FAIRFAX ‘BREAKING POLITICS’
WEDNESDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Industry and Innovation policy, cuts to the ABC, G20 and Putin.
CHRIS HAMMER: We’re now joined by Michelle Rowland, Labor MP for Greenway in Western Sydney. Good morning Michelle.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning Chris.
HAMMER: The Government has released its industry and innovation policy, what do you make of it?
ROWLAND: The reality is Chris that this is a pale imitation of Labor’s own policies in this area. With this Government announcement coming off the back of significant cuts to science and research, we also have it coming off the back of cuts to education, which are going to make it more difficult to get degrees and to practice in this area. And we also don’t know how this package is actually going to be funded. I think we are right to ask the question: where are the cuts going to come from to pay for this statement?
HAMMER: Now you wouldn’t have any objection in principle to the Government enhancing the economy in this way?
ROWLAND: All Governments should be aiming to do that Chris, which is why we had a far better and far more comprehensive approach when we were in Government. But I will point this out Chris, I am critical, and I will note that Fairfax Media has picked up on this too, that the IT sector has been left out as specific sector for innovation. We know from all the facts and all of the studies that have been done that investment in IT is the single biggest driver of economic growth in an economy. So it is very difficult to comprehend why this Government has ignored this sector, and yet has chosen to release what is essentially a half-baked imitation of Labor’s own policy.
HAMMER: Okay well let’s look at the sectors; ones that have been left out include tourism, education, cultural industries, financial services, and the IT sector as you say. Included are food and agri-business, mining equipment and technology, oil, gas and energy resources, as well as medical technology and advanced manufacturing sectors. Those first three food and agri-business, mining equipment and technology, and oil, gas and energy resources, is this the Government simply giving money to its own constituency?
ROWLAND: I would question that actually Chris, you have to wonder whether that is the case. But I will say about food production for example, my area in Western Sydney has a high advanced manufacturing sector within it, including food manufacturing. When Labor had announced its policy in this area many groups within Western Sydney – businesses as well as institutions – were very excited about the prospect of this area becoming one of those food manufacturing precincts, servicing large markets out of Asia, growing economies in India and China for example. So it’s very disappointing that this is not only a half-baked area, but we don’t have that kind of detail about how industries are actually going to connect with local communities. But also, I just query if this is going to be followed through. I mean, this Government has had a whole year to look at this matter. We’ve had industries in Western Sydney that have been very severely hit by down-turns in more traditional manufacturing sectors. So I would welcome involvement in industry in area from my community, but I would question whether this Government will actually see this through and how it will actually be funded.
HAMMER: As well as being the Member for Greenway, you are also the Assistant Shadow Minister for Communications; do you believe the ABC can absorb cuts to its funding without affecting its production?
ROWLAND: Chris it’s not so much what I believe, it’s what the ABC itself is saying. It has been saying, for quite some time in fact, that in order to achieve further efficiencies it will need to look at content. You can have no better example of the very clear broken promise from the Government in that it promised, the night before the election, that there would be no cuts to the ABC. We’ve had Tony Abbott denying that there have been cuts, we had Joe Hockey earlier this year plead guilty to cutting the ABC. But when you starve a public broadcaster of funding, it has to look at the sort of efficiencies it can achieve. When it stops being able to achieve further efficiencies, then it does need to look at production. Mark Scott and others within the ABC have been pointing out themselves that they need to consider what sort of production goes, what sort of content gets cut. Within that you also have to remember that there will jobs that will have to be shed, but also if we’re going to look at cutting a digital channel from the ABC, you have to wonder how committed this Government is to the digital economy. I mean, we’re not talking about in the future having digitalisation, the digital age is here and now and if this Government can’t commit to that, then it really needs to reconsider the role it wants to play in the public broadcasting space. I think it’s made its point pretty clear, and we’ve seen it over some time now, that this Government is quite critical of the ABC because it believes it is somehow biased, that it is somehow not giving them a fair go. Well I would say to that Chris, they were the exact criticisms that Malcolm Turnbull would be levelling at Steven Conroy when he was Minister. So I think Malcolm Turnbull is displaying something of a glass jaw in this area.
HAMMER: Now the ABC’s Mark Scott has said that the organisation needs to spend less money on TV and radio, and spend more on online and mobile. Is this a sensible strategy? Is this what the ABC should be doing, because it’s putting itself in direct competition in the online space with traditional newspaper companies like Fairfax and News Limited?
ROWLAND: Again, the reality Chris is that this is where the space is moving. We are in an age of convergence, a platform convergence in this case is one aspect of that, and I think the ABC is right to be looking at the different platforms on which it can communicate with people. Who would have thought how many years ago when we first started having smart tablets for example, that we would have something like iView being so popular and so successful. I think the ABC has shown itself to be a great innovator, and if it has to undergo these cuts then I query whether it will be those decisions of which platform it chooses in order to service the community.
HAMMER: And just finally Michelle Rowland, what should Tony Abbott say to Vladimir Putin in November?
ROWLAND: I can suggest what he shouldn’t be saying. To answer your question quite directly though, I believe we should be seeking accountability and cooperation from Russia and from President Putin to get to the bottom of MH17. I’m obviously not privy to all of the diplomacy that has been going on there, but Chris one of my own constituents was one of the victims on MH17, so I’m acutely aware of the level of anger in the community about this. People are still mourning and will probably mourn for the rest of their lives in many cases. But I think by and large the community wants accountability on this, how that is communicated, that is something for diplomats and the Government to take up. But I will say what path we shouldn’t be going down and that is this sort of macho competition that seems to have evolved in the last couple of days. I think it’s really unfortunate. It’s unbecoming for the Prime Minister to be talking in this sort of language and I would strongly caution against it and I would welcome some very different language in this area in order to achieve the accountability I mentioned.
HAMMER: Okay Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time today.
ROWLAND: My pleasure.