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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2293


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (12:26): I join in supporting the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Television and Radio Licence Fees) Bill 2016 but I echo the sentiments and views expressed by my colleague Senator Griff, who articulated the position of the Nick Xenophon Team very well in respect of this. That position is that free-to-air broadcasters are paying too much in broadcasting fees. We are out of kilter with other countries. We have not taken into account the fact that the media landscape has changed, that these licence fees are very much an anachronism, and that the free-to-air networks have been getting hit for six as a result of the likes of Facebook and Google, who have been able to soak up a lot of the advertising revenue. These are issues that ought to be taken into account.

As Senator Griff pointed out, the government could, with political will, say to the free-to-air networks: 'We will slash your production fees. We will do more for you in encouraging local production in terms of the production offset going from 20 per cent to 40 per cent, as it is for international movie production companies, so that television production that tells Australian stories with an Australian voice can be encouraged to thrive here in Australia.' We have a situation in this country where the free-to-air networks have been hit very hard by the likes of Facebook and Google and are suffering as a result. Facebook and Google can pick up other media content—they get it basically for free—and they can build an advertising base around that. If the government wants to continue with its history of innovation in terms of multinational tax avoidance—the reforms which former Treasurer Joe Hockey, now His Excellency Joe Hockey, Australian Ambassador to the United States, quite rightly pushed for—we can and should do better. There is real scope here for a turnover tax, which would ensure that these licence fees can be brought to zero. That would make a huge difference to the free-to-air networks, who have been doing it tough in relation to this.

I point to the amendments I moved in the last parliament in the context of financial disclosure. They were about the difference between general-purpose accounts and special-purpose accounts, which require more transparency from those multinational companies that have a base here in Australia but are effectively domiciled elsewhere—and this would apply to Google, Facebook and other large multinationals. There will be greater requirements for transparency about the level of accounting detail provided here in Australia. I call that the Michael West amendment after the investigative financial journalist who has long been campaigning for these issues. I understand he has his own website and his own online publishing business now since he has left Fairfax. Michael West was right and the parliament was right to support those amendments. We have an opportunity here to assist those free-to-air networks in a way that is tangible both in terms of the production offset and particularly with respect to licence fees.

The other issue I want to point out—something about which the minister has been very gracious with the time he has given to me and Senator Griff—relates to the issue of community television and community radio. I do not think we ought to have a debate about free-to-air broadcasters without considering the broader picture of community radio and community television. I just want to put on the record again that they are part of the media landscape and they perform a valuable role. They train hundreds and hundreds of generally young people and some not-so-young people in the arts of broadcasting radio and television. They can provide, in some cases, a very niche broadcasting experience in relation to youth broadcasting or particular ethnic groups. They play a valuable role. I hope to be able to continue, with my colleague Senator Griff, a discussion with the minister about the importance of community television being given a reprieve from their death sentence of 31 December this year in terms of a spectrum that I do not think the government actually needs any time soon and also in terms of community broadcasting and community radio broadcasters. I just think we should not have any discussion about free-to-air networks without also considering the importance of community radio and community television.

With those remarks, we support the second reading of this bill. We support the bill broadly, but we also feel that the government should go further. We hope to be able to engage with the government on having a fair dinkum turnover tax for some of those organisations that are essentially based overseas. They are not like Seven West Media, the Ten Network or the Nine Network and their holding companies, which are very much strongly Australian focused and Australian based companies. My message to Minister Fifield, whom I have enormous regard for, is that we are here to help from the crossbench. We are here to help. We want to help you raise some more money and in the process help Australian broadcasting. I know it is causing some mirth amongst your advisers, but we are fair dinkum about it and we hope the government can be too. Here is an opportunity to put that turnover tax on Facebook and Google and make a real difference to Australian broadcasting and Australian voices being heard in this country.