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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23390

Mr MURPHY (8:31 PM) —I too support in principle the amendment moved by the member for Calare. I invite Australians listening to this broadcast to read the contributions made by the member for Calare and the members for New England, Kennedy and Cunningham, because there might be people out there tonight listening to this debate who are saying, `Here again we have the opposition opposing a media ownership bill.' Members in this chamber know my feelings about this legislation. I think this is one of the most important bits of legislation to come into the parliament since I have been here—and it is crucial for the future of our democracy and the public interest.

In relation to the amendment moved by the member for Calare, I note what Mike Carlton said in his article in the Sydney Morning Herald last Saturday—that is, you might as well merge the Labor government and the coalition opposition in New South Wales if that were to occur. I encourage people listening to this debate to read the contributions by the Independents so that they can get some balance and can clearly understand that the contributions made by people like me on this side of the House, as a member of the opposition, are genuine.

I want to take the opportunity to invite the new Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts in his wind-up to this debate on the bill to say what the real agenda is. Not once have I heard the former minister, Senator Alston, or the new minister, Mr Daryl Williams, talk about the thrust of the Harradine amendment and what that amendment meant—that is, to stop Mr Packer being able to buy Fairfax and to stop Mr Murdoch being able to buy a free-to-air television network in Australia. That is at the heart of what we are talking about tonight. As I have said time and time again in this House, tomorrow all of us will wake up and we will listen to a radio broadcast, read a newspaper and watch a free-to-air news bulletin on television during the day or the night. That is the traditional media and the overwhelming source of news and information for Australians—and it influences the way they think and, consequently, the way they vote.

So I am inviting you, Minister, to come to the despatch box tonight and tell the people of Australia who are listening to this broadcast—because your predecessor has not said it—that your bill is about allowing Mr Packer to buy Fairfax and allowing Mr Murdoch to buy a free-to-air television network. If you do that, Minister, I will have respect for you. During the time you were Attorney-General I had quite a bit of regard for you, and I believe you are an honourable man. So I want you, Minister, to tell the people of Australia that this bill is about concentrating media ownership in Australia and giving Fairfax to Mr Packer and giving a free-to-air television network to Mr Murdoch.

As I have said time and again, Mr Murdoch's family companies own two-thirds of the metropolitan dailies, three-quarters of the Sunday newspapers, half of the suburban newspapers and a quarter of the regional newspapers and online services, and Mr Packer has the dominant Nine Network, with a reach of up to 70 per cent, and all the top-ranking magazines—and you want to give him Fairfax and you want to give Mr Murdoch a television network. That is at the heart of why we feel so passionate about this legislation. I accept that people get news and information from a variety of sources—and I know what Senator Alston's agenda has been when he has constantly referred to us as being in the Stone Age, but I call this a monumental triumph for obfuscation. Most of us do not run to our computers in the morning to check other sources to get our news and information; most of us get it from the traditional sources.

The other thing that is even more scandalous—because it is concomitant with this debate—is the government not being prepared to give Mr Russell Balding one extra dollar in his claim for an extra $250 million worth of funding for the ABC. (Extension of time granted) The government's attack on the public broadcaster is absolutely outrageous. There are members on the back bench of the government calling for subscriptions to fund the ABC and, in the worst example, calling for the privatisation of the public broadcaster.

Mr Williams —This has nothing to do with the amendment.

Mr MURPHY —It has a lot to do with the amendment, Minister, because the amendment proposed by the member for Calare wants to further concentrate radio ownership in Sydney—a very large market—and across New South Wales with the force of Southern Cross and Macquarie.

Mr Andren —I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure it was a slip of the tongue, but the member for Lowe said I want to further concentrate ownership of the city media.

Mr MURPHY —Absolutely, and I thank you for listening so intently to my speech. I would like Hansardto correct that because that is clearly not my intention and you know that. Once again the member for Calare will get a gold star from me. To all the people listening in Bathurst and Orange, you have a great local member who tonight is standing up for the public interest and the future of our democracy, but not members of the government who are prepared to mortgage their heart and soul to our two biggest commercial media moguls. They are prepared to allow attacks on the great institution, the public broadcaster, and that is the most serious threat to the public interest and the future of our democracy, as I have said time and time again in this House. I would appreciate it if the minister would respond to my invitation to tell the people of Australia that this bill will allow Mr Packer to buy Fairfax and allow Mr Murdoch to buy a free-to-air television network. I also draw attention to my original question No. 11 in this parliament, which outlines the extent of the traditional media owned by Mr Packer and Mr Murdoch. (Time expired)