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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2830

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (10:00): I have been listening to this exchange between the minister and Senator O'Neill with interest, and I find myself agreeing with parts of what Senator O'Neill says—

Senator Hanson-Young: Shock, horror!

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, shock, horror indeed, Senator Hanson-Young—in that the political ghost of former Senator Xenophon lingers large over this place. The price of a hastily cobbled together deal for much-needed media reform is incumbent and evidenced by this bill, which is why it is entirely wrong. The horsetrading only costs Australian taxpayers hundreds of millions, sometimes billions, of dollars, and the cumulative efforts of Senator Xenophon over the years have, I think, only added to our national debt, which is why we should be voting down this bill. It was cobbled together very late at night, if I recall, and I see that it serves no meaningful purpose other than to disrupt the budget repair that is so necessary.

I also happened to agree with Senator O'Neill when she was referencing the young people and the obligations we have to them—perhaps for a different reason, because Senator O'Neill did reference the young people who were in the gallery and spoke about their opportunities. Well, we are squandering their opportunities by saddling them and burdening them with a massive debt load. And that debt load is going to have to be repaid by them. No matter how many jobs you create at the ABC, which seems to be Senator O'Neill's great wish, that debt load is not going to be removed—that will only add to it. So this is where I depart from Senator O'Neill's contributions. Cutting spending to the ABC is in our national interest, quite frankly. If you go back through the rich heritage that the ABC has and the important role it has played in our country and continues to play, you will recognise that it's morphed from a radio station available nationally to a television station available nationally to now the largest media empire in the country. It has four television stations. It has, I think, maybe five national radio stations plus its regional outreach. It has a commanding presence in the newspaper of the 21st century, which is the online media portal, which is not paywalled or firewalled; it is cannibalising the commercial media operations.

The media landscape is undergoing radical change, and the ABC is at the centre of it. It is simply too big. It is simply too outrageous. It doesn't comply with its charter. Indeed, the latest managing director, Ms Guthrie, has basically levelled a threat against the government saying that the ABC will use its voice to showcase and highlight the damage that's been done to the ABC and that it wouldn't be able to comply with its charter. Well, here's news for you, Ms Guthrie: you're not complying with the charter now. It is appalling. And I say this not in a partisan sense, but it is appalling that the ABC will defend the use of the c-word on its own shows directed at political candidates in the name of humour yet won't allow that great other c-word to be used—the Conservative!—to get a fair and reasonable platform on the ABC. And congratulations to you, Minister, for not accepting that ridiculous response from Ms Guthrie—a form of which I received as well, where they review themselves and say, 'No, we've done nothing wrong'—and pursuing it with ACMA.

We had a Senate inquiry into commercial broadcasting standards, because other networks were broadcasting similar language in inappropriate timeslots. I don't think it's appropriate at any time, quite frankly, but nonetheless they came to that same conclusion. Channel 9, I recall, wrote a letter or made a public statement that they would not allow that sort of language to be broadcast at any time on their network. And yet somehow the ABC, which is meant to be reporting news and current affairs for all Australians, thinks it's okay—that it's good sport—to just allow all that sort of language; it doesn't matter if it's a Labor candidate, a Conservatives candidate, a Liberal candidate or anyone. They defend it. They are out of control.

If you want to do something serious about the ABC, Minister—$80 million cut, good. Thank you. For the young people of Australia, thank you for applying those funds to debt recovery, to budget repair and to preserving the future of our young people. If you want to do something serious about it, think about allowing our national broadcaster to consolidate, to merge, with SBS, to encourage them to provide a single news and current affairs channel and a single national radio network, or maybe two, to provide news and current affairs for all Australians. I do believe it is important for all governments—we don't know what's going to come down the pipe in the future—to be able to communicate with all Australians, and that includes in areas where market failure means that there are no other, rival services available. I do think the ABC fulfils an important role, but get it to consolidate.

If you don't want to do that, let's make the ABC accountable. Why not provide every Australian with shares in the ABC and allow them all to chip in their 8c a day, if that's what they want to do, or maybe hand in their shares to someone else who wants to pay their 8c or 11c a day. Let all Australians have a stake in it, rather than fund it and simply be told one version of news or current affairs, according to the partisan, cheerleading nature of the zeitgeist within the ABC. It is out of control, Minister, and I continue to encourage you to pursue media reform in this sense.

Returning to the substance of the political ghost of former Senator Xenophon: this bill is ridiculous. It's ridiculous because, as some regional media operators suggest to me, it will allow them to maybe upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10, or something along those lines. I just think it's a complete shemozzle and a waste of taxpayers' money. I believe that this is how we get into the problems in our parliamentary system, when the price of enacting important media reform—which you have achieved, Minister—is reflected by additional spending that is not going to make any difference to anyone except the poor taxpayers, who will end up having to pay it back. Minister, I won't be supporting this bill, but I want to go on the record saying that I congratulate you for your media reforms, I congratulate you for making a small start on the ABC and I'm sad that you've attached your name in any way, shape or form to endorsing this bill. Anything I can do to scupper it, I probably will, which may entail supporting some radical amendments from the Greens to make it completely unpalatable. But let's see what we can come up with.

Senator Steele-John interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: Senator Steele-John is interjecting. I'll ignore the impertinence.