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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7715


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (12:45): This bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017, is made necessary because, in 2006, the then Howard government removed all of the foreign media ownership controls that then existed in legislation. So it is made necessary because of the actions of the former coalition government. It's also made possible, I've got to say, because of the actions of this government in removing the protections against further concentration in media ownership in this country. As the member for Greenway has pointed out, the bill arises because of a series of deals that were done between the then Xenophon group of senators—there are fewer of them today than there were back then—and the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. On its face it's driven more by xenophobia than good policy. We know the author of the deal last week was railing against a certain despicable speech by a senator from the other place, at the very same time as introducing a bill which would create a plebiscite on immigration in this country.

It's the same sort of dog-whistling which informs certain parts of this bill. At the same time as she criticises foreign interference in our media, in fact, in every other aspect in our country, she champions the actions of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin—a man whose regime is probably singularly responsible for the greatest piece of foreign interference in a democratic process and media operations around the world. The inconsistencies in the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party in this area of policy are manifest. In making this deal, the former Senator Xenophon and the Pauline Hanson's One Nation senators have created a situation which almost certainly will lead to fewer jobs in the media and fewer media outlets in Australia than before. It may be the case, as many proponents of the bill have argued, that some of these changes would have occurred anyway. What is certain is that, because of this package of bills, those changes will occur: there will be fewer jobs and fewer media outlets in this country as a result of the legislation.

I'm very concerned about the future of a group of newspapers from southern New South Wales, including the Illawarra Mercury and the Southern HighlandsNews. They publish on a daily basis in the case of the Illawarra Mercury. They are great community newspapers championing community issues. They don't always agree with me, but they have been a source of quality journalism, breaking stories of regional, state-wide and national significance, for over a century. I want to see newspapers like this continue. From the Illawarra all the way down to the Victorian border, newspapers such as the South Coast Registerprovide a very important community function. As a result of the merger of Channel 9 and the Fairfax group, the future of these newspapers hangs in the balance. As the member for Greenway set out in her address on this bill, there is a question mark hanging over these regional publications.

We warned of this. We warned of this as the original package of bills was being debated in the House. We told National Party MPs and regional Liberal Party MPs, 'If you vote for this legislation, there will be fewer journalists working in your electorates and there'll be fewer publications and fewer outlets telling the stories about your electorates to your communities.' Yet they voted for it. So if these changes occur—as we fully expect they will—they have nobody to blame but themselves.

We are supporting the measures within the bill. They do no harm, as far as we can see—unlike the original package of bills, which we did not support. These consequential amendments arising out of the deal with the crossbench senators do no harm, and we will support them. They are only made necessary because of changes that were made in 2006 by the then Howard government.

We already have one of the most concentrated media ownership landscapes in the world. This government is responsible for ensuring that it becomes even more concentrated.

The bill before the House will provide some further information about foreign ownership of the media in Australia, which is already considered to be a sensitive business and, therefore, reportable. In 2006, as I pointed out, the Howard government abolished foreign media ownership limits in recognition of the need for foreign investment to support media diversity in this country—something which Labor does not oppose. The recent CBS acquisition of the Ten Network showed the power of the two-out-of-three rule, just prior to its abolition, and the utility of foreign ownership as a safeguard on media concentration by improving access to capital and increasing the pool of potential media owners for Australian media outlets.

Current law and regulation provide for a number of checks and balances on foreign media ownership of the media in Australia. For example, under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act and regulations, investments by foreign persons in excess of five per cent in an Australian media business must be notified and approved by the Treasurer. However, the details of the proposed or actual investments or the foreign persons involved are generally not publicly disclosed. In addition to that, under the Australian Stock Exchange's disclosure of relevant interests in listed entities, about five per cent are made public, but they don't indicate whether the shareholder is a foreign person. Under the Broadcasting Services Act, the reporting regime requires disclosure when a person comes into a position to control, or ceases to be in a position to control, a regulated media asset. However, these disclosures don't specifically identify foreign persons and generally wouldn't require disclosure of interests of less than 15 per cent.

This bill will make available some further information about foreign ownership of the media in Australia, which is already considered to be a sensitive business. It does this by introducing some additional disclosure requirements on top of these existing requirements that I've spoken about and sources of information under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Regulation 2015.

There are also a series of measures in here, in proposed schedule 2, concerning community radio. They are described as a package, the community radio localism measures. Whilst we do have some concerns, Labor will be supporting these measures. We encourage the government to respond to some of the issues that have been raised by the community radio sector. But, on its face, the amendment would encourage community radio broadcasters to provide greater coverage of local issues, which can only be a good thing, and to provide greater opportunities for local participation in producing and hosting radio programs. The amendment would require the ACMA, in assessing licence applications, to consider the extent to which the proposed services will provide material of local significance. 'Material of local significance' would be defined as 'material that is produced in, hosted in, or relates to the licence area of the proposed licence'. Labor thinks that this is a good provision, and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, the CBAA, supports the intent of the bill to strengthen localism in community radio broadcasting. The Community Broadcasting Association is concerned that the wording of the bill, as it currently stands, may not be clear enough to address some of their concerns, and we encourage the government to respond to these concerns.

I also want to talk about proposed schedule 3 of the bill, which outlines some amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act to address an anomaly which pertains only to Western Australia and regional broadcasting in Western Australia. These amendments will equalise the local content obligations on the regional Western Australian licensees GWN7 and the WIN TV network. For historical reasons, GWN7 holds four licences which cover specific regional areas in WA, while WIN TV, the WIN network, holds one licence which covers the entirety of Western Australia.

The provisions within this schedule, which have Labor's support, will equalise the arrangements imposed upon both of these television broadcasters in the event of a trigger event pertaining to media ownership. A trigger event, of course, occurs where a change in control would result in a person controlling television licences that together service more than 75 per cent of the Australian population. These local content requirements attach to each licence area. As I said, because GWN7 currently holds four licences across the area, as opposed to WIN TV, which holds one licence in the equivalent area, they would be treated differently for no good public policy reason. So schedule 3, which obtains our support, deals with this anomaly. If it is passed through both places, they will be treated equally in the event of a trigger event.

Of course, these provisions as they pertain to broadcasting do not stand alone when it comes to government actions and government attacks on broadcasting throughout this country. The attacks through budget cuts on the ABC and the SBS are impacting on the capacity of these broadcasters to fulfil their charters. Seventeen million Australians consume some form of ABC content every week. It is by far and away one of Australia's most trusted brands, much more trusted than any of the personal or political brands of any of us in this place. Yet it is seen to be almost a rite of passage for those who come to this place as a Liberal or National Party MP or a Pauline Hanson One Nation senator to attack and seek to undermine, by every means possible, the operations and the reputation of the ABC and those who work for it.

These attacks must stop. We have a quality national broadcaster—again, a broadcaster with whom we don't always agree, and it doesn't always agree with us. That doesn't mean that we should not protect, with our last fighting breath, the capacity of the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service to fulfil their mandate in producing quality independent journalism in the national interest. If from time to time they disagree with a government or a political party, that is their job. It is their job to produce quality, independent journalism and broadcasting content in the national interest.

I use this opportunity on a bill which concerns broadcasting to again call upon those members opposite to consider and to reflect upon their unrelenting campaign, culminating in a motion at their most senior policy-forming forum not three months ago to set a target of privatising the ABC. I call upon them to reflect upon their actions. It is not in the national interest, and it is certainly not in the interests of all of those MPs who purport to represent regional areas, that the ABC be privatised. That way lies a future where stories from and about regional Australia are no longer told to all Australians.

With those comments in mind, I commend the legislation to the House.