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Wednesday, 11 October 2006
Page: 41

Senator BERNARDI (12:35 PM) —In rising to support the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006 and related bills today I would ask the members of the Senate to cast their minds back about 20 years. Apart from the ageless nature of you, Mr Acting Deputy President Hutchins, a number of things have transpired over the last 20 years that I think we are wise to consider. There have been many changes in our world. Many of these changes have in fact benefited the Australian public and many of these changes have in fact been introduced by this government. If we want to remember a few of these things, we can remark briefly on the reduction in taxation payments for many Australians. This government has certainly made a massive change to what was taking place in this country some 20 years ago. Interest rates have also been reduced from 17 per cent under the Keating-Beazley government down to around seven per cent today. Unemployment has also been reduced quite significantly. But there are a number of relics of the past that do remain. One of these of course is the Australian Labor Party. But, aside from that, there are also some relics in our media ownership laws.

These laws were introduced to ostensibly contain media barons. The politics of envy was no more apparent than when they were brought about, when we had the ‘queens of screen’ and the ‘princes of print’ appeals. This is a historic attitude. It is an attitude that is completely out of touch with today’s society and the media available to everyone in today’s society. I think we need to consider these amendments very much on their merits. I would ask the Labor Party to consider their commitment to free, effusive and open exchange of ideas and to encourage foreign news investment and media investment in this country because, despite what some will tell you in this chamber, opening our shores to foreign investment and to people building productive businesses here has been an absolute boon for this country.

The media reforms are very important in that regard because we need to make sure that we are an effective and competitive nation not only in the distribution of information across many media platforms but also in maintaining our place in the information flow across the world. I support foreign investment in this country. It is going to bring new players into this game, particularly into some of the media areas such as television and newspapers. It is going to bring new services to regional areas and some of the metropolitan areas as well because, in a place like Adelaide, a fine place—the people of South Australia are very well served by many good members of parliament and many good senators, and they have been served very well over a number of years—

Senator Barnett —Including you, Senator Bernardi.

Senator BERNARDI —I will take that interjection, thank you very much, Senator Barnett! I would like to highlight one of the things that we have been missing in South Australia: the simple fact that we have only one daily newspaper, the Advertiser—and a fine publication it is. But we used to have an afternoon daily newspaper as well, and unfortunately that did not survive. Since then, we have had a weekly newspaper produced called the Independent Weekly—another fine publication that provides an alternative perspective of news. Quite frankly, we would like to see the local and international investors which own the Independent Weekly broaden their supply of news information across the state and we would also like to see them publish on a more frequent basis. This is what can happen with these amendments. We will see a foreign player come in and be able to invest and produce another daily paper for South Australians, which would be a wonderful thing.

This government has acted in the public interest. I think that is very clearly demonstrated by all the things that have transpired, including the lower interest rates and lower unemployment, and the productivity growth and real wages gains that are extraordinarily high under this government. Accordingly, it has proposed amendments to the media bill so that we are protecting the diversity and the local content for our media owners and ensuring that our regional and rural areas—and cities like Adelaide—have diversity of content. One of these things is the two out of three rule for ownership, so any one media operator will not be able to control a newspaper, a radio and a television station within the same broadcast area. I think this is very important.

It is a good amendment. It is actually a tribute to the democracy that takes place in the Liberal Party and in the coalition. This government will propose legislation and it will listen very carefully to what its backbench members and senators produce. The minister has been very responsive in this regard. I think that highlights the support we have for private enterprise, for individualism and for accountable government—which, I have to say, is sadly lacking on the other side of the chamber, because they do not get to participate in free thinking and in free-ranging ideas, because they get drummed out of either their party or their faction or, indeed, sometimes they lose preselection.

Because of the people in the chamber, I do not make that point lightly. I would like to echo Senator Ronaldson’s comment from yesterday that, Senator Webber, we will miss your great contribution to this chamber. It is a very sad day when the Labor Party has seen fit to attack and harangue someone mercilessly and unnecessarily with regard to this. But, nonetheless, I credit you because you are not a dalek and I think that is fantastic. You are a true trooper. You are an honest and straightforward player. I wish you well in that regard in your future career. However, the beauty is that, when you leave this place, Senator Webber, you will have access to increased media content. You will be able to enjoy a greater range of services, thanks to the implementations this government has brought into the media realm. You will have access to the internet and the groundbreaking materials that come out of it.

I would like to remind the Senate that a number of major news stories have actually been broken or launched by internet bloggers, who are the independent media operators of the future. The Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal springs to mind, because that was broken by a blogger in the US. We also have a number of bloggers locally. I know Senator Lundy has a blog, on which I have not been able to find any breaking news as yet, but I am sure it will be coming along at a point. I know that Mr Turnbull in the other place has a blog which is widely read and well regarded. We are facing the fact that there are a number of independent operators continuing to transgress into traditional media space. We need to ensure that our mainstream, major broadcasters have the opportunity to pursue economies of scale, to ensure that the massive investment that they have in a number of areas can justify the continuing good service—

Debate interrupted.