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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7267


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (22:27): I want to put on the record that the Australian Conservatives support the need for media reform. I said this in my second reading contribution and I have said it in the media leading up to this debate. But I believe that we cannot look at media reform in isolation by only considering the commercial media. We have what I would term the elephant in the room—it was addressed by Senator Siewert's and Senator Hanson-Young's amendments—which is our national broadcaster. We may be approaching this from different angles, but the national broadcaster has been brought into this debate. The national broadcaster is the elephant in the room. Between the ABC and SBS, it consumes about $1.5 billion worth of taxpayer dollars. It competes in a media landscape which is highly competitive and, as I think the Senate is about to acknowledge or has acknowledged through the second reading debate, is in need of significant reform, if only to allow the commercial operators to be competitive and to remain viable. Other senators have discussed the need to maintain the rural and regional presence in the diverse media landscape we see in this country. Whilst Senator Xenophon's amendments, which have been accepted by the government, don't sit particularly well with me, I will not let the perfect get in the way of the good and the necessary.

However, I do think it is in the country's interest to be done with media reform, at least for the rest of this year. I have noted that the government has given some undertakings to One Nation in particular. I think the term was, 'A deal has been done,' over some substantial changes to the charter and conduct of the ABC. I also note that the minister acknowledged the importance of those things and his willingness to bring them into being. I also note that Senator McKenzie has a private senator's bill about ABC reform as well, with a particular focus on regional and rural areas.

It was in the interests of facilitating the speedy resolution of these things—to allow the government to have more time to deal with important things such as reducing the national debt and spending less money and so forth, rather than revisiting media reform again and again—that I thought it would be much better for this place to ask the government and the Senate to render their judgement on the deal that One Nation has done with the government and on Senator McKenzie's reforms as well. So I've incorporated these into two tranches of amendments, which I'll address shortly.

But I need to spell out that, whilst I have introduced them into this bill, they are not my amendments. I know Senator Hanson was very concerned in her speech in the second reading debate that the amendments that she'd seen from me bore a remarkable resemblance to the deal she had struck with the government. That is because they are the amendments in the deal that One Nation did with the government. I have no ownership of them. In fact, I reserve the right to vote against those, should it come to a division, if I don't like them as such. But make no mistake: these are the very amendments that the government has agreed to do a deal with One Nation on in respect of the ABC. So we can put that to rest forever and a day, or at least for the next few weeks, to allow the government to focus on other things.

Then, when considering how that would facilitate the Senate and make things that much more easy for all of us, I thought: why not incorporate the very prudent amendments from Senator McKenzie? Senator McKenzie's amendments go to such things as strengthening the rural and regional impact of the ABC. I have to say, in discussing the ABC briefly, that there are people out there who say, 'Let's sell it off or get rid of it.' I'm not one of those. I believe the ABC plays an important role in the Australian psyche. I just happen to think the ABC and SBS are too big and they get too much money. I would like to see them pared back, and I would like to see them have a renewed focus on rural and regional issues. So, whilst in sentiment I agree with many of Senator McKenzie's amendments too, they are incorporated into the amendments that I'm proposing and will be moving later on today.

As I said earlier, I believe the ABC and SBS should be merged. I think we could look to save a substantial amount of money, and that's indeed what I'm trying to do. Part of the reason for that, if I can give you an example, is that the focus seems to be way off for them. Just last week, ABC Radio National ran a segment on Marxism for beginners. I really don't think that we should be having Marxism for beginners lessons on our national broadcaster. Whilst we may think it's a bit of a laugh, I can only imagine the outrage if they had conservatism for beginners or something like that. It wouldn't be allowed on the ABC. Their focus has been taken away from providing news and information and public and current affairs to what some would term 'propaganda'.

So I think there does need to be some significant reform, and I think we can do it to save some money. I think we can do it tonight by honouring the commitment that the government has given to the One Nation team in the interests of openness and transparency and also to back in Senator McKenzie and the Nationals in their reform of the commitment of the ABC to regional areas.

With that, I have two sets of amendments. The first one, amendment (2) on sheet 8253, is to schedule 7. This amendment was part of the One Nation tranche of demands in their deal, and it is essentially a register of foreign ownership of media corporations and a review of taxation arrangements. I say once again that I don't necessarily agree with this. I'm doing it because I think it is in the interests of this parliament to establish once and for all the playing field which we are all dealing with. The level of trust shown between senators has rarely been higher but, whilst we may trust, I think we should verify, in the words of Ronald Reagan. With that, I move amendment (2) on sheet 8253:

(2) Schedule 7, page 53 (line 1) to page 54 (line 6), omit the Schedule, substitute:

Schedule 7—Register of foreign ownership of media corporations and review of taxation arrangements

Broadcasting Services Act 1992

1 After section 215

Insert:

215A Public Register of Foreign Owned Media Corporations

(1) ACMA must establish and update each month a register to be known as the Public Register of Foreign Owned Media Corporations.

(2) The register is to be maintained by electronic means.

(3) The register is to be made available for inspection on ACMA's website.

(4) The register must record the ownership, by country, of:

(a) all commercial broadcasting service licensees;

(b) all subscription television broadcasting service licensees; and

(c) all international broadcasting service licensees.

2 After section 216A

Insert:

216AA Review of taxation arrangements etc.

(1) After 30 June 2019, the ACMA must conduct a review of the following matters:

(a) whether the Commercial Broadcasting (Tax) Act 2017 should be repealed or amended on or before 1 July 2022;

(b) such matters (if any) as are specified in an instrument under subsection (2).

(2) The Minister may, by notifiable instrument, specify one or more matters for the purposes of paragraph (1) (b), so long as those matters relate to:

(a) commercial television broadcasting licensees and commercial radio broadcasting licensees; and

(b) the use of spectrum (within the meaning of the Radiocommunications Act 1992) by those licensees to provide commercial broadcasting services.

(3) In conducting the review, the ACMA must consider such matters (if any) as are specified in an instrument under subsection (4).

(4) The Minister may, by notifiable instrument, specify one or more matters for the purposes of subsection (3).

Consultation

(5) In conducting the review, the ACMA must make provision for public consultation.

Report

(6) The ACMA must give the Minister a report of the review before 1 July 2021.

(7) The Minister must cause copies of a report under subsection (6) to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sittings days of that House after receiving the report.