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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2159


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (18:02): I rise tonight to speak to the Communications Legislation Amendment (Online Content Services and Other Measures) Bill 2017. In starting, I would like to concur with many of the comments made by Senator Griff. I think he's outlined the weaknesses of this bill extremely well. While of course the Australian Greens welcome the overall limits being put on gambling advertising as attempted in this bill, the legislation falls far short of what is actually needed. If we agree that our sporting events, when they are televised, should not be bombarded with gambling ads encouraging our young people and other citizens to participate in betting as they are watching the game, then of course we shouldn't be restricting ourselves to either the audience numbers on channels or the time frames that these ads are banned from. I agree wholeheartedly that 8.30 pm is not sufficient if we are genuinely going to protect our kids from these insidious ads that simply want to groom young Australians to be gambling addicts.

This chamber has had many a debate about the need to put restrictions on gambling throughout the country, whether it is in relation to disgusting, life-ruining and culture-sucking machines such as poker machines or whether ads should be promoted and available to encourage people to take up gambling and to participate in that type of activity. As the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, I find it obscene that we could be watching the tennis in the evenings and she could still, under this legislation, be bombarded with gambling ads. What has happened in this country where we've moved from sport being about sport to sport being about making money for gambling barons? What has happened in this country when we say that it's okay to be teaching kids more about the odds than about the technique of the sport and the game?

We're debating this bill in the context of what has been discovered over the last 24 hours: the scandal in South Africa, where the ball-tampering affair was discovered. The only reason that things like that shock Australians so deeply—and I think the response from the public has been fierce and severe, with huge disappointment—is that we like to believe that we have a fundamental belief in the spirit of the game. We believe in the spirit of sport for sport's sake—that it teaches good values to our kids, that it's about community, and that it's about understanding that there is a set of rules you play by and the best player will win. It's not about cheating, tampering or gambling.

As parents, we put our kids in front of the television to watch the grand final because we want our team to win and we want to be part of the national spirit of the grand final weekend. That isn't about having to put your hand in your pocket or get on your phone to hand over tens, dozens, hundreds or thousands of dollars in gambling revenue to people who don't give two hoots about the talent of the players or, indeed, the moral lessons that are being taught through sport to our kids. I find it sick that we have a situation where kids can be watching sport and—instead of learning about the techniques of the game, or seeing ads that suggest where they could go to get involved in their local footy or cricketing club or ads promoting the activities that many of these clubs are involved in in their communities—getting bombarded with gambling ads grooming them to be gambling addicts.

Of course we need to put restrictions on this. This bill goes some way to doing that, but it doesn't go far enough at all. Harmonising the laws to protect our kids and ensure that audiences aren't bombarded between 5 am and 8.30 pm is fantastic, but it is nowhere near what it needs to be. The Greens have moved an amendment to this bill that also deals with the ridiculous situation where there is a loophole that has been created depending on the size of the audience on a television channel. If you have a small enough audience, you can still bombard them with gambling ads. It is just preposterous! The channels that are allowed off the hook with this exemption, of course, fall under the banner of Foxtel. I will remind you that that's the same organisation that got $30 million of taxpayers' money from the minister, from this government, as compensation for the fact that they're not meant to be able to show gambling ads on their television stations. We've now seen the regulations. They've been handed down by ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority. They came out last Friday. Lo and behold, there is an exemption in there, based on audience size, which would mean that some of the key sporting channels of Foxtel are not even bound by these new rules and regulations. Let's be clear: Foxtel didn't identify an existing loophole. The government didn't leave open an existing loophole; they've created a new one.

Who benefits from this? It's not the media industry itself. Every broadcasting network and every online content provider has to abide by the new restrictions. This exemption doesn't apply to the commercial broadcasters. It's not the community, who overwhelmingly oppose gambling advertisements during live sports events, and it's certainly not the kids and the children, who are supposed to be the ones being protected by this legislation but are instead having that protection fundamentally undermined. The only ones who benefit from this exemption are Foxtel, the same for-profit, News Limited, Murdoch-owned, subscription television station that got $30 million of taxpayers' money because they were crying poor that, if these gambling ads were taken off, they wouldn't be able to survive. They got $30 million in compensation and now we find they can do it anyway. It's obscene. These are Australian taxpayers' dollars. This is a company that we know don't pay enough tax as it is, yet they're being given taxpayers' dollars and they don't have to follow the same rules as everybody else.

But who could be surprised that this government would put the interests of Foxtel ahead of the interests of the public? I look forward to hearing from the minister in relation to this as we get to the committee stage. I'd like to know exactly what that $30 million is being spent on, because that taxpayers' money was handed out from the minister to Foxtel and yet of course not every taxpayer has the right to even watch Foxtel, because it is a subscription service. It is not free to air. So taxpayers have paid this amount of money to a company that then charges people to access its service. It's ridiculous. They are a government that gave Foxtel a $30 million handout because they were worried that their media mates weren't going to get enough money out of the Liberals' media reform. This is the reform bill that passed through this parliament last year. The truth is you just can't trust the government when it comes to handing out taxpayers' dollars and doing the right thing when it comes to the proper regulations that they talk about.

We are genuinely concerned that this bill has been watered down so much that it only deals with a small part of the problem. Senator Griff has outlined the issues in relation to the time zone—5 am to 8.30 pm does not deal with some of the most significant and largest live sporting events that Australian families sit down to watch year in and year out, such as the tennis, the Big Bash League, the rugby grand final and many, many others. To say that you want to introduce legislation and to have all of the kudos of cleaning up this industry, of protecting children and of listening to the genuine concerns of families about the impact that these gambling ads are having during live sporting events and then not to follow through is frankly pathetic. It's absolutely pathetic. You either do the job properly or move over and let somebody else do it for you. The government has watered this down so much that children are not protected. This doesn't deal with the issues.

The other issue in relation to this is that, while Foxtel got $30 million of taxpayers' money as compensation for removing these gambling ads—although, as we find out months and months later, they have exemptions to still show them—the commercial broadcasters, Seven, Nine and Ten, were given zero licence fees. They had their licence fees removed so that they didn't have to pay them anymore. That was their compensation for this. Yet, past 8.30, they can still play the ads. Past 8.30 at night, in prime time, they can still play the ads. So what did they really get those broadcasting licence fees reduced for? Really, what was that compensation all about? Of course, SBS, a public broadcaster, have been told they're not able to put these ads on air either and—lo and behold!—have said, 'We don't want to run the ads anyway.' We have seen the statement from the CEO of SBS, as recently as today, that they will comply with these regulations. But SBS didn't get any compensation from the government. So they gave $30 million to their mates at Foxtel, they gave free licence fees to the commercial broadcasters and they gave absolutely nothing to SBS. In fact what SBS, the public broadcaster, has got is almost $60 million worth of cuts from this government. That's what SBS got: a big kick in the guts and budget cuts. You can see there's a bit of a pattern developing here: public money going out the door to one group, cuts to another, and lots of: 'Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. It'll be right mate. We'll give you some exemptions. We'll lessen the impact here.' That's what's happened in relation to this.

Despite all of the fanfare when this package was first announced—it was done during the media reform debates this time last year; we had the Prime Minister standing up and saying that parents could be assured that their kids were going to be protected and that we wouldn't have gambling ads being shown during live sport—they paid off their mates so that they would get them to sit around the table, and then they weakened the regulations anyway. They haven't done the job properly.

The Greens will be moving amendments to this bill. We're happy to have a debate for as long as it takes tonight, if this bill is going to continue. We will also support the amendments put forward by both the Labor opposition and the Nick Xenophon Team, because we need to strengthen this legislation. It's been watered down so much that we need to make sure we give it some real teeth at least.

One of the amendments that the Greens will be moving is in relation to the quotas that broadcasters currently have in relation to local content, because we know that one of the key things that these commercial broadcasters want is to not have to show so much Australian made content on their television channels. This isn't about sport; this is about drama and this is about kids television. In this great big magical everyone-in-the-tent deal that the minister managed to pull off last year, he said: '$30 million for Foxtel. No licence fees for the others.' He did nothing about making sure there was a quid pro quo from these commercial broadcasters. Every sitting week, these broadcasters have been walking up and down the corridors in this place, lobbying members of parliament and saying 'We don't want to have to have quotas on the Australian content that is shown on our televisions.'

Channel 9, Channel 7 and Channel 10 don't want to have to show kids TV; they think it's too expensive. They don't want to have to invest in Australian made content; they don't think it's worth it, so they want the current quotas that are in place watered down. The government's given them a free ride, because they've taken away their licence fees, and now these broadcasters want more. They don't want to have to show Australian kids television, and they don't want to have to make Australian drama. That's going to have a huge impact on our Australian producers, on our content creators, on our writers and on our production staff. A huge Australian industry is about to walk out the door if these broadcasters don't have quotas enforced upon them.

We're having this debate on the eve of the content review about to be released by the government and the ACMA. If they do what the broadcasters want, they are going to say: 'We should have these quotas watered down. There should be no requirement for Australian made kids television. There should be no requirement, or little requirement, for Australian made drama.' Imagine not having Australian actors on television. Imagine our kids not hearing and seeing Australian stories. Imagine what happens when you turn on the television, or open up your on-demand service from whatever broadcaster, and all that your kids are watching is some of that junk television coming from the US. Australian kids deserve to hear and see and experience Australian made stories. Every Australian deserves to see their own community reflected back at them. Part of what makes the social fabric of a nation is being able to tell our own stories, to reflect upon who we are.

This government is on the eve of being able to take all of that away. So we're going to move an amendment during this debate to ensure that any changes to these quotas are disallowable by this parliament. We should be able to have a check and balance. At the moment, the government can change those quotas willy-nilly. I don't know what the minister is going to advise, but I sure as hell know what the commercial broadcasters would like to see. And if he's weak enough to give away all this public money and not stump up the regulations strong enough on this gambling stuff, we know that the minister and his government are not going to be strong enough to do the right thing by the Australian people and Australian kids and protect the jobs of Australian creators and the entire industry.

Being able to show that there is integrity in the system is essential. This minister has proven time and time again that he's prepared to do the bidding of the commercial broadcasters and Foxtel. He isn't prepared to put money into our public broadcasters and tells them that they can just suck it up and deal with the cuts. And the next big sledgehammer is going to hit Australian content, Australian stories and kids television. As a result, our Australian kids are going to suffer. Under this bill, they can wait up until 8.30 pm and be bombarded with gambling ads. If they're watching anything before that, chances are that, if the commercial broadcasters get their way, if the minister isn't strong enough to stand up to them, and if we don't put a check and balance in this legislation tonight, they're not even going to be watching Australian-made shows before 8.30 pm—before those sporting shows.

Some people in this place will say that these issues are different, but they are not. When the government negotiated this package with the broadcasters 12 months ago this was the quid pro quo. The Senate has every right to be a check and a balance on making sure that, if there are changes to the requirements of broadcasters, the Senate is able to say yes or no. It shouldn't just be at the discretion of the minister. So I appeal to you, as crossbenchers: don't give the minister the ability to dump Australian content at the flick of a pen, when it suits him. Make sure the Australian people are represented in the parliament. I move the second reading amendment, which deals with the need for SBS to be compensated:

At the end of the motion, add:

“, but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government must reinstate the SBS’s revenue shortfall of $9 million as included in the 2017-18 Budget.”