Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 895


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (21:59): I noticed during the break that Senator Brown and the Australian Greens had been waxing lyrical yet again in the media, this time wanting the government to legislate to regulate newspapers to control content and ownership—shades, I might say, of totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. So tonight I want to return to an issue related to the so-called independent media inquiry which is currently being conducted at the behest of the Australian Greens party, primarily as a payback to News Limited for its scrutiny of Senator Brown and his party—a scrutiny which, I might say, has exposed the Greens party for its hypocrisy and the contradictions between its policies and its rhetoric.

Senators may recall that late last year I drew attention to Senator Brown's advocacy to this inquiry of tax deductibility for not-for-profit journalism enterprises. In particular, I drew attention to the fact that this policy would benefit the Greens' major donor, Mr Graeme Wood, with whom Senator Brown negotiated the largest donation in Australia's political history and who is now backing former ABC reporter Monica Attard in a new 'independent' journalism enterprise, The Global Mail, to the tune of $3 million a year for five years. The Global Mail, senators might recall, was launched earlier this month.

Senators may also recall that I called upon Senator Brown to say whether or not he has had any discussions with Mr Graeme Wood about the need for such a journalism venture and/or the need for such ventures to receive tax deductibility status and to say what, if anything, he knew of the genesis of the letter to him from six academics advocating just such a policy—whether it was something out of the blue or whether Senator Brown had had any discussions about it and, if so, with whom. According to Crikey, which broke the story of Graeme Wood's support for The Global Mail, Mr Wood said, 'He's happy to cop ongoing businesses losses,' and also, 'I think eventually there will be a financial business model for this sort of thing, but it ain't there yet.'

In an interview with the ABC in July last year, Monica Attard said, 'I have a generous philanthropist in Graeme Wood, who is prepared to fund us into the foreseeable future whilst we attempt to forge a new model of journalism and perhaps even a new business model somewhere down the track.' At the time I thought to myself, 'What could Graeme Wood and Monica Attard mean by this talk of "new business models"'? We now have some idea and—surprise, surprise—it seems that The Global Mail's business model is that it should get tax-deductibility status, the status advocated by Senator Brown to the independent media inquiry.

In October last year, The Global Mail made a submission to the media inquiry which, in a section entitled 'How governments can help', urged the government to make donations to such ventures tax deductible by giving them deductible gift recipient status with concomitant fringe benefits tax and GST concessions. In addition, The Global Mail puts in bids for government subvention by way of direct funding, compensation and seed funding, as well as asking for relief from state based payroll taxes. Why is it that whenever the Greens and the Left talk about business models, what they are really talking about and what they really mean is taxpayer handouts?

Monica Attard concluded her submission to the inquiry by saying: 'This is not an exhaustive wish list. It is, however, a means by which government might assist in supporting media ventures aimed at producing high-quality, non-partisan journalism.' We will wait to see how non-partisan The Global Mail turns out to be. I would have my guesses, but it will have to guard against just being a more sophisticated Green Left media outfit dressing up a left-wing agenda in the guise of public interest—all the while wanting taxpayers to underwrite its operations.

In the meantime, Senator Brown—as all senators know—still has a lot of explaining to do about how he came to advocate a measure which would provide a tax windfall to his party's biggest donor to the tune of a million or more dollars a year. Senators will be aware that the Privileges Committee is currently investigating whether or not Senator Brown acted corruptly in using Senate or other fora to repeatedly push Mr Wood's commercial interest to secure the Triabunna woodchip mill for future property development and also to damage the interest of his competitors. The question arises as to whether anything untoward has occurred on this occasion.

As well as calling Senator Brown to come clean, I would ask Senator Rhiannon—who is known to hold certain views on political donations, particularly from property developers—to encourage her leader, Senator Brown, to say whether or not he discussed with Mr Wood the desirability of a journalism venture like The Global Mail or the desirability of such a venture receiving tax deductibility status.

Senator Bob Brown: On a point of order: Mr President, you are aware that certain matters are before the Privileges Committee. I ask you to rule that submission out of order.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brown, I am aware of a matter that is before the Privileges Committee. I do not interfere in the business of that committee, as you know. I have issued warnings in this chamber before, in other debates, that people should steer clear of that material. I would really need to examine that quite closely to see how it is progressing. Take it that I will review the matter for you. I remind Senator Macdonald of the inquiry. I am not sure how that might be infringing into the area of the inquiry at this stage.

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, with Senator Kroger in the chamber, who sought your referral of a matter to the Privileges Committee which canvassed the very issues that Senator Macdonald—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What is your point of order?

Senator Bob Brown: Do not interrupt; that is a breach of—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, order! Senator Brown, you have the floor.

Senator Bob Brown: It canvassed matters that Senator Macdonald has just been talking about. This was a matter that you, Mr President, considered carefully and that you are fully conversant with, and you should be able to deal with it here on the floor of the chamber. I submit to you that Senator Macdonald is right out of order. If you need to go and look back through Senator Kroger's application to you, so be it. But, Mr President, you should rule that matter out of order now on the floor.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brown, I have indicated to you that I will be permitting Senator Macdonald to continue. I will be reviewing the matter and I will come back to the chamber.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr President. You can see that Senator Brown is definitely very concerned about this. One would think he might have something to hide, perhaps.

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The asseveration by Senator Macdonald that, because I take a point of order on this matter and ask you to invoke standing orders, I have something to hide is a clear injunction to the Privileges Committee against the matters they are considering. It is right out of order and I ask you to have him withdraw that statement.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brown, I am listening carefully to Senator Macdonald's statement. I will review, as I said to you, Senator Macdonald's statement. Senator Macdonald, you should not be straying into the area that is currently before the Privileges Committee. You should confine your comments to matters not related to that committee. Senator Brown, I will review the matter for you. I will undertake that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr President, I am pleased that you will review it. As you will see when you read what I have said, I have said no more than Senator Brown himself has said tonight and there is nothing in there that in any way states anything other than the facts of the matter. But Senator Brown continues to try to interrupt my speech, and one can only wonder why that is.

In conclusion I was saying that, before I leave this topic, I should note again the hypocrisy of the Greens political party, who have been decrying Gina Rinehart's taking of a stake in Fairfax with her own money—on which she has paid tax—while wanting taxpayers to underwrite The Global Mail, the pet media project of the Greens political party's biggest donor. When will those people who genuinely support the Greens political party as a keeping-the-bastards-honest type of party realise that the Greens are—

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I rise on a point of order: the senator is trespassing on matters which, through you from Senator Kroger, have been put before the Privileges Committee. That is out of order, and it should be ruled as such.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brown, I have undertaken to you that I will review this fully. Senator Macdonald, you have one minute and 57 seconds remaining. Be careful of where you are going in your delivery to the chamber.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr President. I continue to be very careful, as any fair-minded review of my speech will clearly show. What a pity it is that we are not on broadcast tonight so that people can see how this speech on special favours for The Global Mail is being interrupted by a senator who has been urging support for The Global Mail.

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, if that is allowed, my point of order is this: the wrong claims—outrageous claims—coming from the senator that special favours are being dispensed by the Greens are in direct contravention of the matters you dealt with and referred to that committee and should be ruled out of order. They should not be adjudicated later but should be ruled out of order now, on the floor of the Senate.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Brown. I have undertaken to look at that matter. I have been speaking with the clerk at the table, and I believe we will be looking at this matter very closely.

Senator Bob Brown: I ask that you rule on the matter now.

The PRESIDENT: I am ruling that I will take a close look at the Hansard of what is being said and come back to you later on this matter.

Senator Bob Brown: So it is your ruling that this will continue, and I object.

The PRESIDENT: I am not ruling that it will continue; I am asking Senator Macdonald to be careful that he does not transgress. As you know, I am not on the Privileges Committee. You know that. I am listening very closely to the contribution that Senator Macdonald is making.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I repeat my last paragraph: when will those people who genuinely support the Greens political party as a keeping-the-bastards-honest type of party realise that the Greens political party is a party that wants tax deductibility for certain newspapers while opponents are subjected to even more stringent constraints and government controls?

In concluding this much-interrupted-by-Senator-Brown speech on freedom of the press, on special deals for some elements of the press and on constraints on other elements of the press, I leave senators with this quite famous quotation:

freedom of the press … cannot be limited without being lost.