney said:
Media concentration in Australia is amongst the highest in the world. Our daily press is the most concentrated in the world … Our pay TV industry is the most concentrated in the world …
I wanted to give those couple of examples of how concentrated Australia's media market really is.
The Finkelstein inquiry, which was conducted under the former Labor government, observed that Australia was the only country in the world where the leading newspaper companies account for more than half of daily circulation. Australia's top two newspaper companies combined have an 86 per cent share of the newspaper market. The government's own department of communications pointed out in its submission to the inquiry into the government's 2016 broadcasting bill that the internet has given existing media companies a vehicle to increase their influence. A situation where standards of journalism are declining but the big media companies are extending their influence is a dangerous combination that does not augur well for Australian democracy.
Centre Alliance, former Senator Xenophon's team, have basically sold the farm and they've got a few peanuts in return—the fund established with the bill will not even come close to making up for the media diversity safeguards that have been traded away. I've mentioned two reasons why Central Alliance's deal was such a dud deal for the Australian public, but there is a third reason: the many flaws in the design of this fund. It's not just the fact that the government has only committed to the fund for three years but also that the fund is so limited in its scope. The government has excluded a range of publishers, including those with foreign based parent companies, and, funnily enough, those affiliated with a superannuation fund. So it seems somewhat hypocritical to exclude innovative publishers like The Guardian, which has a foreign based parent company, when the same publishers can access the government's proposed journalism cadetship and scholarship program. It's especially hypocritical considering this government gave a massive $30 million to Fox Sports to cover underrepresented sports. I'm a strong believer in training and skills development, but I have to ask: what's the point of cadetship and scholarship programs in a declining market for journalism jobs; and does the industry need to train more journalists when there are not enough jobs for existing journalists? They are just a couple of questions thrown out there. And that situation, by the way, is no doubt going to get worse with the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule.
While I say this is an awful deal for the Australian public, I think that is true of any deal that involves agreeing to the government's repeal of the two-out-of-three rule. There is very little that the government can offer in return that would undo the enormous damage that this repeal would cause to media diversity in Australia. Having said that, Central Alliance really was sold a pup, considering how little they extracted in exchange for supporting the government's ideological push for further media concentration. Public interest journalism needs more than this paltry side deal.
The Senate's Future of public interest journalism report contains a number of useful recommendations, such as the recommendation relating to tax-deductible contributions to not-for-profit publications that subscribe to standards of public interest journalism, or the recommendation about reviewing the laws affecting the work of journalists who report on issues relating to border protection and national security.
What would also be of great help, particularly for rural and regional areas, would be lobbying for decent broadband so that publishers and broadcasters can compete effectively in the digital age. Unfortunately, the deal with Central Alliance was not the only dirty deal the government did to secure support for its broadcasting bill last year. Even worse than their deal with Central Alliance was their deal with One Nation to change the ABC charter, a deal which is clearly aimed at undermining the integrity of the ABC. As one of One Nation's senators has admitted publicly, this deal is absolutely aimed at giving a platform for fringe groupers such as anti-vaxxers. The ABC is an important contributor to quality current affairs coverage in Australia, and this grubby deal between the Turnbull government and One Nation simply serves to further undermine public interest journalism in Australia.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution on this bill, public interest journalism is a key pillar in a healthy democracy. While this bill on its own appears to be a good initiative, when we look back in the years to come at the broadcasting bill and the grubby deals that were made to pass it we will see it as a dark chapter in Australia's history. The Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund will be a distant memory that barely caused a blip on the radar of Australia's media landscape. At the same time, we could have an ABC that is forced by its charter to give as much weight to radical fringe groups as it does to detailed analysis and informed opinion, stymieing its ability to contribute to constructive public debate. In return, our media market, which is one of the most concentrated in the world, will become even more concentrated and the Turnbull government's continued failure to address the crisis in public interest journalism will mean that we have a media reduced to delivering entertainment and sensationalism, and that barely has the resources to invest in proper investigative journalism and to hold powerful interests to account.
Labor will not oppose this bill, but we maintain that it does precious little to fill the void left by the repeal of the two-out-of-three-cross-media control rule.
Centre Alliance supports the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017 and welcomes the establishment of the innovation fund to provide $50 million in grants to regional and small publishers.
I pause here to emphasise that this bill forms just one part of a broader $60 million jobs and innovation package negotiated by us, with each measure designed to support the future of public interest journalism. In addition to the innovation fund we have secured 60 scholarships, valued at the $40,000 each, to enable regional journalism students to undertake journalism training. We've also secured funding for 200 cadetships over two years through the Regional and Small Publishers Cadetship Program, and I note that between 80 and 90 places will be reserved for regional publishers each year. Each measure is designed to support development, growth and continued innovation in Australian civic journalism.
The consideration of this bill is timely, given that last week we celebrated the 25th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day—a day to reflect upon the role journalism plays in ensuring the transparency of the political process and the accountability of state institutions towards the public. But while this role of accountability is not new, today's journalists and publishers must adapt to the changing media landscape. It was in March 2018 that the final report of the Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism highlighted the difficulties faced by the media in light of the rapid pace and scale of new forms of delivery and technology platforms being developed.
The evidence revealed that many traditional media print companies, even some of our largest and longest-running media organisations, have struggled to adapt to these changes and were yet to develop sustainable business models. These difficulties are further compounded for small and regional publishers. Regional publishers provide vital news coverage to communities scattered across vast areas, all without the established infrastructure of their metropolitan peers. Small publishers, on the other hand, pursue stories that for a variety of reasons may not appeal to the established media players, all while operating with very minimal staff.
Journalists, editors, photographers and others at small regional publishers are undoubtedly a determined and resilient group. They have demonstrated time and time again that their work makes a meaningful contribution to public debate on both the local and national levels. Yet we know that without support this valuable voice could be lost, and that the communities these publishers serve will be very much the lesser for it.
The innovation fund provides an opportunity for publishers to reflect upon their needs and to improve the sustainability of their organisation. It will enable small and regional publishers to apply for a grant for funding. This may include the purchase of a particular piece of technology or equipment; funding a program or an initiative that is intended to promote civic journalism; developing an application for the delivery of news; or training and upskilling staff. The list of possible approved funding projects is deliberately broad to enable ACMA and the publisher to work together to craft a funding agreement tailored to the unique requirements of each publisher and the community that they serve. Publishers will need to meet a primary purpose test whereby ACMA is satisfied that the publisher produces civic and public interest journalism with an Australian perspective.
I want to pause here and discuss the notion of public interest journalism for a moment. While the report of the Senate select committee noted the wide range of activities that public interest journalism encompasses, it can be, in my view, narrowed down to a handful of key principles: integrity, accountability, quality and independence. Journalism of this nature aims to provide the public with a considered analysis and to ensure that all citizens are provided with the opportunity to make informed decisions on current political, economic and social issues. Research has shown that this is particularly true of regional and small publishers, where the close links between the publisher and the community lead to deliberations and discussions, which in turn encourage civic participation. These publishers have the ability to empower and improve their communities, and there should be no doubt that these organisations are worthy of this investment.
Returning to the grant criteria, additional criteria include: an annual turnover threshold of not less than $300,000 and not more than $30 million; an Australian residence test; an independence test; a control test; being a member of the Australian Press Council or having a robust and transparent complaints process; and having in place editorial guidelines and a code of conduct or similar framework relating to the provision of quality journalism. While the grant criteria are not included in the legislation, we do not view this as a barrier to the bill being passed. The grant criteria as set out in the explanatory memorandum have been publicly available since late last year, with a comprehensive information sheet made available on the Department of Communications and the Arts website.
The bill empowers the minister to constitute an advisory committee for the purpose of assisting the ACMA in the allocation and assessment of grants. The minister has already indicated to Centre Alliance that the terms of the agreement reached will be honoured, including the establishment of the foreshadowed advisory committee. The memorandum notes that it is expected the committee is to comprise at a minimum a representative appointed from each of the Australian Press Council, the Walkley Foundation and Country Press Australia. I note the comments of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee report and acknowledge the wealth of experience these organisations have in relation to news, journalism and other media-related content and their willingness to assist the ACMA in assessing the merits of any application for funding.
While we are confident that the government will honour the broader policy behind the agreement, we put the government on notice that the allocation of funds and the application of the criteria will be closely monitored by Centre Alliance. The ACMA's annual reports will be carefully scrutinised and we will fully utilise the Senate estimates process to ensure the funds are being applied in a manner consistent with the eligibility criteria negotiated and agreed to by the government.
I think it's important to make clear that this bill is not a comment on the role of public broadcasters. Centre Alliance does and will continue to support an appropriately funded ABC and SBS. There can be no doubt on this issue. I also put the government on notice that we will not at all support effective cuts to the ABC, as proposed in the budget last night. We will not support them.
We do recognise the challenges faced by small and regional publishers in a changing media environment. The policy intent behind the innovation fund is to ensure the longevity of these publishers through funding measures targeted to develop sustainable business models. The report of the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism acknowledged that government investment in public interest journalism is clearly a worthwhile one. In a submission to the select committee, Dr Bill Birnbauer of Monash University noted that a Harvard University study found:
… for every $1 spent on a specified investigative story, $287 in policy benefits resulted.
That is a staggering return on investment. The innovation fund does represent a significant investment in public interest journalism in Australia.
Again, the fund is just one aspect of a $60 million package negotiated by us, with both the cadetship and scholarship programs supporting the next generation of journalists. As Walkley Award-winning journalist and academic Margaret Simons said:
If experienced journalists are to be employed, to find things out, if journalists are to be developed and trained, if institutional cultures are to be built to support them in their dirty, vital work, then there must be money …
I rise to speak on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017. Let me say from the outset that I support this bill but do so rather cautiously. We all know that this bill has arisen as a result of a deal between the then Nick Xenophon Team and the government to repeal the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule. Furthermore, the only reason this program is before the Senate is because of that deal, together with the agreement of One Nation to repeal media diversity safeguards to mount an attack on the ABC and SBS. Media diversity safeguards should not have been traded away so easily in exchange for local content. It is not an either/or proposition. Australia needs both.
This bill is bittersweet. It does contain some measures which, hopefully, will contribute positively to the expansion and contribution of additional local news content. However, it is already too little, too late. The availability of media services in the Northern Territory is already in decline. Last year, Channel 9 Darwin was forced to lay off roughly a dozen staff, and the ABC has discontinued its shortwave services in the remote regions of the Northern Territory and in northern Australia. Furthermore, in last night's budget it was revealed that the government is going to cut ABC funding by $127 million. On the eve of the 2013 election, the coalition promised there would be no cuts to the ABC, yet on top of the $254 million in cuts the government has imposed since 2014, this budget contains a further $127 million in cuts. It is absolutely disgraceful. The financial grants made available to news outlets over the next three years total just over $50 million, but I do have some concerns as to whether this money will actually be spent, because this government does not have a great track record on living up to its promises. It's taken them eight months to answer a question on notice on underspending in the Bridges Renewal Program from the estimates before last—and we're still waiting.
I reiterate that the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund exists only because of backroom deals, not because the Turnbull government is committed to public interest journalism. Where was the government when local news crews were being laid off? It was silent. Where was the government when the ABC was forced to cut its shortwave radio broadcasts? It was complicit. It is more interested in giving Foxtel—a foreign-owned company—a $30 million handout than it is in supporting public interest journalism, let alone regional journalism.
Before entering politics, I was previously a journalist in the Northern Territory and New South Wales, and I worked as a regional reporter. Let me tell you, working as a regional journalist is no easy job. You certainly don't get to front the doors of the Senate at 7.45 am to get a couple of grabs before filing a story. As journalists in our regions across Australia, you are out there driving long distances, travelling long hours, to talk to people to get the stories that you need to cover to fill your paper, to fill the internet in terms of coverage on the net and certainly for coverage for television camera crews and radio broadcast services. You write, record, read and produce your own stories. It's great work, but it needs to be thoroughly supported and respected.
This bill has the potential to promote public interest journalism, and I will be watching and pushing for that to happen. In particular, it has the potential to support regional cadetships, and it is good to hear from previous speakers in relation to those cadetships. The stated intention of the grants scheme is to assist regional and small publishers and other entities to transition and compete more successfully in a changing media environment. Examples of activities that could be eligible for grant funding include the purchase of a particular piece of technology or equipment, supporting a program or an initiative that is intended to promote civic journalism, the development of an application for the delivery of news and other media-related content services, training and upskilling of staff, and efforts to increase revenue and readership.
However, I do note that, for some reason, there are certain media organisations that have been prevented from applying for these grants: namely, BuzzFeed, The Guardian and The New Dailyall reputable online media organisations that could easily set up mobile offices in regional areas. The government has said it's because they're foreign-owned, which is a bit of a slap in the face because, as I said earlier, the government had no problem in gifting Foxtel a free $30 million cheque. I'm certainly interested to see how far this money goes; after all, the program will only run for three years. I'm also interested to see exactly which organisations will receive the grant funding.
This government has shown its incompetence at the highest levels. And it will probably approve funding for the Betoota Advocate to fire up their printers in western Queensland. Have a think about that one. It's interesting to see that other large companies like News Corp Australia and Fairfax can access $10.4 million set aside for scholarships and cadetships yet, as I mentioned earlier, some of our nation's newest and most innovative news organisations are being excluded. Where will all the new journalism cadets work when the media merges, with the consolidations and job losses that will follow the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule?
As I've said, the fund runs out in nearly three years, which may well be before regional Australia actually comes to enjoy the reliable and affordable broadband services that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised would be delivered by now. Do regional media companies have the reliable and affordable broadband they need to enable them to grow their business and create more jobs in the digital age? I question it. What regional Australia needs for innovation is broadband that works, not just a bit of equipment and a few cadetships. Labor will hold the Turnbull government to account for stuffing up the NBN, for attacking the ABC and SBS and for destroying what precious little media diversity is left in this country—one of the most highly concentrated media markets in the world. And we'll be watching—I'll be watching—to see if the government keeps its word.
I rise to make a contribution in this debate on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017. I was a member of the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee during its inquiry into this matter. We know that the bill would amend the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 to establish the legislative framework for a regional and small publishers innovation fund, called the Innovation Fund. We know that the proposal from the government was designed as a grants funding scheme to be administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, and the purpose of that fund was to enable the ACMA, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to make a grant of financial assistance for the publisher of a newspaper, magazine, other periodical or to a content service provider. I think there were about nine or 10 submissions to this inquiry, if I recollect correctly.
At the time of writing the report, the Labor senators added additional comments. One of the things that we talked about, particularly in those additional comments, was the Turnbull government—but also the Abbott government—basically being asleep at the wheel for many years prior to addressing the crisis that was facing public interest journalism in Australia. That was highlighted through the representations and witnesses during the committee inquiry.
We also acknowledge that it was Labor that established the Convergence Review and the Finkelstein inquiry, both of which have been comprehensively ignored by the Turnbull government. It was also Labor who established the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism with the support of the crossbenchers. So it was the activities of Labor that, in a lot of respects, initiated looking into the issues facing public interest journalism in Australia.
Labor senators noted that the Liberal-National government has cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the ABC and SBS. In the budget yesterday we saw the freeze on the ABC, which will impact their ability to progress some of their opportunities—just through mindless cuts by this government. The ABC and SBS both provide, I think, trusted investigative journalism in this country.
The government has also repealed the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule, and that also provides greater opportunity to consolidate Australia's already highly concentrated media sector. It has gone so far as to threaten journalists with criminal sanctions simply for doing their jobs, and that was in conjunction with the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017—the FITS Bill.
The fact that the Liberal-National government is continually taking money away from organisations, such as the ABC and SBS, that do have good investigative journalism is outrageous. At the time of writing the report, it looked like the Turnbull government was backing down on that bill. Again, a lot of that was because of the opposition from Labor and the media sector.
We also noted that the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund existed only because of the backroom deal between the Turnbull government and the crossbench in exchange for the support of the repeal of the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule. Rather than the Turnbull government being anywhere near interested in, and genuinely committed to, promoting public interest in journalism—they're not interested in that—they're interested in doing a deal to progress and help their mates in the media, the big businesses of this country, and not provide good investigative journalism for the public of Australia to read or listen to.
We know that the two-out-of-three rule was directed at ensuring that no individual or company controlled more than two-out-of-three regulated media platforms—commercial television, commercial radio and associated newspapers—in the same licence area. It stopped any one voice from becoming too dominant and promoted diversity through competition between different voices—that was what that was about. The Turnbull government did a dirty deal with the crossbenchers to get that through—shove it through—at the expense of what I would say is creative investigative journalism.
Australia's level of media ownership concentration is one of the highest in the world. Yet, again, the Turnbull government junked a safeguard that prevented it from getting worse. Again, they did that deal, on the two-out-of-three rule, with their mates on the crossbench to push it through, which impacted on the ability of people to have access to good investigative journalism.