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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 20

Senator CHERRY (10:57 AM) —The Democrats will be supporting the two Labor amendments on sheet 4531 to close the loophole in respect of the antisiphoning list. In some ways it is an on-balance issue. We acknowledge that the pay TV industry does not believe there is a loophole—that there is no problem to be dealt with in this area—but in some ways, having looked at the evidence and through the committee Hansards, particularly at the treatment of the Ashes issue, we have come to the view that there is a loophole in this area and that it does need to be closed. I am disappointed that the government continues to refer to this particular loophole as the ‘so-called loophole’, because, when you deal with a situation where the antisiphoning list applies to Foxtel but not to channel holders such as Fox Sports, it certainly makes it very difficult in a commercial sense to achieve the commercial outcome sought of the antisiphoning list, which is that the free-to-air providers get a reasonable go at picking up items that are listed on the antisiphoning list before they are available to pay TV. There is a lot of commercial interest in this area. The pay TV providers dispute the fundamental question that is constantly raised by free-to-air providers: if you put sport on free-to-air television you need exclusive rights as opposed to shared rights. That debate has been going on for as long as there has been an antisiphoning list in this country.

However, what is fundamental is that the antisiphoning list is a decision of this parliament. It is a decision of this parliament that we will provide the opportunity for all Australians to see key sporting events on free-to-air television. If that is the intention of this parliament—if that is the starting point for this parliament—then we have to make sure the list works effectively. The list will not work effectively in a commercial sense while we allow this loophole, which allows related parties of licence holders to buy rights in a way that is not quite picked up by the antisiphoning regime. It is a loophole worth looking at. I commend these amendments to the government. They are important. I notice they do not go quite as far as the free-to-air lobby would have liked, and that is appropriate. We are simply dealing specifically with the issue at hand, rather than seeking to provide an excessive benefit to one side in the commercial debate rather than the other. I acknowledge that these issues are matters of commercial negotiation, but I believe we have to come back to the fundamental point: for what reason do we have an antisiphoning list? If we have an antisiphoning list, let us make sure it operates effectively. These amendments help to achieve that.