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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 75

Senator CONROY (2:58 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Is the minister aware of reports that, for the first time since 1972, the Ashes cricket tests between Australia and England will not be shown on free-to-air television next year? Can the minister confirm that, if the Ashes series is covered only on pay TV, three out of four Australian households will not be able to watch this great sporting contest? Does the government believe that this is acceptable? Given the popularity of cricket in this country, will the government act to ensure that all Australians are able to watch the battle for the Ashes in 2005?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Conroy for the question. I am aware of concerns that have been raised about free-to-air broadcasting of the 2005 Ashes test cricket series. The current antisiphoning list includes all cricket test matches involving the senior Australian team. The revised antisyphoning list, which protects events taking place between 2006 and 2010, includes all test matches involving the senior Australian team played in Australia or the United Kingdom, and this includes the Ashes.

I am aware of claims that Fox Sports have acquired both the free-to-air and the pay TV rights to the 2005 Ashes series. However, I have been advised that Fox Sports has acquired only the pay TV rights, which means that the free-to-air rights for Australia are still available should the free-to-air broadcasters wish to purchase them from the England and Wales Cricket Board. This means that it is open to the free-to-air broadcasters to negotiate with the English cricket board to acquire the free-to-air broadcast rights for this event should they so choose. The acquisition of broadcast rights is, I am sure all would agree, a commercial decision for the relevant broadcasters. They would take into account various factors such as the cost of the rights and the network's programming priorities, such as what time it can be shown, whether it is going to be held against the gate and a number of other issues.

Ultimately, the government would not as a matter of principle dictate day-to-day decisions on programming which are taken by either the national or commercial broadcasters. The antisiphoning scheme, the rationale for which remains an important one—that is, that as many people as possible can see these events—continues to provide free-to-air broadcasters with access to free-to-air rights to the 2005 Ashes tour. There is no evidence to suggest that the antisiphoning rules are being infringed or are otherwise not working in the way they were intended.

Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Has the country's self-confessed No. 1 cricket tragic, the Prime Minister, raised this matter with the minister? In light of the threat of popular events such as the Ashes not getting free-to-air coverage, do you seriously stand by your comment that you believe that there is no evidence to suggest that the antisiphoning scheme is not working as intended? Have you approached the ABC, Channel 31 or SBS about taking up these rights?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I think the only tragic person here is Senator Conroy. He appears to not really understand that the commercial television stations are free to acquire the rights. They are still available. Giving advice to the ABC and SBS in relation to programming and editorial matters is something this government would certainly not do. There is no issue about whether or not the antisiphoning rules are working the way they were intended to. There is no infringement of the antisiphoning laws.