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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 10701


Senator BOURNE —My question is addressed to Senator Alston, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Does the minister recall commit ments that he gave on 19 March this year as a result of the Blue Sky High Court decision that the government will ensure that foreign access to Australian television local content quotas will be explicitly confined to New Zealand, thus confirming there will be no flow-on to other international treaties, and that the government will ensure that Australia's cultural objectives to the audiovisual sector are taken into account in negotiating all future trade agreements? If so, will the government back up the minister's promises and ensure that in the upcoming round of World Trade Organisation negotiations cultural industries are explicitly excluded from any further trade liberalisation?


Senator ALSTON (Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Yes, I do recall the general thrust of what Senator Bourne refers to on 19 March. Certainly it was our concern at the time to ensure that there was no slippage in relation to that essentially one-off arrangement with New Zealand. I am not familiar with the precise detail of what case the Australian government might be arguing at the WTO in Seattle, but I think it is fair to say that there is an awareness that, whilst countries like France and Canada are pushing very hard for increased protection for their own cultural diversity programs, we are disinclined to support them or to move in the opposite direction. My understanding is that we will simply be supporting the status quo. We have no intentions of going beyond our commitments, but I will check with the Minister for Trade and see whether I can get a more detailed answer for Senator Bourne.


Senator BOURNE —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer. Can he tell me if I am correct in assuming then that we do not intend to explicitly protect our cultural industries in any future trade liberalisation and that the government just intends to let things float as they are without that protection?


Senator ALSTON (Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I am not sure what Senator Bourne means by our taking action to protect our own industries. We can state our position; we can adhere to it when the multilateral negotiations are taking place; we can ensure that we always put our own interests first and that we do not deviate from that in the course of those negotiations. I have no reason to think that we are proposing to move away from the publicly announced position and the arrangements to which you refer. But I will see if I can get some more explicit commitments on that front.