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Thursday, 14 March 2013
Page: 2205

Mr MURPHY (Reid) (15:54): This is a matter of importance. The debate on the member for Wentworth's motion is very, very important because it says that there is a threat posed to free speech by the government's proposed media reforms. But at the heart of the Labor government's media reforms—as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker—is the potential for further concentration of media ownership in Australia.

Mr Hawke: Rubbish!

Mr MURPHY: It is not rubbish. If the member for Mitchell listens to me he will understand better. I have been in this place for 15 years, and every time this issue rears its ugly head I have been an outspoken opponent of concentration of media ownership.

I will accept the point that the member for Wentworth made in relation to the Labor government's allowing News Limited, Mr Murdoch, to buy the Herald and Weekly Times—and we understand the politics of that time. I disagreed with it; I still disagree with it. It certainly allowed News Limited and the Murdoch family to get a stranglehold on the print media in Australia. Even more shameful for the government of the day, our government, was the fact that the Foreign Investment Review Board somehow, conveniently, looked the other way when Mr Murdoch decided to abandon his Australian citizenship and become an American citizen to dominate the media internationally, starting in America and the UK, while being allowed to keep his media assets in Australia. I opposed that. I was not here at the time; I certainly would have railed against that if I had been.

We have not heard from the member for Wentworth or the member for Cowper about the potential for concentration of media ownership in Australia. For the benefit of those members, and the member for Mitchell, I will remind the House that the Murdoch media owns 70 per cent of the metropolitan daily newspapers in Australia. They own more than 50 per cent of the regional and suburban newspapers in Australia. They now have a 50 per cent monopoly share in Foxtel in Australia; interests in AAP, HarperCollins Publishers and other publishers; and have one of the most accessed sites on the internet:

I do not have any problem with the so-called propaganda, that has been referred to in recent days, by the Murdoch media. The Murdoch media have the right to run the stories however they like but they do not have the right to drown out all the other voices. And this is what is going to happen without this legislation. And that is why I feel so passionately about it.

Those on both sides of the House—whether they are in the Labor Party or the Liberal Party—are guilty of surrendering to the power of the media moguls in Australia. And that is wrong. If this legislation goes through it will preclude Mr Lachlan Murdoch from getting control of a free-to-air television network—and I am referring specifically to the Network Ten—and being able to buy radio stations.

What do you think would happen if the Murdoch family were able to get control of a free-to-air television network in Australia? I will tell you. The lucrative sporting dollar would flow principally to the Murdoch family. They have the game sown up with Foxtel. It is a very convenient way to get around the antisiphoning legislation so that the most attractive programs that have to be run on free-to-air television will be run by channel 10 under Mr Lachlan Murdoch, extracting the best advertising dollar. And what will that do to Channel 7, Channel 9, the ABC and the SBS, in terms of their capacity to broadcast sport and provide a bit of competition? It will neuter them. What will they be left with? They will be left with broadcasting the lawn bowls and programs like that. Okay, it might be fair enough for those people who like lawn bowls but it is not very lucrative like the Rugby League, the cricket, the Melbourne Cup, World Cup soccer and the Olympic Games—all the principal sporting events.

I draw to the attention of the previous speakers, and the member for Mitchell, a very sober and balanced analysis in response to all the hysteria led by Mr Kim Williams, the chief executive of News Limited in Australia, in relation to this package. Mr Richard Ackland, who is a very respected commentator, says:

The self-righteous bloviating from press interests, and the shrill coverage from News Limited papers in particular, leads to the suspicion that Senator Conroy can't be far wrong with his tiny package of media reforms.

The Daily Telegraph, without a glimmer of irony, thinks it is an ''aggressive attempt to silence your media''.

Kim Williams, Rupert Murdoch's provincial governor, said this is the first government outside of wartime to ''attack freedom of speech''.

The ever-reliable ''professor'' David Flint thinks the media plan is an assault on the very foundations of our federation.

Opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull declared—

as the Attorney-General said in his speech, repeated here—

''Freedom is at stake, liberty is at stake, democracy is at stake.''

It is at stake if our laws do not go through the parliament, because there will be a concentration of media ownership. I will go on, for the benefit of the member for Mitchell, who is still in the chamber, so he knows what Mr Ackland said. The article continues:

And this from a Liberal Party spokesman whose leader has growled at the ABC about its ''bias'' and about whom the public broadcaster lives in fear of retribution.

What is really at stake is how far these special pleaders can get away with their over-egged rhetoric.

Maybe forgotten in the excitement is the realisation that under the Conroy plan, Murdoch's News Limited will now have its Foxtel pay TV operations subject to a public interest test for mergers and acquisitions. It can't get more shocking than that.

The main components of the Minister for Communications' announcement on Tuesday, about which the details, expected to be revealed on Thursday, are: self-regulating press standards with oversight by a public interest media advocate; and a public interest test for media mergers and acquisitions.

Some TV ''reach'' provisions are to be referred to a parliamentary committee that is expected to solve something that the free-to-air moguls can't agree on themselves. So one point at a time.

The main print standards body will still be the industry-run Australian Press Council, although the plan envisages the possibility of competing self-regulatory bodies that are approved or ''declared'' by the public interest media advocate.

The standards or codes of journalistic conduct are the ones that presently exist. The industry will remain self-regulating and no government funding is to be provided.

The PIMA would have oversight of the media councils, seeing that they were doing their jobs properly and responding to complaints appropriately.

Where's the threat to free speech, liberty and democracy in that tiddlywinks scheme?

The complaints are a bit rum when you consider that historically the press barons fought tooth and nail against the implementation of even an industry-run council. They turned on and off the funding faucet whenever it suited and generally regarded the whole process with disdain.

Now the Australian Press Council is being embraced as the rock on which our freedoms are built.

Instead of fines and torture as penalties for disobedience proposed by the Finkelstein review, it is now a carrots and sticks approach.

Journalist exemptions under the Privacy Act would apply only to those media organisations who signed up to a self-regulating press standards body. How wicked is that?

I do not have time to read the rest of it, but everyone should read it because it is a balanced and accurate reply.

I remind the House where I started: what this is all about is the future of our democracy, because this will allow concentration of media ownership in Australia. People do not vote for a media company; in a small number of cases they vote for a local member and in most cases they vote for a party, its policies and the leader. They do not vote for Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Fitzgibbon: They vote for John Murphy now.

Mr MURPHY: I hope so.