Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

1:01 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

Once again this government serves up regulatory housekeeping when major reform is needed. Once again this government dithers and delays on genuine reform when industry is crying out for the uncertainty to end. Labor will not oppose this bill. We won't stand in the way of relatively minor regulatory amendments to alleviate regulatory burden on regional broadcasters, particularly in the face of concerns about the market failure of regional commercial television, but we are concerned that regional Australians are missing out as a result of this government's ongoing failure to support regional media.

Schedule 1 of the bill permits greater flexibility for regional commercial radio broadcasting licensees in satisfying their local content obligation, with minor amendments to the local content requirements and associated reporting requirements. Importantly, the bill will not lower the amount of local content that is currently available to regional audiences on commercial radio.

Schedule 2 of the bill permits regional commercial television broadcasting licensees to be deemed to have complied with the multichannel transmission quota obligation, even if they have not broadcast the required 1,460 hours of Australian content, if the amount of content on the multichannels they do carry, under affiliation agreements, is not less than the amount of Australian content on the equivalent metropolitan multichannels. This will assist certain regional and remote licensees from failing to satisfy the obligation as a result of programming decisions beyond their control by their metro affiliates. The bill will not directly reduce the amount of Australian content available to regional viewers, but does permit a reduction in overall hours of Australian content broadcast by regional broadcasters.

This bill says it all about this government's failure on regional media in Australia: it is late, it is inadequate, and it sells regional Australia short. The bill is late because it addresses an issue the government has known about since 2017, at least. The department considers this issue to be an early warning sign of market failure in regional commercial television broadcasting, yet the government is only just getting around to addressing it now. The bill is inadequate because it merely tinkers with a few provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act when a coherent, holistic and strategic package, including a wholesale reform of the policy and regulatory framework, is necessary—a fact that this government has known since it took office in 2013.

The bill sells regional Australia short, because it assumes that where broadcasters face challenges in meeting Australian content requirements, the answer is to relax the content requirements rather than assist broadcasters in bridging the gap somehow or to undertake genuine reform to address structural challenges. The bill makes it clear that regional media is facing challenges, partly as a result of this government's failure to keep the regulatory framework up-to-date, and regional Australians are missing out as a result.

1:04 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all senators for their contribution to that debate on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures) Bill 2020. The bill will amend the local content framework for commercial radio licensees to reduce the regulatory burden on regional licensees. It will also amend the Australian content multichannel quota so that regional commercial television licensees are not left in the position of failing to satisfy their regulatory requirements due to programming decisions beyond their control. The bill amends a number of provisions within the local content framework for regional commercial radio licensees, providing licensees with greater flexibility in complying with the framework. These amendments are relevant to the material of local significance and the minimum service standard obligations.

The bill will amend the local content exemption period provisions. The bill increases the flexibility of the local content exemption period by allowing licensees to split their exemption period to cover multiple holiday periods and by allowing licensees to self-nominate their own exemption periods. The amendment will make the exemption period more efficient for licensees as well as reducing the regulatory burden associated with the local content exemption period provisions. The bill will also remove public holidays from the minimum service standards obligation. Material that must be broadcast under the minimum service standards can also be used to acquit the material of the local significance obligation. However, licensees are not required to broadcast material of local significance on public holidays. Therefore the bill seeks to better align the two obligations by removing the requirement to broadcast the minimum service standards on public holidays.

The bill will remove the requirement for licensees to publish local content plans, which detail how licensees propose to meet the minimum service standards. Local content plans place significant regulatory burden on licensees, but often provide minimal support to increase levels of local content to regional areas. Therefore, the bill will propose that licensees instead use a local content statement, which they must develop after the material of local significance requirement. Local content statements are more streamlined than local content plans, and this change will significantly reduce the burden under the local content framework. The bill will also remove the statutory review provision for the local content framework. The statutory review is considered to be unnecessary, given the ongoing focus on the local content framework on a routine basis.

In the area of regional and remote commercial television licensees, the bill proposes to insert a deeming provision with the effect that licensees are deemed to have complied with the multichannel obligation. This deeming provision will only apply if licensees broadcast the same amount of Australian content on each multichannel they carry as their metropolitan affiliate has broadcast. It takes account of the current realities of delivering multichannel content in regional and remote Australia, noting that it is becoming more commercially unsustainable for regional and remote licensees to carry the full suite of multichannels. The bill provides an important reduction in the regulatory burden for regional commercial radio licensees and regional and remote commercial televisions licensees. It will amend the local content framework to make regulatory compliance easier for licensees. I thank senators for their support and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.