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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2847


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (11:17): No. It's fine with us if they're moved as a block. I just want to put some comments on the record, as it looks like we're about to go to a vote—I think we are. Labor will support this amendment, which seeks to ameliorate one of the flaws with the fund—that the grant criteria is ideologically motivated.

Public interest journalism, the fourth estate, is a key pillar in our democracy. Support for public interest journalism in our democracy should not be ideologically motivated. We had several things to say about that on the night the bill came before us for the first time. It was sadly ironic that the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule, which acted as a democratic safeguard in promoting media diversity in Australia, was done away with through a deal that was conducted behind closed doors and away from democratic scrutiny.

Labor understands and shares the sentiment behind this amendment. On the night the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund was announced in this place, Labor decried the government's ideologically motivated exclusion of certain innovative publishers from the fund. That included The Guardian Australia, BuzzFeed and The New Daily. The concerns we have about those very important parts of the media, which we have access to every day as citizens of this country, are the key motivation for our support of this amendment. Labor will continue to hold the government to account for the deal, and we'll monitor the uptake of this fund. We will be watching who applies for it, we will be watching who accesses it and we will certainly be watching to see what, if anything, it achieves.

Labor are aware that the government has valid concerns with the drafting of this amendment, such as concerns that there are technical defects. I have to say that we do share some of those concerns, but we do not think that these concerns are insurmountable, and we believe that the government will have the opportunity and resources to remedy them as the bill progresses through the parliament.

Labor is also conscious that legislating the eligibility criteria will mean that any changes to the criteria in future would require legislative amendment. For example, if the minimum revenue threshold of $300,000 were too high, it would be necessary to return to parliament to amend the criteria. To the extent that flexibility to tweak the criteria is desirable should the government discover along the way that the criteria are not fit for purpose, Labor notes that the government took the decision to forge these criteria behind closed doors, away from parliamentary scrutiny. That the government is making this fund up as it goes along is a matter of concern for the government and it is certainly of concern to us. While, as the minister outlined, it is standard practice to include criteria in guidelines and not legislation, the government has, unfortunately, acted to create a fund that is ideologically motivated, and has thus motivated the amendment that is now before us. Labor notes that, without legislating the criteria, it would be open to future governments to revisit the eligibility criteria. But the issue before the Senate with this amendment is whether the overarching criteria are actually suitable. As the criteria are ideologically motivated, we believe they should not be supported because they are not suitable.

I want to close by putting on the record that Labor has sought consultative engagement with both the Greens and the government with regard to this particular amendment. There are many unanswered questions on this bill and on the amendment. The amendments circulated by the Greens today are many and, in our view, they are not drafted perfectly. Yet, on balance, Labor believes that this does address an ideological attack on a vital part of the media landscape of this country and the amendment goes a significant way to redressing that balance. So, on balance, Labor will support this amendment on 8435.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Bernardi?