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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2826


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaMinister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (09:43): Thanks, Senator Macdonald. To your first question, as to whether any of the innovation fund that this legislation will allow ACMA to administer will be available to the ABC, the answer is that it won't be. The innovation fund is targeted essentially at private publishers in regional areas and small publishers. I should point out, though, that the ABC have, over the last year or so, identified further efficiencies, which demonstrates that that can be done, and the ABC have set up a content fund. Different parts of the ABC organisation can pitch innovative ideas to that content fund that the ABC have established. So there is that avenue there.

Through you, Chair: Senator Macdonald raises a very good point about the important role that the ABC plays in rural and regional Australia, which is why the government has legislation before the parliament to put into the ABC's act a specific reference to rural and regional Australia, which is something that people assume is already there. People assume that the ABC charter already has specific reference to an obligation to rural and regional Australia. It doesn't. We will be seeking to legislate that here, and I hope that will enjoy the support of all colleagues.

In the same bill, we also have a measure which would require the ABC to always have at least two board members from rural and regional Australia. That is a measure that we have already met, because I have appointed to the board of the ABC Georgie Somerset, who is a beef producer from Kingaroy, and Vanessa Guthrie—no relation to the MD—who is the chair of the Minerals Council of Australia. It's very important that we have that representation on the board. The board is the ultimate editorial and operational authority. So, to ensure that rural and regional Australia get the resources that they need through the ABC, that representation on the board is extremely important. That bill also contains a measure to establish an ABC rural and regional advisory committee, which the ABC would be required to consult if there were any decisions that they were taking that had a significant effect on rural and regional Australia. They are some of the safeguards that we are putting in place for rural and regional Australia.

Often, as I move around the community—and, I know, as Senator Macdonald moves around the community—while Australians have a wide range of views on the ABC, as they're entitled to do as taxpayers and consumers, I universally hear very positive things about ABC rural and regional radio. I think one of the reasons is that the ABC are close to the community. They live in the community. They get that constant feedback from the community. It's a good and important service that the ABC provide.

Coming to Senator Macdonald's third question on the ABC's structure and whether thought has been given to having a separate ABC rural and regional entity, it's not something that the government has looked at in terms of legislation. Under the current legislative framework, how they structure themselves is a matter for the ABC board. But I think that the measures in the bill that we have before the Senate to establish in the ABC Act a particular obligation for rural and regional Australia are important and will go some way towards those objectives, as will mandating that there be two people from rural and regional Australia on the board and establishing the ABC rural and regional advisory committee. Senator, I know that you will continue to put propositions forward, and I think, as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2017 demonstrates, we are open to doing whatever we can to further reinforce the ABC's role in rural and regional Australia.