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Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Page: 1152

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (18:52): Like proud grandparents, Centre Alliance welcomes the arrival of this piece of legislation. I say 'grandparents' because it's back to a previous parliament, a previous generation, under a different name—the Nick Xenophon Team—that the genesis of this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020, can be traced. Back in 2017, when the then Turnbull government was negotiating its historic media reform package, my colleagues and I recognised that we needed to go further than media ownership to safeguard the longevity of public interest journalism. We negotiated a range of measures, including a community television licence extension, a review of Asia-Pacific broadcasting services, and the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package, which, thanks to government tinkering, has been a bit of a challenge.

However, of import for this bill, we negotiated for the ACCC to conduct an inquiry into the impact of the new digital environment on media. My colleague Senator Stirling Griff undertook extensive work on the terms of reference for this inquiry, which examined the effect that digital service engines, social media platforms and other digital content platforms have on competition in media and advertising services markets. You could say that, basically, Google and other platforms have cannibalised local content. At the time, my colleague said that the government needed to rein in the uncompetitive advantages that global internet giants such as Facebook and Google were exploiting. They were exploiting Australian made content and profiting while others were doing the lion's share of the work. We believed that Google and Facebook needed to pay a fair price for unique content that was not their own.

The inquiry's final report made a number of recommendations but, in effect, found there were serious issues relating to the market power of the digital platforms that were affecting Australian businesses, the media advertisers and consumers. The government response was a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms.

This bill creates the framework for that mandatory bargaining code, and Centre Alliance supports this framework. I note that the final version of this bill includes amendments addressing feedback from stakeholders on including the ABC and SBS, an inclusion that's very much supported by Centre Alliance and by my electorate. I note that, in the past week, Google has come to the bargaining table to negotiate content deals with big media players such as Nine Entertainment, The Guardian Australia and the ABC. I'm yet to see any reports about Facebook coming to the table, which is disappointing.

Centre Alliance remain concerned about the small media players. We hope they will benefit and not be short-changed by this new bargaining framework in the way they have been short-changed by previous attempts in this parliament to maintain quality public interest journalism, particularly in regional Australia. Back in 2017, during the media reform debate, in addition to the ACCC inquiry into digital platforms, NXT also negotiated the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation package worth just over $60 million. Sadly this package has fallen short of our intention to help regional and small publishers. Centre Alliance share the concerns expressed by Country Press Australia that the cadetship program component only spent $1.8 million in the first round; the remaining $6.2 million sat in limbo at a critical time of need. Then there was the $38 million Regional Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Fund, which morphed into the $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program, or PING. Country Press Australia raised serious concerns to the government that their expanded eligibility criteria for the PING would water down the intent of the Regional Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Fund, and that proved well and truly to be the case. The small regional and remote publishers, which NXT and indeed the ACCC wanted to assist, ended up receiving only around 15 per cent of the funding. The bigger media companies, which this funding was not designed to assist, received the bulk of the funding. This is deeply troubling and, I believe, short-sighted.

Public interest journalism is important to our democracy and it's important to society, but it shouldn't just be supporting our cities. Regional Australians need to hear their own stories and they shouldn't have just the ABC providing that important service. The Public Interest News Gathering program needs to do what Centre Alliance negotiated this fund to do—that is, assist true regional and small publishers. More also needs to be done to include small and regional publishers in the apprenticeship program. This is a good bill. I'm pleased this bill is here, and I commend it to the House.