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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Page: 35

Senator CONROY (2:41 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Did the minister watch Australia’s emphatic 3-1 victory over Japan in last night’s World Cup match? Has the minister seen media reports of the outpouring of jubilation by Australians from all sections of the community? Does the minister stand by her comments to Senate estimates that ‘Australia does not have very much participation’ or ‘has very small participation in the cup’ and that world cup football ‘probably attracts the same level of audience interest as the Tour de France’? Does the minister now accept that the Socceroos matches are clearly of national importance and cultural significance? Will the minister reverse her decision and amend the antisiphoning list to include Socceroos World Cup qualifying matches?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I am very pleased to see that Senator Conroy is apparently barracking for Australia this time, as opposed to barracking for England, which he did when the Ashes were on. I must say that it is good to see that Senator Conroy has discovered a sense of great national pride. It is important that we continue to review the antisiphoning scheme. As I have said over and over, the antisiphoning rules were introduced to ensure that events of national significance and cultural importance which have traditionally been available on free-to-air television would continue to be available to free-to-air broadcasters despite the introduction of pay television services in Australia. The rules operate to ensure that pay television licensees may not acquire pay TV broadcast rights until the free-to-air broadcasters have either declined to acquire broadcast rights or the event is delisted.

What we have said about the antisiphoning list, which is set up until about 2010, is that it should be looked at. We should be very careful to ensure that the owners of the rights are matched appropriately with those who can bid for those rights and to ensure that the free-to-air broadcasters continue to be able to operate the antisiphoning list in the way in which it was intended. Because there are a wide range of views on this, which depend on whether you support the pay TV industry or the free-to-air industry, it is important that we review the list—and that review is coming up in about 2009—and that, where it is appropriate, the list is trimmed or added to as the case may be. It is important that we do not pre-empt that. Things should largely operate on a commercial rights acquisition basis, unless there is some reason to add to the free-to-air antisiphoning list.

We do not just act on a knee-jerk reaction, as Senator Conroy would know. We look carefully at where the balance of interest lies and we look to the consumer interest. This government and, I am certain, everyone in this chamber congratulate our boys on an absolutely emphatic and marvellous victory last night. I am sure that everyone in this country was barracking for the Socceroos. It was an absolutely marvellous achievement. But the extent to which you add in other competitions is a matter that has to be looked at from time to time. I do not think we should pre-empt it. I think we should enjoy the World Cup and wish the Socceroos all the best, and we should keep the antisiphoning list under review.

Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that the broadcast rights to Socceroo World Cup qualifying matches have been sold exclusively to pay television until 2013?

Senator Faulkner —Is that a double-sided scarf that you are wearing?

Senator CONROY —It is the Andrew Bolt definition of multiculturalism, Senator Faulkner. Can the minister explain why the government ignored the recommendation of the Australian Broadcasting Authority in 2001 to include these matches on the antisiphoning list? So much for knee-jerk consideration. Why does the minister think that Australian families should have to pay at least $600 a year to watch the Socceroos qualifying campaign for the next World Cup? Why did the government list Rugby Union tests involving the Wallabies but not World Cup qualifiers involving the Socceroos? Can the minister explain why the government treats soccer as a second-class sport?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —There is not a great deal that I can add to my former answer that warrants a response to such an impassioned plea by Senator Conroy. We all know that Senator Conroy is an absolute soccer nut. There are other sports that we enjoy. But we all enjoy soccer. We will continue to review the list as appropriate and we will make it, of course, subject to commercial rights as they may be placed and acquired. The antisiphoning list operates in the way in which it was intended. This government will continue to review it when appropriate and keep all of the matches that might otherwise qualify under review.