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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3366

Senator CHANEY —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer the Minister to yesterday's announcement of the News Ltd takeover bid for the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd and the recommendation by the board of the latter company in favour of the Murdoch offer. I ask: Has the Government any concern about the increased concentration of media ownership which will result if, as seems likely, the bid is successful? Does the Minister agree that, unless News Ltd disposes of some newspapers-that is reportedly not presently planned by the company-in addition to its major holdings in Melbourne and Sydney, the Murdoch organisation would control all the local daily newspapers in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Hobart, as well as the main weekend papers in those cities? Can the Minister advise what, if any, action is proposed by the Trade Practices Commission, given that section 50 of the Trade Practices Act prohibits share dealings which lead to a position of market dominance, either nationally or in a State?

Senator BUTTON —I suspect that this is a question more appropriately addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications. I can comment only in a very inexpert way. All I can say is that it is early days yet in terms of speculating about what might happen to newspaper ownership if the News Ltd take- over of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd is consumated. It is also a fact that, as a result of newly announced Government policy, News Ltd would be required to divest itself of television interests. I make the point that, as I understand it, the takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times, or certainly its newspaper interests, could have happened at any time without any questions being asked prior to the recent Government announcement on cross-ownership of television and newspaper interests. I am unable to advise what the view of the Trade Practices Commission would be on this matter. I have no information about that.

Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. I thank the Minister for his answer and agree with him that I could perhaps have selected another Minister to answer the question. But the first question that I put to him-this is why I addressed my question to the Leader of the Government rather than to any other Minister-was: Does the Government have any concern about the increased concentration of media ownership that will result if, as seems likely, the bid is successful? Bearing in mind that Mr Murdoch has indicated that he has spoken with the Prime Minister, I wondered whether the Leader of the Government could give us some indication of whether it is a matter about which the Government has any concern.

Senator BUTTON —I cannot speak for the Government on this matter. Concentration of media ownership is a matter about which I have always been concerned; we have always had that situation in Australia. I am totally unaware of whether Mr Murdoch had discussions with the Prime Minister, and cannot help with that aspect.