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Monday, 22 September 1997
Page: 6537


Senator BROWN(1.16 p.m.) —Let me make it clear that that argument about trees was used on me by Mr O'Reilly, and I did not fall for it because we have the cross-media ownership rules here and we should not be diverted from those. Let me also say that the alarm bells began ringing about this item when former Senator Graham Richardson rang me late last year. I do not know what suasion he may still have in the Labor Party but—


Senator Schacht —Well, he had none on Fairfax because we took the opposite position.


Senator BROWN —What I am aware of is that he sits in the employ of the Packer organisation. He rang me and said that he was concerned about the fact that the environment was not on the front pages any more. He asked what we could do about it and, by the way, would I see the lobbyist for the O'Reilly group? It then seemed to be a time for me to do some checking. When I checked with the community groups involved, they said, `Don't touch this piece of legislation with a barge pole,' because it does open the way to a later Packer takeover—


Senator Schacht —Of what?


Senator BROWN —Of the Herald and/or the Age further down the line by a simple further modification.


Senator Schacht —By law, having to come back here, Senator.


Senator BROWN —Yes, it has to come back here, but we are back here now as a result of the last changes to the cross-media ownership. If we wanted to get this right, what we should be saying to Mr O'Reilly is, `Divest yourself or either your radio station in Brisbane or your newspaper in Ipswich. Stick by the rules like other citizens have to.' But no, he has the ability through the use of numbers in this place and influence—and it may be influence of straight argument for you—to get a change to those rules. We Greens do not have the numbers, and I accept that. But I do say that getting a call out of the blue from somebody in Mr Packer's employ was not enough to change my mind. It started the alarm bells ringing. The argument about trees—


Senator Schacht —Richo will be very upset about that imputation on his reputation.


Senator BROWN —I think Richo is turning out to be a very formidable lobbyist. He just ran into his match when he rang me. Let me say that the—


Senator Forshaw —Are you telling the truth?


Senator BROWN —That is an opinion, isn't it? I am sure he has a contrary one. We do not always agree on everything, although we have had some marvellous agreements in the past. Let me say this: when somebody on an issue like this starts arguing about trees with me, that sets the alarm bells ringing—it did on this occasion. I was very pleased that I did not sign up, as everybody else in this place did—Labor, Liberal, Democrat and even Senator Harradine—to agree that this should be discussed as a non-controversial matter. It is a most controversial matter. As the public understood, it would be even more controversial. The fact is that it is going to go through here this afternoon, but only with our opposition.

   Question put

   That Schedule 1, items 1 to 3 stand as printed.