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Wednesday, 11 October 2006
Page: 12

Senator JOYCE (10:13 AM) —I shall not speak for too long today as I have just been relieved of one of the teeth in my head. Probably some would say that is a great outcome! The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2006, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Enforcement Powers) Bill 2006 and the Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2006 are terribly important for our nation. What is the fundamental thing we are trying to protect here? We are trying to protect the nation from this outcome: that, in 10 years time, the real power would be controlled by a couple of media houses. If that were to happen then we would have really usurped the operation of this parliament. This parliament would turn into a quaint place where a lot of people would run around frantically but the real power would actually be held somewhere else.

The United States had to deal with this issue. That is why good Republican senators such as Teddy Roosevelt and Taft brought in the Claytons Antitrust Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act on either end of the 1900s—because of the threat that a corporate body would rise to such an extent that it would challenge the powers of the parliament. That is the underlying fear within the National Party we have been trying to protect against—the evolving of an organisation that would challenge the role of the parliament, and the media is the place where that organisation is the most likely to evolve.

We heard interesting analogies through the committee process. I remember reading one which mentioned the hierarchy of bribery claims in Chile. The largest bribes did not go to politicians or police; they went to media outlets. If you really want to control the place, the media is where you do it. In the Senate we reflect the aspirations of the people, and the media are the gatekeepers of what goes out and what comes back and how we are perceived. Therefore, they have inordinate power in society, which means they have a very special spot that we have to be extremely concerned about.

The suggestion has been put that this is not something where we should rock the boat too much, but I disagree with that firmly. This is absolutely an issue where we have the utmost responsibility to preserve the freedom that is in our nation and the gatekeeper of the freedom of our nation is the media. We have a building nearby called the War Memorial, which is a clear sign of those who have made the supreme sacrifice in protecting the freedom of our nation. In this place we must be ever mindful of that; otherwise we will have to build a building out the back for the ones who have let the show down. This is why this legislation is so important. We have already heard that it has been in animated suspension. There is a reason for that: there was concern in the Senate about issues in regard to this.

In the National Party we have had this concern right from the start in a resolution from state management. We tried our best to pursue those concerns through the Senate committee process and to finally get amendments to this legislation. The two out of three rule is a result of that work—the two out of three rule in regional areas which has become the two out of three rule in metropolitan areas. That is a great outcome. It has started to put some controls on where the media is. The local content rules is another outcome that the National Party has brought into this parliament. So, the protection of the media not only in metropolitan areas but in regional areas, the local content rules, the issues about channel B, the increased powers of the ACMA and the ATT are the issues that the National Party can claim responsibility for by being some sort of guardian of the passage of this legislation, to protect the democratic process in this nation.

If there were not a National Party, without a shadow of a doubt these protections would not exist. There would not be the safety valve in conservative politics to bring about these results. That shows clearly to the Australian people that, rather than our being shoe-holed in some rural constituency, there is a relevance to the National Party being in the Senate. The day the National Party is removed from the Senate will be a bad outcome for democracy. We will have everybody on the other side signing a pledge that they will always obey their masters in Sussex Street, we will have the inherent development of a loss of capacity to hold diverse views in the Senate and we will have a bipolar world. A piece of legislation like this would go straight through without the National Party standing up and fighting for democracy, as has happened with this legislation.

There are still issues that need to be looked at. I agree that there must be tighter controls on what a voice is. In the National Party we are not belligerent; we listen to everybody. We try to truly reflect views in the Senate, as we are supposed to, and be an open chamber that takes on board varying opinions, and not be like the other place, some bastion of tribalism. Hopefully, in this chamber we rise above that somewhat. When you sign a pledge that you are always going to follow your caucus leader, of course, you cannot. You usurp the democratic right of all the people who voted for you. They do not have the right to have access to your caucus leader; only you have that right. That means the caucus leader in Sussex Street starts telling the Australian nation what to do and that is what is inherently wrong about a Labor Party senator.

I believe we should have a tighter control on what a voice is. I do not believe that a media outlet that predominantly plays music or shows the races can be called the voice, so much so that I am prepared to back myself in and, if required to vote with that amendment on whichever side of the Senate it is moved, I will do that, unlike the people of the Labor Party. You do not have that right. The day you do that in the Labor Party, you are kicked straight out, because you are not a free enterprise. You are a totalitarian regime, run from Sussex Street, and that is why you never have the numbers to have a majority in both houses. You will never be given it again in our nation. It will never happen because you aspire to that totalitarian control—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Senator Joyce, direct your remarks to the chair.

Senator JOYCE —which, Mr Acting Deputy President, is anathema to what this Senate is. I believe we should have a tighter voice test and we will try to bring that about. I believe that the related entity test should be tightened up. We have a related entity test in the tax act which is very clear, very precise and works very well. That related entity test should be in this piece of legislation. I know we have an associated entity test but I feel it could be strengthened to have greater effect. And we must make sure that the ABC remains a vibrant voice—it is terribly important—and SBS, for that matter.

But there has been a great win for the National Party in the deal that it has made. Without a shadow of a doubt, a person walking down the street, not only in St George but in Sydney, has to realise that the reason they are getting two out of three is that there is a party in this nation called the National Party. They also have to understand—especially someone who is a journalist out there in Cowra today—that they still have a job, because there is a local content plan. Who got that? The National Party got it. And Mr Samuels will know that he is about to get new, increased powers to deal with mergers and acquisitions in the media market. Why is that coming about? It is because the National Party brought it about, and we are going to have a review of channel B so that it cannot create a monopoly in the channel B licence. Why is that happening? It is happening because of the access regime that the National Party brought about. That is the effect of what this party does. We are few in numbers and we collect the ire and the bile of people from all sides of politics, but we stick to our guns, because if we did not do that the democratic process in this nation would be changed forever.

With due respect, you never see the Greens break up on a vote; you never see them cross the floor. They always vote as a block. In fact, it is a dynamic that has been lost from this place, and one which detracts from our democratic process. But there is always acknowledgement that this party will do it—

Senator Conroy —Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I appreciate that Senator Joyce cannot bring himself to talk about the bill because of what he is doing.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —What is your point of order?

Senator Conroy —My point of order is on relevance. How the Greens vote as a block is not really relevant to the debate as it stands at the moment, and I ask that you draw him back to the bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator JOYCE —It is totally relevant because we are showing the dynamics of the votes. I have stated before that I have a bit of a concern that we might have an Oilcode set-up here. We may actually see all the Labor Party cross the floor to make effective amendments. We might have calls from the major oil companies to say, ‘You’ve got to stand in line today.’ They might do that; you have to keep your eye on them. You never know when the whole of the Labor Party will cross the floor and vote with the government. It is a bit of a problem; you have to watch out for them.

But, today, we have a chance of getting tighter controls. We are still looking for tighter controls on voice and the related entity test. I am prepared to do that, because I believe in my obligation to my state in Queensland to try to get the best possible outcome and, if that involves going over there to vote, then I will do that. I am trying to do it because it is best for my state. It is why we are in this place; we are supposed to represent our state, not a political party, but that is a debate for another day.

We have now got to the position where what the National Party has attained would mean voting against the hard work we have put into this. That hard work has been put in by a whole range of people. Right from the word ‘go’, when we started with this resolution at the state conference in Queensland through to here in this place, Paul Neville has been an absolute workhorse. He is an absolutely passionate believer in protecting our democratic process. I would like to acknowledge the work that Mr Neville has done, because, without that sort of assistance, it would have been much harder. It is a very complicated piece of legislation, and I have had my suspicions through the process of this debate as to why we have not seen more of this discussion in the media, from the fourth estate. Why it has not been front-page news on some of the major papers has been a concern. In fact, it raises suspicions as to why we must keep a control on the diversity of opinions. If we get it wrong, it will be one of the most fundamental changes to our democratic processes you could ever have.

I also believe that the statement that the ACCC in its current form has the ability to be the arbiter of voice, the arbiter of opinion in the public field, is an absolute load of rubbish. You cannot possibly do that; that is impossible. The ACCC and the Trade Practices Act have been set up for the purpose of dealing with goods and services; it is not there to look after opinion. That is why we have to go through the mechanism of putting some benchmarks in this legislation for that role. I look forward to the day when we strengthen the role of the ACCC and strengthen the Trade Practices Act so that we do not have predatory pricing laws that allow one media organisation to cut advertising to the bone and put other papers out of business. I look forward to the day we bring in a stronger section 46, but that is a debate for another day and for another piece of legislation. Unfortunately, all we can deal with in this legislation are the issues before us now.

I look forward to this issue going to committee, because there are still changes that could be made to make it better. A tightening of the voice test would be a true acknowledgement that you will not get an investigative journalism program on a music station.

Senator Conroy —Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Senator JOYCE —I do not think the Red Hot Chili Peppers or the Pussycat Dolls will put any government out of business, so I do not think we should count them as a voice. It is a bit strange to say that a program that plays predominantly music can be determined to be a voice. People will say, ‘Lots of people listen to that.’ They listen to it but they do not form their opinions from it. The 20 per cent of the people of this nation who are extremely dangerous because they change their vote will not be guided by the inspiration of the Pussycat Dolls. We have to make sure that we protect the voices that do change the aspirations, the inspirations and the opinions of our nation.

For that purpose, a voice should not be a media outlet that is predominantly a music channel—or a racing channel. Who wins race 5 at Dapto does not change the result of an election. The name of the red-hot runner at Randwick is not going to affect the governance of our nation, so that sort of channel should not be determined to be a voice; it should be knocked out. Of course, reducing the number of voices reduces the capacity of people in a market to merge. Obviously, things start falling below the five- and the four-level test. So there are ramifications, and that is why the voices test needs to be tightened up, and that is why the related entities test needs to be tightened up. The related entities test in the tax act, by way of a continual amendment process, is a vital piece of legislation. If something similar were incorporated in this legislation, it would give transparency as to who owns what.

I am prepared to vote for such amendments. Unfortunately, having regard to the dynamics of our democratic process, inspiring others to do the same can be difficult. However, on this side we have not fallen so far as to start signing pledges as to which way we are going to vote. It is good that at this point in time we on this side still do not sign pledges saying, ‘You will usurp your democratic duty for the sake of a caucus.’

The debate will go on for a number of days. I look forward to the involvement of others in the debate. I look forward to the committee stage. All in all, I feel that the National Party has carved out a whole swathe of issues that are completely and utterly different from the position when we started. We can go right back to its inception—to a resolution at a Queensland state conference—and follow it from there.