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Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Page: 4897

Mr DICK (Oxley) (10:58): Well, if there was ever a reason why we need more media diversity in this nation, it was the member for Hughes's contribution in this place. Apparently, as a result of the so-called reforms, we are going to see fewer fake Donald Trump rallies. We are, apparently, going to see that only one-third of the Great Barrier Reef has been destroyed and that the climate change sceptics will be able to get away with more.

This government is not reforming; it is tinkering with an important part of Australia's media diversity. I rise to speak on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016, but it is hardly media reform. The 75 per cent reach rule was first enacted in parliament by the Hawke government in 1987, at 60 per cent, then changed to 75 per cent in 1992. The two-out-of-three rule has been implemented to protect diversity of media outlets in the sector and to prevent concentration of the media market. As we just heard from the member for Mayo, in regional South Australia those media markets which are concentrated need these provisions in place to protect that diversity.

The Centre for Policy Development has found that Australia now has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world. Since their election, the Abbott-Turnbull government, despite the Prime Minister being a former communication minister, have been doing absolutely nothing. There has been no review and no attempt at coordinated legislative and regulatory reform of the sector.

We heard a lot of mumbo jumbo from the member for Hughes, and a bit of voodoo economics for good measure. But, despite this being a critical piece of reform, we have had two or three speakers on this from the government. It is so important that the minister has even refused to pick up the phone and call the shadow minister, and has refused to engage on the issue. We know that this is not genuine or meaningful reform. Do not take my word for it; rather than the nonsense and the carry-on we saw from the member for Hughes—talking about Donald Trump, talking about climate change, talking about anything other than actual media reform—I want to put into the record what the experts and what the industry, more importantly, have said about this so-called reform. By reading the submissions to the Senate inquiry, you only need to look at the Seven West Media contribution, under the heading 'The Dangers of a Piecemeal Approach.' I will read the submission into the Hansard:

We see great danger in addressing these matters in a piecemeal manner.

… … …

And in the current case of changes to the 2 out of 3 rule, we have pointed out that these changes only comprise a small sub-set of the complex set of related media ownership rules. … we risk making changes at the behest of a few players with specific deals in mind and creating uneven outcomes in the competitive marketplace.

… However we have pointed out that the current approach is unduly narrow. It risks legislating a single media ownership deal because other media ownership rules such as the minimum voices test or the limits on ownership of television and radio licences in each market, have not been reviewed as part of this process.

The member for Hughes read into the record some media commentary, fake or otherwise. I could not really follow what his argument was.

I will refer to how Minister Fifield has handled this issue. I only need to read in The Australian last week:

The end-of-year awards season is almost here but there's already an odds-on favourite for the title of the most ineffective politician in the land.

Take a bow Mitch Fifield …

We know that the minister, of all the ministers in this government—and that is a pretty low bar to set—is grappling and struggling with his portfolio, but the industry itself has serious concerns about the pathway that this government is heading down with the removal of the two-out-of-three rule. Reading through the proposals which are being put forward today, Labor does support, and has been on the record as supporting, the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule, and the shadow minister, the member for Greenway, made that clear yesterday in her contribution.

However, we will not and cannot support repealing the two-out-of-three rule. I note that the minister lauds that this reform will bring the media ownership laws into the digital era. The problem is that these legislative changes fail to recognise that traditional media news sources still exist. They are still there, despite the member for Hughes saying that people are not walking up to him with newspapers. We understand that even though there is this wonderful invention, as we heard, the internet, the traditional media sources are still dominant in the sector, and this dominance permeates the online media market as well. Newspapers have not faded away into irrelevance after the advent of radio, and radio did not switch off because of television. We know that this illogical argument by the minister simply does not stack up.

But, more importantly, the core of the debate is the removal of the two-out-of-three rule. As Labor senators noted in their dissenting report to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquiry, it is clear that the removal of the two-out-of-three rule has no justification. There is no argument being put forward by those opposite for the removal of this key safety net to ensure diversity and to prevent the further concentration of the media sector. The question is whether this is an effective tool for achieving diversity in the media sector, a question which appears to pretty much remain unasked by the minister and by the member for Banks in his contribution yesterday. I do not know whether it is just laziness or arrogance; I am not sure.

But the media sector is not like any other sector. Australia has, as we know, as I have said, one of the highest market concentrations of any media market in the world, and the last 20 years have seen a significant reduction of competition and the diversity of voices and viewpoints. It is a matter of public policy to ensure a greater reluctance towards mergers of media outlets and additional scrutiny and interpretation of market rules in the context which is needed, being the Broadcasting Services Act and its objectives to guarantee market diversity and recognise that the media sector is not like any other sector in the economy. It plays an important public interest role to encourage diversity and control of the more influential broadcasting services, to promote the role of broadcasting services developing and reflecting a sense of the Australian identity, to promote the availability of audiences throughout Australia of television, radio programs, particularly about local regional significance. This is balanced against the need to provide a regulatory environment that will facilitate the development of a datacasting industry in Australia that is efficient and competitive, and responsive to audience and user needs. So this should not be new to the minister or government members.

The objective of the Broadcasting Services Act, and the purpose of this legislation, is as a special legislative regime to guarantee diversity in the media landscape in the public interest. But what is clear is that the doors will be flung wide open for mergers and acquisitions of media outlets and the further convergence of media landscape, if we accept the government's proposal for the removal of the two out of three rule.

I would also like to reflect on the online media market. One of the central arguments that the government has put forward is that, somehow, this reform is justified by technological changes or, somehow, by digital disruption. However, we all know the media sector is no stranger to disruption, and nor has it remained unregulated. But the problem with this idea that the minister has cooked up with—I repeat—no review and no approach to genuine holistic reform is that the technological developments of the new digital era do not automatically give cause for this government to simply remove the need for Australia to maintain rules around ownership and control of broadcasting licences. The case simply has not been made. The argument is flawed.

I will put on the record, just as the member for Whitlam did earlier today, that seven out of 10 of the top online media sources are major traditional media companies. Although the internet undeniably creates more content, the majority of that content still comes from traditional news sources. The University of Canberra's digital news report and consumer study indicated that well above 70 per cent of Australians who access news digitally still cite a 'mainstream news source' as the main source of news. This research is across all age brackets, with almost 50 per cent of 18-24 year olds preferring to digitally access, through the web or on social media, a traditional news source, and nearly 90 per cent of those over 50. So, yes, as the minister has made us all too aware we have heard the argument about Google and we have had Facebook. But that does not mean that you cannot look at the Sydney Morning Herald, the Courier Mail in my home state, or The Australian. In fact, Chris Mitchell, a former editor-in-chief of The Australian says:

The truth is that newspaper editors still drive the national media agenda. Their ideas are followed by news directors in the electronic media and on social media.

Even the minister's own department has said:

… the proliferation of online sources of news content does not necessarily equate to a proliferation of independent sources of news, current affairs and analysis.

It is notable that eight of the top 10 news websites in Australia in 2013, in terms of average unique daily users, are owned by those major mastheads or their publishers, and there is a notable clustering of users within the top two or three news websites.

I also want to touch on the aspect of regional access in the digital divide. We have heard it said a lot that this is the reason we need to ensure these rules are brought in. But if this government is hanging its hat on access to the NBN or if it is hanging its hat on what a great job it has done in providing regional Australia with quality telecommunications, they are kidding themselves. In fact, in their submission to the Senate inquiry the NSW Farmers Association said that traditional media platforms still have strong reach in the regions and 'regional internet remains very poor in comparison with urban populations'. We all know that is the case. We live in the real world where those opposite sometimes reside in a fantasy.

The ABS has highlighted that there is a gap between regional centres and major cities, with households in major cities with internet access being 88 per cent, compared to 82.3 and 79 per cent of households with internet access in inner and outer regional areas. In my own community, in the Ipswich City Council region and on the outskirts of Brisbane, I know just how poor in quality the access is to internet services and to the NBN broadband services that there are. The 2014-15 Roy Morgan Single Source survey indicates that non-urban areas have a higher representation of older Australians. So the Prime Minister's mishandling of the NBN has not helped this divide.

The University of Canberra's digital news report and consumer study research indicates 'news about my region, city or town' being rated in the highest categories of interests in types of news accessed by Australians. So the evidence is clear. Clearly, the government has chosen to ignore the research that came forward and the industry that provided evidence on this piece of legislation. The fact is that most Australians, and in particular regional Australia, ensure they get most of their news information from traditional media sources. As the NSW Farmers Association told the senate inquiry into this bill:

… we pointed out in our evidence to the Committee, we fear that the definition of 'local' may shift as the footprint of a broadcaster …

…   …   …

Our members make regular complaints to us about the loss of local media programming, or about its quality-they seek real local voices who understand them and their industries.

What that says to me is that we are already losing regional local content. We are already seeing a reduction and these reforms will only make things worse.

Do we need genuine reform and meaningful reform—principles based reform, which this government has simply failed to do with this bill. Australians want a diverse media sector and Australians deserve better than the bill being proposed by this government.