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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2836

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (11:28 AM) —The government would like to thank members who have contributed to this very important debate on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Anti-Siphoning) Bill 2004. Honourable members and people in the community more generally would be aware of the fact that the Howard government has reaffirmed its commitment to the antisiphoning scheme, which protects the access of Australian viewers to events of national importance and cultural significance on free-to-air television. Following extensive consultations, the government updated the antisiphoning list to better reflect the attitudes of Australians and the commercial realities of the sporting and broadcasting sectors. The new list will protect events which will take place between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2010.

Some people might well ask: how did the government decide which events would be removed from the antisiphoning list? The revised antisiphoning list continues to protect the access of free-to-air broadcasters to the broadcast rights to events that are truly of national significance and cultural importance. The intervention of the government in the broadcast rights market has been removed for events which are of lesser significance and which, in most cases, have also received restricted or no free-to-air coverage.

In determining which events should be on the antisiphoning list, the government has also considered whether the event has been consistently broadcast by free-to-air broadcasters live, in full and in peak viewing hours. For example, international one-day cricket matches involving Australia played overseas in recent times received no FTA coverage, other than the Cricket World Cup. In contrast, the high level of interest in events such as Australian Football League premiership matches indicates the importance attached by viewers to such events and the necessity of retaining them on the antisiphoning list. It is also important to note that many events that are now broadcast on free-to-air television are not currently included on the antisiphoning list, including swimming, first-class cricket and major international events such as the Tour de France. The government will continue to monitor the operation of the antisiphoning list to ensure that it properly reflects the attitudes of Australians and the commercial realities of the sporting and broadcasting sectors.

Mr Deputy Speaker Price, you would be aware that the new list retains nationally significant sporting events and adds new ones—specifically, the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, both of which are obviously important to the Australian public. Most events to be removed, as I said, have received little or no free-to-air coverage despite their listing. Interestingly enough, their removal from the list may actually increase the total television coverage they receive. It is also important to note that many events that are now broadcast on free-to-air television are not currently listed, including swimming and first-class cricket.

The government does acknowledge that the antisiphoning scheme represents an intervention in the broadcast rights market. However, given the low penetration rates of pay TV—23 per cent of households—it remains necessary to ensure that as many viewers as possible are able to access events of national significance or cultural importance. The level of free-to-air television coverage of events on the antisiphoning list will continue to be monitored to gauge whether the coverage they receive is consistent with their place on the list.

In their contributions to the debate, the member for Melbourne and the member for Cunningham referred to Euro 2004. The member for Melbourne pointed out that Euro 2004 soccer was not available on free-to-air television. I point out to the member for Melbourne that Euro 2004 soccer is not and has never been on the antisiphoning list. This means that it is open to both free-to-air and pay television broadcasters in Australia to compete to purchase the rights to this event. In this instance, I understand that no free-to-air broadcasters acquired the rights to the event. The antisiphoning list was designed to protect events of national significance and cultural importance. Participation in Euro 2004 was open only to member countries of the Union of European Football Associations, and as such there is no prospect of involvement of the Australian national soccer team or even leading Australian players. It is therefore debateable whether the Euro football championship is of national importance or cultural significance for the purposes of the antisiphoning scheme.

The government's package of reforms to the antisiphoning scheme also included a decision to extend the automatic delisting period from six to 12 weeks, which requires a legislative amendment to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Anti-siphoning) Bill 2004 seeks to give effect to that decision. At present, events on the antisiphoning list are automatically removed from the list six weeks prior to the commencement of the event, unless the minister stops this automatic delisting, by a declaration published in the Gazette. The six-week automatic delisting provision was introduced in 2001 as an amendment to the BSA. Under the six-week automatic delisting provision, a pay TV licensee can acquire the rights to a listed event without having to wait for a free-to-air broadcaster to first purchase the rights to that event or having the minister remove the event from the antisiphoning list.

The introduction of the six-week automatic delisting provision was intended to directly improve the effective operation of the delisting provisions and to remove the requirement for events to be specifically delisted by the minister in every case. In practice it has been proven that the period of six weeks is an inadequate amount of time for the automatic delisting period. The bill therefore amends the BSA to extend the automatic delisting period from 1,008 hours, which calculates as six weeks prior to the start of an event, to 2,016 hours—that is, 12 weeks prior to its start.

The member for Melbourne indicated that the opposition would close what the free-to-air networks refer to as the loophole in the antisiphoning regime. The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts would like to be here personally to respond to the remarks made by the member for Melbourne, but as you are aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Price, the minister for communications is a member of the other place. I suspect that you or the member for Melbourne would be the first to call out `Stranger in the House!' if the minister for communications came in to deal with the member for Melbourne personally in the way that she would like. While the issue raised by the member for Melbourne is one that the government is prepared to look at, I note that free-to-air broadcasters and their viewers will continue to be protected through the ability of the government to defer the automatic delisting of an event if it is considered that free-to-air broadcasters have not had a reasonable opportunity to acquire the relevant rights.

This bill will improve the efficiency of the operation of the delisting provisions of the antisiphoning scheme for the benefit of sporting bodies and viewers by allowing pay television operators a reasonable opportunity to acquire unwanted rights, arrange coverage and market the programs to viewers. This is a particularly important item of legislation; the government is particularly proud of its contents. I am pleased to be able to commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.

Main Committee adjourned at 11.38 a.m.