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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2835

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (10:26): In the interests of collegiality—we've all been in a situation where we're trying to figure out exactly what's going on. What I can say, for those who are here, is that one of the concerns I have as a senator in this place—and I have lived most of my life outside the political world—is what happens when you get all of these Independents in here. There's a sense in the media, the champion of the Independents, that this is going to provide fantastic scrutiny and it will be a wonderful thing. What we're actually doing today is cleaning up after the party. We've all been in that situation, where there's been this great big party and there's a big mess and you've got to come in the night after and do the cleaning up. The cleaning up is pretty hard sometimes. This is the cleaning up that's being done because the government wanted to get rid of the two-out-of-three rule—to make sure that, if you live in a particular media market, no one company can get in there and have a massive say about the kind of news and information that you get.

The government did a deal. They did a whole lot of deals, actually. It took quite a degree of contortion to make deals with multiple people. One was with Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. But the deal that we're discussing today is the deal that was done with former Senator Xenophon. The way that it's characterised all the time in the media is that the government are pushing for this deal and they're going to deliver this reform. What did they trade off? In the case of this particular piece of legislation that we're cleaning up here today, we're doing it in the absence of former Senator Xenophon, who actually did the deal. The deal went through very late in the evening. Sometimes when you're not here in the chamber you'll hear that we worked until one or two o'clock in the morning. The debate was continuing, but the deal was so uncertain and we had many questions that couldn't be answered. Senator Xenophon left the chamber, the vote was taken and the government got their multiple deals sorted—there were enough votes for their legislation. And now we get this clean-up job to sort out what they actually agreed to. We understand that it was very dynamic that night, and the deals weren't clear and the questions weren't able to be answered. But, when we get to this point and we're about to make legislation, we would hope that everything would be in order.

This morning I asked Senator Fifield a number of questions about what's been going on, particularly with regard to the cuts to the ABC—$83.7 million. I'm very concerned about that, but I have to say I'm very concerned about what this piece of legislation is seeking to do. Increasingly, I'm also a little uncertain about what it is that we're supposed to be debating right now. There are a number of pieces of legislation that get amended and, at the moment, with many amendments coming from the Greens, we're not quite sure where we are. That's as I see it at the moment, and I think that's a fair characterisation.

Senator Fifield, how many publishers do you understand will be eligible for the fund? I note that, in response to a question from Senator Hanson-Young, you read quite a long list of supporters of this short-term injection of funding into the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, but, from the advice that you've received from your department, how many people exactly do you think will actually be eligible for this fund?

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Bernardi ): For the benefit of the chamber, we are having a general discussion about the bill. There have been no amendments formally moved. The reason for that confusion may be because I addressed an amendment, given I was going to be in the chair shortly.