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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3581

Senator HAINES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. In view of the serious consequences flowing from an increase in concentration of media ownership in Australia, can the Minister explain, firstly, why the Government is persisting in its refusal to intervene in the takeover bid for the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd by News Ltd and, secondly, why the Government is reluctant to support the establishment of a joint Federal-State inquiry into the effects of greater concentration of media ownership in Australia, including current and future levels of syndication within the print medium?

Senator BUTTON —First of all, let me again make the point which I was forced to make on Friday in answer to a question, and that is that the Government's announced policies with respect to ownership and control of television in Australia have nothing whatsoever to do with the attempted takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times by News Ltd. The two issues are quite distinct. Secondly, let me make the point that, insofar as a successful takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times by News Ltd would lead to a greater concentration of newspaper ownership in Australia, that is initially a matter for consultation with and, if necessary, later investigation by the Trade Practices Commission.

As I understand it, it has already been indicated publicly that discussions between the News Ltd representatives and the Trade Practices Commission have indicated that there would have to be a divestiture of a number of newspapers. The details of that are not known to the Government or anyone else, but that is prima facie and essentially at the beginning a matter for the Trade Practices Commission.

Whether it is desirable to have a Federal-State inquiry into this matter is something which I have not considered. It may be a suggestion welling from the policy depths of the Australian Democrats; I do not know. It is not a suggestion which has been put to me before at any stage.

I simply want to make the point that under the new Government policy on media ownership there will be much less cross-ownership of media than there would have been in the past. If there is an undesirable degree of concentration of newspaper ownership, as I said, it is appropriately a matter for the Trade Practices Commission at this stage.

I do not think I have anything to add to that. We went through this issue at the time of the purported takeover of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd by Mr Holmes a Court, when there was a great deal of calling for national inquiries and things of that kind. The Government indicated then its general position on these issues, and it does so in much the same way now.