Today the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield, refused to comply with a Senate Order for Production of Documents to table the report of the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review.
This is despite the fact the report has now been stuck in the Fifield Triangle for almost a year.
This obstinance comes on top of the Morrison Government’s denial of an FOI request for the report and their avoidance of a formal request and attempt by Labor to have the report released at Senate Estimates in October.
In a letter to the President of the Senate, the Minister claims public interest immunity stating:
“The release of the document at this time would harm the public interest in that it would interfere with the proper consideration by and deliberative processes of Cabinet.”
The Minister is hiding the report from the public domain, despite his remarks at the outset of the Content Review where he said:
“And what we want is your views. Dare I say it the answers seldom come from government, or right answers seldom come from government when you are looking at policy settings.”
Unfortunately this Government has failed to deliver answers in a range of key areas in the Communications Portfolio, so you’d think they’d take all the help they can get.
The Minister has continued to stall on the issue of Audio Description, despite the Audio Description Working Group reporting almost a year ago, in December 2017.
The Minister has not delivered a communications policy roadmap centred on a principles-based framework for communications policy, despite putting the Department to work on it at least two years ago.
The Government has not delivered the spectrum reforms it promised, despite the Spectrum Review reporting over three and a half years ago, in March 2015.
The Minister’s claim that release of the report of the Content Review would interfere with proper consideration is farcical given his preference for back-door dealmaking, which saw the grant of $30 million to Fox Sports, the use of the ABC as a bargaining chip in a deal with One Nation, and his embarrassing inability to explain the terms of his eleventh-hour deal with Nick Xenophon to repeal the two out of three cross-media control rule.
It is unacceptable that Minister Fifield is subjecting the screen sector to his own tardiness and ineptitude.
Minister Fifield prefers to hold back evidence, stymie open public debate on policy options, and subject the sector to uncertainty as it can only guess what shady backroom deal he’ll do next.