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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 6707


Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (12:09): I rise today to speak to this bill as a very passionate advocate for Australian sport; normally a bill around communications would be dealt with by my very erudite colleague Senator Scott Ludlam. At its core, this bill is about Australian sport and the protection of Australian sport. It is about the stake that every Australian has in key sporting events, both here and right around the world. It is critically important that we safeguard this stake in law. One way to do that is with antisiphoning provisions that we are debating today.

These rules ensure that key sporting events are shown on free-to-air television and that they are available to the widest possible audience. Why is this important? It is important because we are a sporting nation. Sport is an integral part of the national character. In my own state of Victoria, for example, the AFL occupies a space somewhere between sport and religion. It is very rare for someone to visit the state of Victoria and not adopt an AFL football team. We talk about water cooler conversations or barbecue stoppers; there is no greater barbecue stopper than the discussion around Collingwood losing by a point, or my team, Richmond, winning the odd game.

We crowd around the TV on Melbourne Cup Day. We try and cheer home the people's champion, or you might cheer home the nag that you drew in the office sweep. We all were enthralled by the Olympics and the Paralympics. State of Origin, test cricket—they all occupy a very special place in the hearts of Australians. That is a really good thing, an unashamedly a good thing.

Being able to watch key sporting events, for example, motivates people to become more active, to play sport. Our tradition during the AFL Grand Final is kick-to-kick, where some of the old fellas are a bit sore and sorry for themselves afterwards. I have occasionally been inspired to play the odd round of golf after watching one of the great final rounds in one of the major championships. It is good for people's health; it is good for social cohesion.

Sport can be an important bridge between cultures. Sport can be a vehicle for social change. The AFL has played an important role in debates around sexism and racism, for example. I will never forget Nicky Winmar, a talented Aboriginal player, raising his jumper and pointing to his skin in a gesture directed at some abusive fans.

Recently in this chamber I spoke about Peter Norman, the Australian 200-metre champion, who played a critical role during the civil rights movement; the stand he took in solidarity with other black athletes who gave the black power salute during the 1968 Olympics. It was a defining moment for the civil rights movement. That is why it is critical that we ensure that key sporting events are televised on free-to-air where they have the widest possible audience.

I visited the UK recently—I have been there on several occasions; my wife happens to be a Pom—and I was shocked to discover that during the last Ashes series the English public could not watch a game on free-to-air television. As it turned out, this was a hell of a lot worse for them than it was for me—the Australians suffered a pretty humiliating defeat—and they were denied bragging rights. I never want to get to a situation where we in Australia cannot hang it over the Poms after an Ashes thrashing. I learnt in England that for their premier sporting code, the Premier League, they cannot watch a match in its entirety on free-to-air. Could you imagine a weekend in Australia where there was no free-to-air TV broadcasts of Aussie Rules or the NRL? I know some people would think that is a good thing, and there might even be the odd person in my party who might think that is a good thing. I certainly do not and I want to make sure, as my party does, that the right of all Australians to watch sport on free-to-air TV is protected.

We have a situation in Australia where iconic sporting events are protected through the antisiphoning list. When an event is on the list, pay TV broadcasters cannot get the rights to show that event unless certain conditions are met that safeguard access to free-to-air TV. Free-to-air broadcasters have to show the event on the main analog and digital channels. Of course, we have to remember here that the law does not actually compel the broadcasters to buy the rights or the sporting codes to sell them at any cost, but it does give the free-to-air networks the right of first refusal.

The bill before the Senate today is intended to update the antisiphoning laws. It does not change that core and important protection that free-to-air TV will be protected when it comes to obtaining the rights to our premier sporting events, but it does bring in a few important innovations that are worth supporting. The bill creates two classifications for sporting events: tier A and tier B events. Tier A events are those of national, iconic importance. The examples I listed, the Melbourne Cup or the AFL grand final, are clearly tier A events. Tier B events are those with more regional or local significance such as home-and-away matches in the AFL or NRL. Events in tier B can be made subject to a quota, such that a proportion of events in a group can be added to the list without specifying each individual event.

Another feature of the bill is that it accounts for digital television and multichannelling , which is going to make it easier for people to access a variety of sporting events because broadcasters can choose to purchase some events and show them through multichannelling . The existing system requires th at networks broadcast these events on their main channel. This bill will allow t ier B events to be shown on a digital multichannel. Some t ier A events can also be switched to a multichannel under certain circumstances . W e know that analog is going the way of the d odo , with most houses now having digital receivers —they are inexpensive pieces of equipment and are built into many new TVs—so that is a sensible arrangement.

For the first time , though, the bill puts an obligation on a broadcaster that has obtained the rights to an event to actually broadcast it. That is a good thing. Why on earth do we have a situation where some broadcasters purchase the rights to an event and deny the Australian public the opportunity to watch them? That is clearly against the national interest. So tier A events have to be shown live, if technically feasible, by a broadcaster that has obtained the rights. The same goes for tier B, but there is an allowance for a slight delay, of four hours, to account for time zones and so on, which seems to make sense. If a free-to-air network does not want to show an event on the antisiphoning list then it must offer the rights to every other broadcaster or apply for an exemption from ACMA. That is important because the rights for these important events should not lie fallow. S uppliers must offer the rights to all the free-to-air broadcasters for a nominal fee and then must offer them to pay TV networks. These anti hoarding measures also prevent networks selling on unwanted rights and leaving the public to miss out.

The Greens take no issue at all with the antisiphoning provisions, unlike some members of the coalition, We think there should be strong ministerial intervention to protect the rights of Australians to watch these key sporting events. No, this is not simply a case of government interfering in a situation where Australians would otherwise get access. If there is not ministerial invention, there will be corporate intervention—and we know the pay TV networks are desperate to get their hands on these key events as a way of channelling more people into pay television, and that means that many people will miss out. So I welcome the strong ministerial intervention provided for in this bill.

But there are some concerns. Some of the provisions of the bill are complex, particularly around the provisions that involve football, AFL and NRL. As I have already indicated, I am a football fan and I want to make sure that people right across the country get access to games and to important games. The way this bill is structured is that it tries to deal with as many games spread over a season as possible. It does it by allowing the minister to create 'quota groups' of t ier B events, which are AFL and NRL home - and - away games. These quota groups can either be numerical or have other conditions attached to specify which matches must be broadcast on free - to-air in a given round. For instance, for AFL matches the minister may determine that four matches in a given round must be shown and include games on Friday and Saturday nights and a Sunday game. The minister could also place conditions such that, for instance, Western Australians should have access to a game involving the ir home teams, the Dockers or the Eagles , and for South Australians a game involving Port Power or the Adelaide Crows. That is what we expect to happen.

This is a flexible system , designed with the footy fan in mind , but w e are concerned that no loopholes are left so that commercial imperatives can leave the fans high and dry. We are not assured that these loopholes have been exterminated. For instance, while the minister m ay require NRL games to be shown on a Friday night and a Sunday and may ensure that a game with a Queensland team is shown in that state, football fans in Queensland could still miss out

Most fans of the NRL in Queensland follow the Broncos, and we do not want a situation where Broncos fans find that most of their games are only to be had on pay TV while a team like the Cowboys are on free-to-air. So, while the provision might specify that a game involving a Queensland team is shown, we want to see most fans accommodated, and that means Broncos fans should not miss out.

I would hate to see us pass into law new antisiphoning legislation supposedly designed to protect Australian sports fans but which ends up forcing thousands of people to take out subscriptions to pay TV because their team—for example, the biggest team in Queensland—is missing out. That is why it is important to ensure that we get ministerial control, and that we have a situation where there is not the capacity for commercial imperatives to drive people into pay TV. We share these concerns with some of the key stakeholders, particularly in the free-to-air television environment, and it is for this reason that we will be moving that this bill be referred to committee to ensure that we can enshrine the protection that we want to see for Australian football fans.

It is not an unusual day in this chamber when we see a motion congratulating a sporting team on a new achievement, congratulating the performances of our Olympians and Paralympians or, sadly, on some occasions lamenting the passing of a former sporting great. These motions are very welcome and they are invariably bipartisan because sport is an important part of the national character and a healthy part of Australian life. It builds community and helps to break down social barriers. It is part of the Australian identity and it is worth preserving.

In order to preserve it we have to give all Australians access to as wide a range of free-to-air sporting events as possible. I am proud to have taken part in sport as both a participant and a viewer. I did not play in what we might call tier A matches—or tier B, for that matter—but footy has been a big part of my life just like it has been a big part of the lives of most Australians, and I want to ensure that they continue to get access to the best that Australian and international sport has to offer. I move the second reading amendment standing in my name:

Omit all words after "That", substitute "the Senate declines to give this bill a second reading at this time, and that the bill, and any amendments to it that may be subsequently circulated, be referred to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 1 November 2012".