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Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Page: 300

Mr OAKESHOTT (7:08 PM) —I can almost feel a version of a Meatloaf song coming on, because, rather than saying two out of three ain’t bad, for the National Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 I will say four out of five ain’t bad in regard to my support for this legislation.

Dr Emerson —Like a bat out of hell.

Mr OAKESHOTT —That is right. The first point is about increased transparency of the appointment process. I think and I hope it is a no-brainer for everyone in this place to support getting greater involvement from the diverse community that makes up Australia today. That transparency of the appointment process is a critical part of improving the institutions of both the ABC and the SBS network. Likewise, establishing a new arms-length nomination panel for the new merit based application process is what I would describe as a no-brainer and hopefully it is generally supported by everyone in this place in improving the two institutions in question. Likewise, reinstating the staff-elected director position on the ABC board. I do pick up on what the previous speaker said. I do think previous staff-elected directors have shown a knowledge and an understanding and a respect for directorship, not necessarily playing the role of the shop steward and trying to be the staff union rep in their activity as a staff-elected director on the ABC board. So I think that is a sensible reinstatement and again is one I would consider a no-brainer in building a better ABC for the future.

The fourth point that I would hope is broadly supported is that all of that is done without going too far against the concept of ministerial responsibility and ministerial authority. Again, I hope most people in this place would respect the role of a minister in looking after and protecting the various institutions under their portfolio and the need for that ultimate authority. Therefore the three other changes that I see in this legislation I think are all appreciated and welcomed in improving transparency and accountability and in future-proofing the ABC and SBS boards, but done so without stepping over that line and that principle of ministerial responsibility. They are the four that I certainly think are welcome and important changes attached to this legislation.

The one that I do not support and the one that I can see the merit in the coalition position on is the knocking out of politicians and political staffers from having a role in any future board of either the ABC or the SBS. Personally I do not covet a position and we all speak carefully when we speak about the role that politicians play. But I do think we are a reflection of a representative democracy process and that our 8c a day should buy us no more but no less than any other 8c a day out of any other pocket in Australia. In the role that I play as an independent member of this place, I do not buy the logic that all members of parliament are necessarily tarnished by impacting the independence of these organisations by potentially being involved in these organisations. I would defy that argument to be put on the unaligned members of this chamber in some sort of illogical argument that we may be threatening the independent processes of the ABC and SBS boards. On people being members of political parties, I sympathise heavily with those who have been involved as political staffers not necessarily being knocked out of a role and an involvement in what should be a reflection of the full diversity of Australia, and that should not only involve people who avoid politics but those who are attracted to politics as well. So it is that part of this legislation that I do not agree with.

I can see some sense in the coalition amendment on the 18-month cooling-off period falling in line with executive codes of conduct on ministerial behaviour. I would hope that there is some reflection by the government on that and this is not just an exercise of bashing up each side on whose mates get appointed to various boards and why they may get appointed. If we are being truly reflective of the full Australia through the ability to have a transparent process and a merit based process in the appointment then I would hope that includes all comers and that includes those involved in the political process as well. So, as I say, four out of five ain’t bad for this legislation. I will be looking to see how the amendment is written to see whether it is possible to support half the coalition amendments in regard to the political involvement on the boards while certainly not supporting the position of trying to kill a staff-elected director position. I hope it is not in the same amendment.

Finally, I want to give some general raps for the role the ABC and SBS boards and channels play in society and culture today. On the mid-North Coast of New South Wales the ABC network, particularly the radio network, plays a foundation role in general daily life. It is the social network site that existed before Facebook. It is the emergency site for fires and floods—and we have had four of those over the last 12 months where the ABC mid-North Coast has given basically a 24-hour emergency service with those journalists staying up all through the night to keep people informed and aware of the full emergency and to reassure people through some difficult circumstances that things will be okay. It is also one of the main outlets for news and current affairs within our area. It also engages at a community level, which often is not talked about when looking at the roles that the ABC mid-North Coast office plays. For our Australia Day celebrations the manager of the local station dressed up as Governor Macquarie in the 200th year celebration of the town of Port Macquarie. He gave up his day to play that role, be part of that community event and truly be part of the community. Quite often we hear from people that they want to be part of the community, but I think that example shows that the ABC is serious about that and willing to do it. Likewise, as the previous speaker mentioned, there is a connection with the Friends of the ABC. We have a very active friends network on the mid-North Coast and that has a role all of its own in social gatherings and also in the promotion and protection of the ABC’s product. I hope they are generally pretty pleased about this legislation going through today.

While the mid-North Coast of New South Wales does not have the world’s biggest ethnic community, I have noticed over the last couple of years more and more people engaging in SBS for a number of reasons. The main reason is quality product, such as East West 101 and The Circuit. Such programs are cutting through to become weekly viewing for mainstream Australia. I say hats off to SBS for the way they have done that. I think they probably have not been given the credit for bringing The World Game to Australia over the last decade and really cracking that nut. They should be congratulated for a whole number of different strategies that they have used. They are now delivering a quality product that I think we can all be proud of. This product rivals other channels and networks not only for ethnic Australians but also for mainstream and the broader Australia as well. I think that is pretty exciting for the future of SBS television and radio.

I certainly endorse this legislation. My general feeling is it is a no-brainer. I would love the aspect of knocking out a certain type of Australian from being involved in ABC boards and SBS boards of the future to be reconsidered. I hope there is some sympathy for the coalition amendment, not just an adversarial head bashing for its having come from the coalition benches. I think there is some sense and merit in that amendment. If it is to go through—and, hopefully, with some consideration of the future role that those in the political process might play—then this has been work well done this evening.