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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2295


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications and Minister for the Arts) (12:32): In the absence of any other colleagues wishing to make a contribution, can I thank those senators who have contributed what I think we can characterise as particularly thoughtful contributions, as would be expected in this place.

When Senator O'Neill was speaking and describing very well the changed landscape and how technology is offering consumers a wider range of options as to how they consume their media, I was half expecting at the end of her contribution that she was going to declare the need to abolish the two-out-of-three rule as well as the 75 per cent audience reach rule. I might wait for another day for that, Senator O'Neill.

Senator Hanson-Young made important observations about the need for investment in our local production industry. In fact, one of the arguments put forward by the free to airs for licence relief is that they want to invest more in local content and that local content rates. From the point of view of their businesses it makes good commercial sense to invest in local content. Senator Hanson-Young also spoke about the importance of further examining audio description services. As a former minister for disabilities, that is something I am very sympathetic towards. ABC have concluded a trial of audio description services. The results of that are something that we will be looking at in the near future. As for the issues that Senator Hanson-Young has raised in a second reading amendment that has been circulated, I will not be proposing that the Senate divide on that. The contents of the second reading amendment do not constitute government policy. Nevertheless, we take the free to airs at face value that they do want to invest further in local content and other good things for Australian consumers.

Senator McCarthy mentioned the importance of making sure that television reflects the diversity of Australia and, in particular, Indigenous Australians and their role. One of the things I am very happy about with the new managing director of the ABC is that she is keen for the ABC to be more diverse in terms of its staff and its presenters. Commitment to Indigenous broadcasting is something that she has a renewed commitment to. It is a commitment we are well aware that SBS also has.

Senators Griff and Xenophon, as always, were very charming in their contributions. We have had some good discussions over recent weeks about the media landscape. I do note the proposition that they are putting forward to reduce TV licence fees to zero. I think in proposing that both of them are very keen to try to get a Gold Logie at the next awards. I am sure that has been noted by Free TV Australia, Senator Griff! I should note that, with the 50 per cent reduction in TV licence fees that the then Senator Conroy put in place and this proposition for a 25 per cent reduction, there will have been a 62.5 per cent reduction in TV licence fees over the last few years.

So the parliament, this government and the previous government have recognised, as Senator Griff accurately quoted me, that TV licence fees were indeed introduced as the super profits tax of their time, and that the changing media landscape and the greater competition there is for free-to-airs is something that has been and is being recognised through this particular piece of legislation. I should also acknowledge Senator Siewert and her support for audio description. Senator Siewert has been a ceaseless advocate for Australians with disability, and I want to acknowledge that.

The purpose of this bill is to give effect to a commitment in the last budget, which was to reduce TV and radio licence fees by 25 per cent. We were able initially to reduce TV licence fees by 25 per cent by way of regulation. That option by way of regulation is not available to us for radio, so this bill seeks to give permanent effect to a 25 per cent reduction for both radio and TV.

I should indicate that I am a little disappointed in one respect, in terms of colleagues' contributions. I was hoping that they were going to out themselves about how their own viewing habits have changed over recent years. But, given that colleagues have not done that—

Senator Xenophon: What do you watch?

Senator Siewert: Yes! Tell us what you watch!

Senator FIFIELD: I will lead by example! I do consume through Netflix and other over-the-top providers, as well as free-to-air TV. I tend to do it on a binge basis. Dystopian dramas are my particular favourite—The Walking Dead and Falling Skies, both of which I am sure you are very familiar with, Mr Acting Deputy President Back! But I have not caught up with the start of season 6 of The Walking Dead, so please—spoiler alert!—no-one tell me what happens at the very start of that episode.

Just in conclusion, Senator Griff did talk about the importance of our domestic production industry and drama for Australian actors. And not just for Australian actors but for others who work on film sets and in film production. It is not just Home and Away, Neighbours and similar programs which have given people their start; TV ads themselves are also an important part of the production sector. Cate Blanchett got her start about 20 years ago as the Tim Tam girl, in the ad with the genie. She was asked for three wishes, and one of her three wishes was for a packet of Tim Tams that never runs out. There are worse things to wish for! But I also wanted to acknowledge the important role that ads play in developing Australian talent. With those remarks, I commend the bill to my colleagues.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Back ): The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Hanson-Young be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): The question is that the bill be now read a second time.