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Minister hopes media legislation will be passed.

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Wednesday 11 October 2006

Minister hopes media legislation will be passed


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan has her fingers crossed that the concessions she's made to the Nationals are enough to get her new media laws through the Senate. 


To appease her critics, now country radio stations will have to broadcast four-and-a-half hours a day of "local and live" content, as well as local news. 


And no proprietor will be allowed to own more than two of the three types of media, in the bush and in the major cities.  


Debate on Senator Coonan's proposed legislation began last night after Nationals Senators Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash promised to support the bills. 


But Senator Coonan isn't out of the woods yet. It's possible the plan could unravel. 


The Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, is in our Canberra studio, and she's speaking to Alexandra Kirk. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Coonan, good morning. 


HELEN COONAN: Hi, Alex, how are you doing? 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well, thanks. 




ALEXANDRA KIRK: How confident are you that your contentious new media landscape will in fact get through the Senate now? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, I think it's a reasonable plan. It's not a contentious plan. It's a reasonable plan to take us forward, and we have a commitment from our colleagues that went through our party room. It was an extensive discussion, and commitments have been given. I think my colleagues are honourable, and we'll take it from there. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you expect now to see a wave of takeovers soon? 


HELEN COONAN: I certainly don't expect to see that. I think that the cross-media arrangements that have been agreed to have very significant safeguards. They've got additional structural barriers to takeovers in the two out of three extended to metropolitan and regional areas, and the floor of voices. So there are stringent safeguards as well as regulation oversight. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Former Prime Minister Paul Keating says that you're opening the way for concentrating industry power in the hands of a few players and does nothing to enhance diversity. How can you say that that's not going to happen? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, it won't happen, because the safeguards are there, and I've just outlined what they are... 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the mergers are allowed... 


HELEN COONAN: ... But in addition there's some new services that are to be now arranged over new digital spectrum, so two new channels. There'll be 30, up to 30 new channels available. There'll be new multi-channels available, additional sources of diversity. 


So I think that those dire predictions really show that 20-year-old laws need to be updated to take account of technology and the move to the digital age. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Your legislation still could fail, couldn't it? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, look, until legislation passes obviously it doesn't become law. But, as I've said, these changes that have undergone a great deal of consultation, and I have met the concerns of colleagues and the concerns of course of stakeholders, and I have a commitment that the legislation will be passed. 


Just think for a minute that if it isn't passed in its entirety, some of my colleagues have spent months on a useless exercise, and I cannot believe that they would seriously do that. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Barnaby Joyce has reserved his right to try and make some more changes by crossing the floor, though he says he won't vote against the legislation when it's put to a final vote.  


Family First Senator Steve Fielding is yet to declare his hand. If he and Senator Joyce supported amendments to remove sections of a bill, that could scuttle the bill. Are you worried about that? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, look, I'm concerned to ensure that the whole package passes, because it will move forward as a package. It has substantial benefits for consumers and for the national interest, going forward. It would be a tragedy, I think, if it didn't actually pass in its entirety. But of course there could be amendments on the way through, and I'll deal with those as they arise. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But if the amendments are to remove sections of a bill, that could scuttle the bill, as happened not that long ago with some trade practices legislation. 


HELEN COONAN: Well, the Government won't be interested in people cherry-picking bits of the legislation, bits of the package. So it goes together as a package. If people want all of these protections for rural and regional areas, if they want all of the new advantages of the new digital platforms, all of these new channels, all of these multi-channels, it should be passed as a package. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: You met Senator Joyce last night. Did you tell him that, that if any one bill is emasculated, all four media bills will be withdrawn, and all the concessions that the Nationals have won will disappear? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, I think I heard Senator Joyce concede that matter this morning. So I think it's a matter that's well-known. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Coonan, thank you. 


HELEN COONAN: Thank you, Alex. 


TONY EASTLEY: The Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, with Alexandra Kirk.