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Thursday, 14 September 2006
Page: 10


Senator SANDY MACDONALD (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (9:48 AM) —I table the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

BROADCASTING LEGISLATION AMEND-MENT (DIGITAL TELEVISION) BILL 2006

Conversion to digital is the most fundamental change in broadcasting since the introduction of television itself 50 years ago.

In 1998 the foundations were laid for Australia to enter the digital television era when the Parliament passed legislation to establish the basic framework for conversion to digital television. Further legislation followed in 2000 setting out the operating rules for digital television services.

Since that time, technology has continued to evolve, consumers’ media consumption habits have continued to change and grow more sophisticated and internationally, the move towards digital has continued unabated.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2006 represents the next major step in the digital television conversion process for Australia.

The bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and other legislation to implement the Government’s decisions relating to the regulation of digital television, the broadcasting of sports on the anti-siphoning list on new digital channels, and procedures for the allocation of new commercial television licences.

This bill contains several measures aimed at driving the uptake of digital television which will bring significant benefits to consumers and Australian society. These measures include the removal of the genre restrictions on national broadcaster multichannels and the phasing in of multichannelling for commercial television broadcasters.

The removal of the High Definition simulcast requirement will enable commercial television broadcasters to provide a High Definition television multichannel from 2007 if they wish. From 2009 they will also be able to provide a Standard Definition television multichannel. Broadcasters will not be legally restricted as to the number of multichannels they can provide within their allocated channel of spectrum from the time of switchover, which is intended to commence in the period 2010 to 2012.

This approach balances concerns about the impact of multichannelling on broadcasters’ business models and technical spectrum capacity limits with the need to provide additional digital content to viewers and to drive digital uptake.

The High Definition television programming quota of 1040 hours per year will be maintained during the simulcast period and then removed. Maintaining the quota during the simulcast period will provide a consistent framework for industry and viewers who have invested in HD equipment. However, its removal thereafter will provide increased flexibility for broadcasters in the services they offer their audiences.

All broadcasters will be prevented from premiering the whole or part of an event on the anti-siphoning list on a digital multichannel. This will ensure that listed events remain available to the widest possible audience. This requirement, along with the operation of, and ongoing rationale for, the anti-siphoning scheme, will be reviewed in 2009 prior to the expiry of the current list and in the context of approaching digital switchover.

This bill also contains measures relating to the allocation of new commercial television licences following the end of the moratorium on new licences on 31 December 2006. This bill modifies the power to allocate new commercial television broadcasting licences within the broadcasting services bands of spectrum so that the Australian Communications and Media Authority cannot exercise this power unless a decision has been taken by the Minister that such a licence should be allocated. This will implement the Government’s election commitment to take a decision-making role in commercial television licensing.

This bill also provides a power to the Minister to veto the allocation by ACMA of a new commercial television broadcasting licence outside the BSB (under s.40 of the BSA) on the basis that the allocation of the licence would be contrary to the public interest.

The end of the simulcast period, intended to commence in the period 2010 to 2012, provides a natural point from both a policy and practical perspective, for further changes to the digital television regulatory settings.

The removal of the remaining restrictions on free-to-air multichannelling and international obligations mean that the way obligations such as Australian content quotas are applied to digital channels from switchover will need to be revisited. This bill requires that such a review shall be conducted prior to the end of the simulcast period. This will ensure that appropriate regulatory settings are in place at the time of switchover.

In the meantime, the bill ensures that the usual viewer protections will apply in relation to the regulation of content on multichannels, but other obligations such as the provision of Australian content and children’s content will not apply in the early stages so as not to unduly stifle their development. There will be a review of the regulation of multichannels before switchover.

Taken as a package with the bills on media ownership reform and enforcement powers for ACMA, the opportunities for new digital services on currently unallocated spectrum and the development of a Digital Action Plan for digital TV, the reforms in this bill represent a significant and important step forward in Australian media policy and regulation.

The digital television component of the package will provide opportunities for Australian television viewers to access a greater range of digital programming and services and ensure that viewers and broadcasters are better prepared for digital switchover.


BROADCASTING SERVICES AMENDMENT (MEDIA OWNERSHIP) BILL 2006

The communications environment, in Australia and across the world, is experiencing a period of rapid and accelerating change. New platforms are emerging, along with new forms of content and greater levels of interactivity Media content is now available in multiple forms, on-demand, and to fixed or mobile receivers, providing Australians with an unprecedented level of choice and control in their media usage.

Despite this proliferation of services and platforms, the need to ensure the diversity of media ownership remains fundamental. Ensuring a variety of content, particularly in regional communities with less access to a diverse range of media than in metropolitan areas, is a key priority for the Government. The Parliament has long regarded these objectives as critical, and they are at the heart of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA). The Government, in committing to reform Australia’s media ownership laws at the 2004 election, indicated that it would do so while protecting media diversity. This bill, along with measures in the other media reform Bills, gives effect to that commitment.

The regulatory framework in relation to the ownership and control of Australian media assets was developed in the mid-1980s. It focuses on regulating separately television, radio and newspapers—which at that time were essentially the only mass media. The framework imposes restrictions that impede commercial flexibility and access to capital for infrastructure and content investment. These restrictions hinder the ability of Australian media organisations to succeed in the new media environment. Most of all, by locking media companies into one platform, and by locking foreign investors out of our two most profitable media, they are fundamentally anti-competitive.

This bill seeks to remove these restrictions while still providing the protection the regulatory framework was intended to provide—the protection of media diversity.

The bill will remove the current foreign ownership and control restrictions in the BSA. However, foreign ownership of Australian media assets will continue to be regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy (FIP).

The bill will also relax Australia’s outdated cross-media rules so that cross-media mergers can take place, but only where sufficient diversity of media groups remains following the merger. At least five separate media groups will be required to remain after any merger activity in mainland State capitals, and four groups in all other areas. The areas concerned will be based on commercial radio licence areas.

The Trade Practices Act 1974 will continue to apply to proposed media mergers and acquisitions. Any such proposals will be subject to a test for the effect on competition, which is administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). For mergers outside metropolitan areas, the bill requires that proposed mergers involving commercial radio, commercial television and Associated Newspapers within a regional radio licence area will be required to obtain a clearance from the ACCC prior to the transaction proceeding.

The media ownership rules will be administered by the media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). A person who undertakes a transaction that breaches the BSA will be guilty of an offence, and may be ordered by ACMA to divest licences or newspapers to return to compliance with the BSA. To ensure compliance with the minimum number of separate media groups rule, ACMA will maintain a Register of Controlled Media Groups identifying the ownership and control of media groups in each licence area that comply with the BSA.

In a media environment where mergers are permitted, it is likely that media companies will be required at some point to provide news coverage of matters relating to cross-held entities. The bill imposes a general obligation on media outlets to disclose cross-media relationships in such circumstances.

The Government recognises there is a level of public concern about declining levels of local and regional news and information programs on both television and radio and this bill contains significant measures to address those concerns. In 2003, ACMA imposed licence conditions on regional television broadcasters requiring the broadcast of minimum levels of programming of local significance. The bill amends the BSA to require ACMA to impose such conditions in aggregated television licence areas in eastern Australia, in effect formalising the existing conditions, which will remain in place. Additionally, the requirement will be extended to Tasmanian licensees. ACMA is currently considering whether similar arrangements should be extended to licensees in South Australia and Western Australia.

Local content licence conditions and Local Content Plans will be implemented to provide protection for local content on radio in regional areas. The bill provides that where a commercial radio licence is transferred, is subject to a change in control or otherwise becomes part of a merged media group, the licensee will be required to meet specified local content licence conditions. These conditions will establish minimum standards for local news, community service announcements and emergency warnings, as well as minimum service standards for other types of local content, if specified by the Minister by legislative instrument.

Licensees will be required to demonstrate in a Local Content Plan how they will meet the local content licence conditions and what resources they will have in place to achieve the requirements.

This will ensure that regardless of any mergers that may take place, regional audiences can be assured that they will continue to receive relevant, local news and information from the commercial broadcasters in their area. Of course, this is be in addition to the myriad of other media services available around Australia from ABC television, radio and online, SBS television, radio and online, community television and radio, subscription television, plus the ever-expanding range of on-line services available over the Internet and the new digital services that will emerge as a result of the Government’s media reform package.

This bill provides for the timely reform of the outdated regulatory framework governing the ownership and control of Australian media organisations. It is part of a wide-ranging and significant legislative reform package that will ensure that Australian media organisations, as well as the Australian public, are well positioned to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities presented by the digital communications revolution we are currently witnessing.


CRIMES AMENDMENT (BAIL AND SENTENCING) BILL 2006

The Australian Government has the responsibility to protect all Australians from criminal behaviour, moreover, it has a long-term commitment to overcome the particular disadvantages suffered by Indigenous Australians.

At the Intergovernmental Summit on Violence and Child Abuse in Indigenous Communities, held in June this year, the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, expressed our concerns about the relatively high level of violence and abuse in Indigenous communities. The Australian Government called upon all Australian jurisdictions to take action against the perpetrators of violence and abuse, and to improve the safety and security of the general community.

All Australians should be treated equally under the law. Every Australian may expect to be protected by the law, and equally every Australian is subject to the law’s authority.

Criminal behaviour cannot in any way be excused, justified, authorised, required or rendered less serious because of customary law or cultural practice. The Australian Government rejects the idea that an offender’s cultural background should automatically be considered, when a court is sentencing that offender, so as to mitigate the sentence imposed.

Likewise, this bill will preclude any customary law or cultural practice from being taken into account, in the process of granting bail to an alleged offender, in such a way that the criminal behaviour concerned is seen as less culpable. All Australians, regardless of their background, will thus be equal before the law.

At the Intergovernmental Summit in June, the Attorney-General indicated that the Commonwealth would review its bail provisions to ensure that adequate protection is given to alleged victims and potential witnesses, especially those who live in remote communities.

Victims and witnesses in remote communities face particular difficulties when alleged offenders are released, and the proposed amendments to the Commonwealth’s bail provisions will require the impact on such victims and witnesses to be considered in the process of granting bail to alleged offenders.

The recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were considered during the formulation of the amendments in this bill. The Australian Government remains concerned about Aboriginal deaths in custody and high incarceration rates, but we are also particularly concerned about the high levels of family violence and child abuse in Indigenous communities. The Government wants to ensure that proper sentences are given to offenders and that the law covering such crimes reflects their seriousness.

The high levels of family violence and child abuse in Indigenous communities is appalling. The law covering such crimes must reflect the fact that such criminal behaviour is unacceptable. The Australian Government is committed to protecting Australians from criminal behaviour, and those who are most vulnerable are obviously those most in need of protection.

This bill forms one element of our approach to addressing these difficult issues. The amendments in this bill are complemented by law enforcement initiatives which include the creation of a National Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Task Force to facilitate the sharing of information and intelligence on crimes of violence and child abuse in the Indigenous community. There are also initiatives underway for community legal education and judicial cultural awareness training. These initiatives are in addition to the actions that the Australian Government is already undertaking to address the complexities that Indigenous Australians face within the justice system, including initiatives through the National Community Crime Prevention Programmes, the Prevention, Diversion, Rehabilitation and Restorative Justice Program and the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program.

The Australian Government will continue to work with States and Territories to improve Australia’s justice system, and in this regard, the Australian Government encourages the States and Territories to follow its example and adopt similar sentencing and bail provisions.


FINANCIAL SECTOR LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (TRANS-TASMAN BANKING SUPERVISION) BILL 2006

It is with pleasure that today, I introduce a Bill which delivers on a key aspect of the Australian Government’s commitment to develop a single economic market between Australia and New Zealand, based on common regulatory frameworks. This bill represents a significant step towards this objective in the particular area of banking supervision.

The Australian and New Zealand banking markets are among the most highly integrated in the world. Australian banks have a combined market share of more than 85 per cent of the New Zealand banking market, and New Zealand assets comprise around 15 per cent of Australian banks’ total assets. Moreover, the same four banks are the major banks in both countries.

Given this high level of commercial integration, there is benefit in moving towards seamless regulation of banks on both sides of the Tasman, to minimise compliance costs and promote efficiency.

Reducing compliance and administration costs for consumers and business in Australia is a topic in which the Australian Government has a direct, substantial and ongoing interest.

In the current context, it is also important that the banking supervisors are able to cooperate more closely with respect to promoting financial system stability in each country given the interdependence of both financial systems.

In 2005, the Trans-Tasman Council on Banking Supervision was established by the Treasurer and the New Zealand Minister of Finance. The Council’s objective is to promote a joint approach to trans-Tasman banking supervision that delivers a seamless regulatory environment for banking services, as the first step towards a single economic market in banking.

Both the Australian and New Zealand Governments agreed to implement legislative changes recommended by the Council. They did this to ensure that the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) can support each other in meeting their statutory responsibilities.

This bill implements the Council’s recommendations. It also contains some small complementary proposals relating to secondments and financial system stability, to ensure that the Council’s recommendations work effectively.

I am pleased to report that New Zealand is currently progressing its own reciprocal legislative amendments through its Parliament.

In Australia, the amendments will require APRA to do a number of things. First, APRA will be obliged to support the RBNZ in performing its statutory responsibilities relating to prudential regulation and financial system stability. Second, APRA must consider the implications of its actions for financial system stability in New Zealand. And lastly, APRA must consult the RBNZ on these matters.

Under the bill, an administrator or statutory manager—that may be appointed by APRA to a bank in severe financial distress—will also be required to consider the implications of a proposed action on financial system stability in New Zealand. In addition, the bill includes specific amendments aimed at ameliorating the risk that APRA could be required to interfere with the provision of outsourced services from an APRA-regulated entity to a New Zealand bank.

As a result of these amendments, banks should be allowed greater flexibility with respect to the trans-Tasman location of their systems and functions than can be afforded under the current regulatory regimes of both countries.

Importantly, this can be achieved without compromising the ability of regulators to meet their existing statutory objectives. The bill will therefore bring compliance cost and efficiency benefits to banks with trans-Tasman operations, which should have flow-on benefits for customers (including depositors) and shareholders alike.

In developing these proposals, the Government has been very conscious that that Australian banks operate across borders and need to be competitive in an increasingly globalised financial system. Many large international banks are able to centralise systems and functions to secure cost savings that contribute to their competitiveness. These amendments should create a regulatory environment under which impediments to banks choosing the location of systems and functions within the trans-Tasman market are reduced.

To complement these proposals, this bill amends the legislation to clarify that APRA can second staff from the RBNZ. This will contribute to cooperation between APRA and the RBNZ by simplifying the arrangements for such secondments.

In addition, this bill clarifies that one of APRA’s objectives is to promote financial system stability in Australia. This has always been one of APRA’s roles, but has not been explicitly noted in legislation. Inserting this objective into legislation now will assist in the implementation of reciprocal legislative amendments in New Zealand legislation. These amendments will also mean that Australia’s legislation is more consistent in the way it refers to financial system stability in Australia and New Zealand.

This bill promotes a joint approach to trans-Tasman banking supervision and a seamless regulatory environment for banking services. This is consistent with the high level of commercial integration of the Australian and New Zealand banking markets and the interdependence of both countries’ financial systems.

The amendments contained in this bill enhance the framework for ensuring that trans-Tasman banks and financial systems remain sound while providing benefits to business.

The Government considers that these proposals are not only imperative in making progress towards the Australia-New Zealand single economic market objective, but that they are also ‘trail blazing’ internationally in the regulation of business having cross-border operations and activities.

Ordered that further consideration of these bills be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

Ordered that the Crimes Amendment (Bail and Sentencing) Bill 2006 and the Financial Sector Legislation Amendment (Trans-Tasman Banking Supervision) Bill 2006 be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.