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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2175


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaMinister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (20:20): Thank you, colleagues, for contributing to this debate on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Online Content Services and Other Measures) Bill 2017 tonight. As has been canvassed, this bill will introduce a new regulatory framework which may be used to regulate gambling promotions on online content services. The bill will also establish a regulatory mechanism that can be used to apply the new gambling promotion restrictions to broadcasting services if necessary. As we know, that's not likely to need to be the case.

The government has indeed listened to community concern about the scheduling and the quantity of gambling promotions shown during live sporting events, particularly in the context of the impact of these promotions on children's audiences. In response to this, the government's broadcast and content reform package included new community safeguards in the form of additional restrictions on gambling promotions shown on broadcast during live sporting events in children's viewing hours. I like to describe this as being a community dividend from the media reform package. These additional restrictions will prohibit all gambling commercials and promotions during live coverage of sporting events from five minutes before the scheduled start of play to five minutes after the conclusion of play. These restrictions will apply between the hours of 5 am and 8.30 pm. Importantly, the government determined that these new restrictions should apply across commercial free-to-air television, the Special Broadcasting Service, subscription television, commercial radio and online content services. The gambling promotions reform will mean that for the first time broadcast-like program standards will be applied to online content services.

The bill, once enacted, will add schedule 8 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Schedule 8 is an enabling framework that will allow the Australian Communications and Media Authority to make service provider rules which regulate gambling promotional content shown on online content services in conjunction with live coverage of sporting events. Broadcast sectors have worked closely with the government and the ACMA to ensure that their codes are appropriately amended. I'm grateful for the constructive engagement of industry on implementation of this important community safeguard within the existing co-regulatory framework. This engagement has resulted in registration by ACMA of industry codes giving effect to these additional restrictions for commercial free-to-air television, subscription television and commercial radio. The new broadcast rules take effect from 30 March. The announced gambling promotion restrictions will establish a clear safe zone during which parents and carers can have confidence that children will not be exposed to gambling promotions by viewing live sports events. The bill will facilitate the implementation of these restrictions.

There are a number of amendments that have been circulated, and the government will address these in the committee stage. A number of them seek to extend the restrictions beyond that which the government is seeking. These are significant new restrictions and build on those put in place by the Gillard government, as has been mentioned by Senator O'Neill. I appreciate that there will always be an argument to go further and, indeed, we are moving to a point today beyond that which has previously been the case. But the government, in formulating these new restrictions, has sought to achieve an appropriate balance. We wanted to establish a clear live sports safe zone for parents and carers in children's hours whilst still allowing for a legal adult recreational product to be advertised in an appropriate way.

In this area, there is always a balance to be struck between community safeguards, logistics and technical capabilities, and how and when a legal product should be able to be advertised. Free-to-air broadcasting in particular relies on advertising revenue to be viable and, given the popularity of sport broadcast to Australians for free, this was a relevant consideration for the government when seeking to strike the right balance.

Of course, these reforms take place in a wider context. The government is responding to widespread community concern about the prevalence of gambling advertising during live sporting events, which ratings data does indicate are popular with children and young audiences. We're taking the opportunity to provide a community dividend from our broader media reforms. The government has listened to the concerns that regular exposure to gambling advertisements during live sport normalises gambling in the eyes of children and can encourage vulnerable people to gamble. In light of these concerns, the government has decided that the existing rules are not meeting community expectations and that additional restrictions are required to provide appropriate community safeguards. There are existing restrictions that were put in place by the previous government, and the maintenance of these existing restrictions will reassure viewers who are worried that they will be saturated with gambling advertisements after 8.30 pm.

Appendix 3 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice already restricts when betting advertisements or the promotion of odds are permitted. For example, during a live sporting event, gambling advertisements may only be shown at designated times, such as before and after play, and during scheduled and unscheduled breaks in play. They cannot be shown when a broadcaster goes to a commercial break after a player has kicked a goal or scored a try. In addition, the promotion of odds is not permitted during play or scheduled breaks or in unscheduled breaks during a live sports event.

I want to thank the peak broadcasting bodies for their work in voluntarily implementing the new restrictions in their code. They engaged constructively with the ACMA to draft amended codes, which the ACMA ultimately registered. So I put on record my thanks to Free TV Australia, Commercial Radio Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association for working to implement these additional restrictions through their codes. I also acknowledge that the Special Broadcasting Service has indicated it too will implement the additional broadcast restrictions, all of which take effect from 30 March.

There has been some commentary about the use of 8.30 pm as the cut-off for the additional restrictions. There is a clear rationale for choosing this as the time after which the new restrictions won't apply. Broadcasters are required to place a high priority on the protection of children from exposure to material that may be harmful to them. These requirements are given effect via program standards and industry codes of practice. There are long-established practices under broadcasting legislation to ensure that children are not exposed to certain types of ads. For example, the current rules prevent commercial television broadcasters from showing advertisements or promotions for alcoholic drinks until after 8.30 pm, intimate services until after 11 pm and television programs that have a classification of M or higher during G or PG programs until after 8.30 pm. The specific requirements under the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice are as follows: an advertisement for alcoholic drinks may only be shown between 8.30 pm and 5 am every day, and between 12 pm and 3 pm on school days. Alcohol advertisements may also be broadcast as an accompaniment to sports programs broadcast at any time on weekends and public holidays. There are similar requirements for other products.

I should mention for the sake of completeness that there are a number of government gambling advertisements that have exemptions which are longstanding. The proposed ban will not apply to promotions in relation to government lotteries—Lotto, Keno—or contests. These are currently exempted under broadcast codes of practice and haven't caused significant community concern in the context of live sporting events. In contrast, advertisements for lottery betting services are not exempt from the additional restrictions. Live sporting events that consist of horse, harness or greyhound racing: these events exist predominantly for the purpose of betting and do not appeal to mainstream audiences, perhaps with the exception of the Melbourne Cup. These exclusions are consistent with the current longstanding approach in industry codes of practice. Further exceptions under the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice include a commercial relating to entertainment or dining facilities at places where betting or gambling takes place, a reference that is accidental or a reference that is an incidental accompaniment. Senators will be aware, as I mentioned earlier, that these new gambling restrictions were introduced as part of the major media reform package legislated by the government last year. These were landmark reforms and contained the protections from gambling advertising for children. They also modernise and assist the broadcasting sector and recognise change in consumer viewing patterns.

The reforms demonstrate that the government is listening to community concerns. We've acted. Our reform package enjoyed the unanimous support of Australia's media industry. We should acknowledge that free-to-air broadcasters play an important role in providing access to high-quality Australian content, such as sporting events, current affairs, drama and children's programming, for all Australians. However, as colleagues know, they are operating in an increasingly competitive and challenging environment, due to the entry of online service providers. Audiences now have viewing opportunities across more platforms than ever before. Audiences are increasingly fragmented and advertising revenue for commercial broadcasters is falling, as competition in the sector increases. Our broadcasting and content reform package has modernised regulation and helped position the sector to deal with these existing and future challenges more effectively. The key elements of the package, as colleagues might recall, were the abolition of broadcasting licence fees for television and radio, allowing broadcasters to better compete with other media platforms, but, it's important to add, the introduction of a price for the use of spectrum by broadcasters to better reflect its use. Other elements include: protecting Australian children with further gambling advertising restrictions; broad-ranging amendments to the anti-siphoning scheme and list; a comprehensive review of Australian and children's content; and a funding package for subscription TV to support the broadcasting of women's and niche sports.

These reforms will ensure the ongoing production of high-quality Australian content and will strengthen the competitiveness of our broadcasting sector. But the package also acknowledged that the broadcasting sector is facing increasing competition and that measures such as the new gambling advertising restrictions did happen in the context of a broader media reform package—hence the government's decision to abolish broadcasting licence fees and also to make sure that the new restrictions on gambling advertising apply to all platforms. I would like to put on record again my thanks to the broadcasting sector for engaging with the government in such a constructive and cooperative manner, as this reform package was developed and ultimately legislated. This is significant reform in an area where reform is hard, and it was only possible with the good faith and engagement of the broadcasting and media sector. Broadcasting licence fees, which I've touched on, were a relic of an era of analog media regulation. They couldn't be justified any longer in an increasingly competitive media environment. The fees were introduced at a time when broadcasters had a privileged position. These days, commercial TV and radio broadcasters do face strong competition.

I thought it might be helpful to go back and ponder and reflect, just for a moment, on the significant media reform package of which what is before us is a part. I am tempted—but will resist—to go through the amendments to the anti-siphoning scheme and list; I'll take those as read. But this legislation is really one of the final pieces in the delivery of our comprehensive media reform package, and I commend this legislation to my colleagues.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Kitching ): The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Hanson-Young be agreed to.