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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 3028

Mr MACPHEE(9.21) —I support the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Beale), the shadow Minister for Communications, in opposing this Bill. The Bill has three elements: The abolition of what is known as the two-station rule; its replacement by 75 per cent viewing reach; and the introduction of cross-media ownership laws or restrictions. I agree with the abolition of the two-station rule and with the introduction of the cross-media ownership rules but, of course, I oppose very strongly any notion of giving to any organisation at all a 75 per cent audience reach. The Norris committee of inquiry, commissioned by the Hamer Government, which was the only inquiry into concentration of Australian media ownership, showed that at that time we had the highest concentration of ownership apart from Ireland. Now we have the greatest concentration of media ownership of any country in the world-certainly any country that calls itself a democracy.

Complaints were made about the concentration of the print media ownership prior to the Murdoch takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd. Those complaints of course have greatly increased. They are justified complaints, especially as the Government and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) failed to enforce the provisions in the Foreign Takeovers Act, the result of which should have held that an American citizen owning 60 per cent of the Australian print media was contrary to the national interest. The Treasurer and this cynical, expedient Government have never explained how the ownership of 60 per cent of the Australian print media by an American citizen can possibly be justified, and honourable members opposite should hold their heads in shame that they have allowed this to happen. He controls not only that print media ownership but the news prints with the other part of the duopoly. This is the man who said that if there were less than three it would be bad and that he should not get bigger because it would be bad for Australia. They control the news prints and they control the means of distribution. So, even if market niches are to be filled in the print media, they are barely tolerated. If they are any threat whatever to the duopoly in the print media they will not get newsprint or get on the bookshelves. We are talking not about just any commodity but about the dissemination of information.

We have before us at the moment a Bill which it is claimed deals with print media via the licensing of radio and television. It greatly concentrates further the electronic media. It goes to the heart of democracy, the heart of freedom of speech and of liberal principles. We are talking about the dissemination of ideas, news, information and opinion. The potential for news management is great and, again, the Norris inquiry to which I referred shows that no working journalist who has worked for Murdoch believes that there is not news management, that there is not the potential for news management and that, at the very least, there is not self-censorship. The potential in the electronic media is even greater. The creation of images which leave fleeting impressions with people is a threat to freedom of speech. The power to influence public opinion and to make and break governments is immense, especially via television, and so one finds editing and self-censorship.

In a speech that I made here on 19 March-I refer honourable members to Hansard pages 1184 to 1188-I referred to this matter. We are under a time constraint here tonight so I will not repeat what I said on that occasion. However, the capacity to manage news is massive. The capacity in the next 15 pages to make and break government, not just by media magnates but now by other people who are commercial entrepreneurs not interested in the media traditionally but who now want to try to influence the outcomes of a whole range of government policies and buy up into the media, really is quite insidious. It is a major threat to democracy. Those people who know and who say privately how wrong it is ought to be ashamed of themselves within here in the legislature. I gave been here for 13 years and nothing has been more important, or will be more important, short of a war, than the undermining of our democracy. That is what we are faced with here. This will concentrate still further the ownership of the media.

Certainly, we need cross-media laws, of course. Whether the provisions in the Bill are adequate I will not comment on tonight, because we are opposing the Bill, and rightly so; but trade practice laws and cross-media laws are necessary to safeguard the freedom of speech. Let me give an example. One person who allegedly is a friend of this Government, a man named Kerry Packer, had three media outlets-the Bulletin, the Nine network and what he called CBC radio. The same commentators were on these outlets, and in some parts of the viewing audience, the listening audience and the reading audience the views expressed by those commentators were the dominant opinion. The others were playing music or providing entertainment. The Opposition opposes this legislation, and rightly, because we want maximum opportunity for freedom of expression.

Mr Charles —It increases it in Melbourne and Sydney.

Mr MACPHEE —The honourable member is telling lies and he knows it. It does not increase freedom.

Mr Charles —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I would like a withdrawal of that.

Mr MACPHEE —Mr Deputy Speaker, I will not argue with my neighbour in the adjoining electorate: I am prepared to withdraw that and say that the facts do not support his interjection. Program choice will be delivered by competition, and competition is gained by an audience reach much lower than 75 per cent. There are, we know, tremendous limits to the spectrum. It is dictated by the engineers of the Department of Communications and the forward development unit report on the future of commercial television has indicated that over the next 15 years there will be room for only one more channel free to work in commercial television in Sydney and Melbourne. Leaving aside whether that spectrum has been well managed or not, we know that the market is circumscribed; so the frequency, which, of course, is public property and therefore the province of the Government, is not a free market in the classical sense. If we want competition, therefore-and I certainly do-it must be attained by prescribing a much smaller percentage than 75 per cent. Given that the constraints are imposed by the spectrum, the allocation that is available, a 75 per cent reach means four or five players; 60 per cent means only a little more; 43 per cent means eight or nine; and 33 per cent means about 10 or 12. We know that there are people in this building tonight who want to be major players in the provision of television services. They are capable of buying up to 33 per cent or 35 per cent of the market, and they want to be part of it. If this Bill giving 75 per cent goes through they will be excluded. If we want competition, diversity of opinion and counterbalances to editorial opinion and the willingness to manage news, the maximum number of players should be allowed to compete on a sound economic base.

These creative entrepreneurs, many of whom are here tonight, will be blocked out by the 75 per cent reach rule. If this Government were successful-thank goodness it will not be-in giving 75 per cent, the mere fact of doing that would create tremendous economic barriers that would prevent anyone else coming in when a fourth station is granted, for example. It would be impossible for others to come in because the capital expenditure would have been made and other people would be excluded just by that economic barrier alone. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal recommended 25 to 30 per cent. In the United States of America, the home of capitalism and the home of freedom of speech-its first amendment says that there must be freedom of speech; its anti-trust laws protect freedom of speech by imposing cross-media restraints, trade practice restraints and very strict rules regarding ownership and control-25 per cent is the maximum. In my view, that is what this country should be striving for. At the very most I will settle for 35 per cent, but 25 per cent would be a sensible outcome. One could look at the existing holdings and say that Sydney is the maximum viewing size that is needed.

Networking has been spoken about by several people tonight. Networking in the United States is by recognising certain networking entities and then having affiliation. There are strict rules about the way in which people who are affiliated to a network can be obliged to take programs from that network. Networking does not have to be by ownership; it should be by affiliation. By that kind of co-operation by commercial contract, they can get the economies of scale, they can commission the programs and they can put to air programs which are diversified. So diversified ownership brings diversified programming and, above all, in terms of freedom of speech, it brings very real chances for people to hear a diversity of opinion.

Mr Hand —You should have taken notice of him, and you wouldn't be in the mess you are in now.

Mr MACPHEE —The honourable member for Melbourne should hang his head in shame. The solidarity pledge is a disgrace in 1987. It was relevant to the Labor movement when it started, but the honourable member should be ashamed. The honourable member should not be in this legislature if he is not prepared to vote against this legislation. He is not serious about his role as a democratic member of the legislature of this Parliament. This matter really is very important. We must have countervailing arguments for the kind of stuff which will be peddled by his mates to get his Government elected at the next election. He is making himself and future governments hostage to these tycoons who just want the sense of power and will love the sense of power that they are given.

Seventy-five per cent to 100 per cent ownership makes all governments vulnerable to the pressures of other people, whether they are media specialists or not. Now we are getting to a situation where some people are running international advertising credit cards. We are not just going to be run from Sydney; we are going to be run from Los Angeles. We are not going to have local advertising. There will not be Australian content of advertising or programs, and there will not be Australian employment. Forget Australia's Actors Equity. We will be run from Los Angeles, New York or wherever else our tycoons want to locate themselves. Members of the Socialist Left of the Labor Party have sold out to these media moguls. They have departed from what we know to be the Labor Party's commitment.

Those opposite should have a look at what they have said for years in the Labor Party-diversity in choice of programming; optimum guaranteed levels of Australian content; diversity of media ownership; reduction in the concentration of ownership and control in private hands both within and between the various forms of the media. Do I need to go on? The honourable member for Melbourne is moving back to his seat. I can see that he wants to interject. They talked about protecting the commercial sector against foreign penetration of ownership and control. A great foreigner, an American citizen, now owns 60 per cent of the print media-and those opposite just lie down and let him take it! They talked of encouraging the development of additional new commercial broadcasting services to ensure more diversity of ownership and program choice. This is their policy; this is their platform. They talked of developing proper and responsible planning mechanisms. Planning mechanisms! They have surrendered to these greedy media moguls; that is what they have done.

Mr Hand —On a point of order. I just want to say that we would not treat you as shabbily as your own mob have if you were with us, my friend. Just remember that.

Mr MACPHEE —The honourable member should come over here if he is with me. What are those opposite doing? They are selling out Australia's cultural heritage; they are selling out our economic prospects and our employment capacity. We are struggling to find our identity in this world, and they are selling it out to overseas interests. They do not care about domination from outside.

Are we to be technology driven, to be driven by other people's investment in technology transplanted into this country, or are we to make some sort of assessment as a nation of what we want and how we want to use technology and how we want to apply it for ourselves? The role of government is very clear. We have an obligation to allocate the spectrum in a way which meets what we regard as the classic role for liberalism. What is in the public interest? How can we admit as many players as are able and willing to invest their capital, their experience and their ideas and employ as many Australians contributing their ideas equally? Contrast that with the expediency of this Government. It has failed Australian television viewers. It should have had one package of legislation. We have just defeated a Bill in the Senate and this Bill is going to be defeated in the Senate. As Joh would say: `Don't you worry about that'. If the Government had brought the Bills in as one package, it might have been possible to examine rationally how to provide services to the country areas as well as to the metropolitan areas. The Bill deserves to be defeated. It is sad that those opposite have sold out everything that they say they believe in, and they have encouraged a lot of entrepreneurs to sell out their shareholders. The Government has shown a contempt for this Parliament.

The Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy), who is just striding out of the chamber now, issued a Press release at the end of November. On the basis of that Press release various market deals were made on the assumption that Parliament would not reverse what had been done.

Mrs Kelly —On the word of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr MACPHEE —This Parliament makes the laws of this country-otherwise that building on the hill will be a mausoleum to democracy. This Parliament makes the rules, not the market-place. The people who have made these deals have breached the existing law and they have breached the intent of the new law. They have not cared what Parliament has said about it. I remind them of the old Roman law, caveat emptor-buyer beware. I tell honourable members that the people in Richmond know about that.

The people who now complain that their fingers have been burned and their bids are under subscribed are the victims of Labor's shoddy arrangements. Seventy-five per cent was struck as a back-room deal. We know all these numbers people in the Labor Party. There were no economic criteria, no social criteria, no technical criteria, no logic, no fairness and no equity. Labor is selling its soul in the hope that certain people will editorialise in its favour and manage the news in its favour. A decade hence, new technology, if we manage it properly and if we do not now lock in all sorts of capital investment, will open up to Australia exciting potential for communication and for the flow of information. But the Government is locking out tremendous opportunities for Australians to understand what is going on. It is a two-edged sword. They will turn against the Government as they have done before. We know about someone who crowed about how many seats he won in 1972 and how many in 1975, and he was not supporting the same party on those occasions.

In conclusion, again the forgotten people are the regionals. Because the Government has turned its back on the law which we passed when in government giving supplementary licences-and 31 of the 37 regional stations had set aside the capital to provide those licences-it is now effectively, by its great wheeling and dealing to give them centralised networking from one spot, namely, Sydney at the moment and Los Angeles next time, depriving them of any commercial choice. We had the capacity, the policy and the law. It is in the statute books-eight years tenure, a supplementary licence and three years notice of cessation of that licence-and yet the Government has deprived the regional stations of that. It is the Government that has deprived them of those services, not us. We would have had them running a second service 18 months to two years ago. Labor is to be condemned. We must abolish the two-station rule, of course; we know that; and to preserve democracy we must have cross-media ownership rules. But we cannot, and we will not, support Labor's concentration of ownership. We must oppose this Bill. Of course, we will get to a point in a decade or so where there will be multiple choice programs from all over the world. If the Government is prepared to look at a fourth channel, as we propose in our amendment, I suggest that it look at the United Kingdom model, the channel 4 model there, where commercial stations were prepared to contribute funds. The Government receives $100m in licence fees from the commercial stations in this country. We should let those stations contribute to a Channel 4 concept and provide diversified programming, a complementary program to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service on the one hand and the commercials on the other.

Mr Duffy —That is not what your amendment says.

Mr MACPHEE —The Minister should look at the amendment. Mr Huw Evans, a most enlightened consultant, gave evidence before the Senate Select Committee on Television Equalisation. The reference is the Senate Committee Hansard dated 21 January this year, pages 332 to 351 and 352 to 365. This is a bad Bill. We oppose it strongly. If honourable members opposite had any conscience and if the Australian Labor Party made itself relevant to this century, they would abolish the solidarity pledge which they once needed but now do not and they would let people exercise some conscience. As far as I am concerned, and I am sure that I speak for my colleagues, if we are to be serious members of this legislature we can never let such legislation pass, otherwise we are handing down to future generations a heavily handicapped legislature which is suitable for a totalitarian regime, not for a democracy.