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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2344


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:44): I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving the following motion forthwith—That this House condemns the Prime Minister for yet another display of poor judgment by attempting to ram wide-reaching media reform legislation through the parliament without proper consideration and at the risk of damaging Australia's reputation as a nation that regards freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, as a cornerstone of our democracy.

Standing orders must be suspended because freedom of speech is at the heart of our democracy, yet that is not what the Prime Minister of this country thinks. The Prime Minister of this country stood up in this parliament not more than five minutes ago and said that a respected organisation regarded us as ranking not first, not second, not fourth, not 10th, not 20th but 26th in the world for freedom of speech, and this government now wants to drive our ranking down even further.

The Prime Minister exposed what she really thinks about freedom of speech in this parliament last week. This phrase should echo around this chamber; this is a phrase that should come to characterise this prime ministership every bit as much as the fateful phrase: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' The phrase that Prime Minister uttered in this chamber last week, the phrase that exposes the truth about her, her standards and her judgment, is: 'Let's have no more'—wait for it—'sanctimonious nonsense about freedom of speech.' The Prime Minister thinks that freedom of speech and talk of freedom of speech is 'sanctimonious nonsense'. What an appalling indictment of this government.

This is a government and a Prime Minister who do not like scrutiny and are now trying to close it down. That is why standing orders need to be suspended. This is a government that cannot cop criticism, and when it is criticised it reveals its authoritarian streak. That is why standing orders need to be suspended. This is about the Prime Minister's standards and the Prime Minister's judgment. That is why standing orders need to be suspended. We all know the Prime Minister's standards. She said in this parliament some years ago: 'Labor is the party of truth-telling'—but do not tell the truth about the Labor Party, particularly if you are in the media, because if you try to tell the truth about the Labor Party you will be subject to all the bullying force that an incumbent government can command. That is why standing orders must be suspended.

Remember, this is a Prime Minister who said that News Ltd had hard questions to answer and was then unable to specify what those questions might be—not a single one. This is a Prime Minister who had a screaming match with her then boss of News Ltd in Australia because one of his papers had dared to talk about the Australian Workers Union slush fund of the 1990s. This is a government that has a communications minister who declared that the Daily Telegraph was engaged in a deliberate campaign to bring down the government, without any evidence whatsoever. This is a government with a communications minister who claims that media proprietors will wear red underpants on their heads if he says so, and now he brings in this kind of legislation to try to make that true. This is a government typified by Senator Cameron, who not so long ago accused the hate media, again News Ltd, of fabricating stories about a leadership challenge. The same guy who accused the papers of fabricating stories was in fact counting the numbers for a leadership challenge, and maybe he is doing it again right now. Maybe right now, much the same thing is happening.

The job of the media is not to run advertising for the government of the day; the job of the media is to speak truth to power. That is the job of the media. I know that because I have worked as a journalist. The shadow minister for communications knows that because he, too, has worked as a journalist—perhaps as a more distinguished journalist, indeed, than I was. But we both know what the job of the media is. The job of the media is to speak truth to power, and thank God that that, thus far at least, is what most of the media in this country have been prepared to do. The media is not an arm of government, and no government should ever try to make it one. The media is an arm of our democracy, and that is the way it should always stay.

It is funny just who the friends of this government are these days. When it comes to 457 visas, who is their only friend? Pauline Hanson. When it comes to regulation of the media, who is their great international supporter? Frank Bainimarama: 'Great! Fantastic! We've finally got a few friends. We've lost the clubs and the pubs, we've lost most of the decent, honest workers of this country, we've lost the migrant communities of this country, and we've lost the western suburbs of Sydney. But it's okay: Pauline Hanson and Frank Bainimarama are with us.' Is it any wonder that this Prime Minister's support in the caucus is ebbing away day by day, hour by hour?

Let's briefly, because standing orders must be suspended, look at the problems with the legislation that this Prime Minister and this government is pursuing. It includes an entirely subjective public-interest test on mergers and acquisitions in the media, when we already have the ACCC, a perfectly reputable body, to do exactly that. This is why standing orders must be suspended.

But the most sinister element in what the government is trying to do right now, the reason why standing orders must be suspended to condemn this Prime Minister, is as follows. Not since the days of the Committee of Public Safety have we seen an attempt by a government to introduce something as Orwellian as the Public Interest Media Advocate. The Public Interest Media Advocate, this government's version of the Ministry of Truth, will be vetting every aspect of the media in this country for fairness, accuracy and the professional conduct of the journalist. They will be judged not by the High Court, the Supreme Court or the parliament as a whole but by a hand-picked representative of this government.

Speaker, does anyone think for a second that, if this Public Interest Media Advocate—this media tsar hand-picked by a desperate government in desperate trouble—had its way, there would have been coverage of the appointment of your predecessor as Speaker? Would there have been coverage of the travails of the member for Dobell? Would there have been coverage of what happened in the Australian Workers Union in the mid-1990s, notwithstanding the interest of the member for Barton in seeing the truth exposed on this subject? Would there have been coverage of the activities of the former minister for fisheries in New South Wales? Of course there would not. This is a government which wants to hide the truth to protect itself. It does not want to protect the national interest; it wants to damage the national interest. It wants to hide the truth to protect itself. Does anyone think this is anything other than a disgrace? That is why standing orders— (Time expired)

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?