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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 6982


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (14:20): My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. You and the opposition have both expressed concerns at reports that Gina Rinehart will not abide by Fairfax's charter of editorial independence. Given her apparent reluctance and her immense wealth, is the government prepared to do more than just publicly call on her to act? Will the government agree to protect in law the editorial independence of major publicly listed media outlets like Fairfax?

Mr SWAN ( Lilley Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer ) ( 14:20 ): The government is very strongly of the view that a healthy and robust media is essential to our democratic process, and what has been important to Fairfax right throughout the ages has been its charter of editorial independence. Certainly, we on this side of the House support that charter of editorial independence, but I notice it is opposed by those opposite. They can even say no to a charter of editorial independence. I wonder why that is the case. The editorial independence of media organisations goes to the very core of the quality of our democracy, because the quality of our democracy does depend upon transparency. It does depend upon fair and balanced reporting. Nothing could be more important to the quality of our political debate and our national conversation than having fair and balanced reporting. And to have fair and balanced reporting you do need a degree of independence at the editorial level to make sure that it is not unduly influenced by commercial considerations. This should be just common sense and something that should be supported by everybody in this House. But it is very obvious that those on that side of the House do not care about that at all.

The government has had a couple of reviews in place, the convergence review and the supplementary media inquiry, which has reported in recent times. Journalism is now challenged by great structural changes in technology, and of course this is impacting on media organisations. I will be very, very concerned if the purpose that Ms Rinehart has is to buy influence by buying more shares and junking the charter of independence. That is what I am very concerned about and that is what the government is concerned about, particularly given the record of Ms Rinehart in calling for a greater say, not just in the national debate but also in terms of policy outcomes—the way in which she has pushed her views about getting rid of the MRRT, for example, and the way in which she has managed to get the opposition over there on side for a tax cut for her and Clive Palmer. So we are very concerned about all of those matters, and we are concerned that what will happen in this process is that that charter of independence will be lost. I certainly call on Ms Rinehart to explain, very quickly, to the Australian people what her intentions are and whether she will or will not support a charter of editorial independence .