SUBJECT: Turnbull Government outsourcing media policy to One Nation.
TOM CONNELL: More now on media reform, of course we had reports yesterday One Nation is doing a deal with the government. They still need to get more on board, including Nick Xenophon's team. Discussions there ongoing, and that's because Labor continues to oppose the changes that have been put forward. Joining us for more now is Labor's spokesperson on this, Michelle Rowland. Thanks for your time.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you.
CONNELL: Now, I know we've gone through a lot of the changes in Labor's opposition to this but broadly do you have an alternative plan on the table?
ROWLAND: Well we said from the outset when the government initially proposed this is that you need to understand the whole broadcasting landscape. We actually haven't had a review of the broadcasting sector since the Productivity Commission conducted it in the year 2000. So my initial response to the Minister was – look, we need to examine the state of play, we need to have an evidence base, and his response was ‘all the facts are already known’. We have taken an evidence-based approach to this question on the issue of the 2 out of 3 rule. Labor will not support the repeal of the 2 out of 3 rule. That's a unanimous decision of our caucus and on the basis of that we have one of the most concentrated media markets in the world - making it even more concentrated is not the solution.
CONNELL: And yet, even that they're concentrated, there's a struggle out there as well. I know there hasn't been a formal review but we've had a lot of Senate committees looking into this. Aren't you at all swayed by the fact that all the different media companies are on board. These people don't often get on the same page. There not often friends. They're all saying do this change, we need it.
ROWLAND: Well, clearly they are saying this because this is something they've wanted for a long time, in addition to having licence fee relief for commercial broadcasters, something that I might say Labor also supports. But when you look at the entire ecosystem of the media landscape, simply junking this 2 out of 3 rule is not going to resolve the structural problems that exist. They are not going to resolve the issue of local content, and we have a government that has no road-map for this sector whatsoever, and for people such as Senator Hanson and others to come out and say, well this is about regional jobs, two points on that. Firstly, I don't know of any merger activity that results in job creation quite frankly. If you think that achieving efficiencies and synergies are going to do that -
CONNELL: Aren't you saving jobs that would go otherwise altogether though?
ROWLAND: But at the same time, you need to take into account the fact that that M&A activity is going to lead to consolidations and job losses. On the other hand you also have a situation where the government is simply saying 'because of the internet' this area needs to change. Well I point out the fact that 7 of the top 10 news sites in Australia are traditional media. They are the same voices on different platforms, and quite frankly this now has become something much more than a question about the government's original Bill that is before the Parliament. This is now about the ABC and about this incompetent Minister outsourcing media policy on the ABC to One Nation.
CONNELL: But essentially, where we are at right now is Labor's alternative is for a review. Now you won’t get into power at the earliest until the next election, then you have a review. This is more of an urgent issue that that isn't it?
ROWLAND: We consider that the 2 out of 3 rule, junking it, is not going to do anything for media diversity.
CONNELL: I'm talking about your plan and when that would ever actually mean any sort of change.
ROWLAND: Well our first plan is to make sure that this rule is not junked. That is our first plan. Our second plan, and quite frankly it’s overtaken events in the last 24 hours, is to make sure that these regressive changes to the ABC that have been entered into in a deal with the government do not go ahead. This is going to gut our public broadcaster.
SAMANTHA MAIDEN: Why do you need a review to decide to do anything else, but you don't need a review to know that you don't want to chuck the other rule?
ROWLAND: We have undertaken an evidence-based approach to this with the resources that we have, including as part of the Senate inquiries that have been done. And quite frankly the issue about having a broader review of this scale, I proposed that a year ago. This could've been completed by now, but instead the government is now proposing another review on the competitive neutrality of the ABC, whatever that might mean, and at the same time looking at cutting the ABC and completely outsourcing ABC policy to One Nation.
CONNELL: Well they’re not talking about cutting ABC.
ROWLAND: This is step one, and Senator Hanson was very clear last night in her comments that this is step one. Step two is going to the next budget and making sure the ABC's funding is reviewed. You can't tell me that that is to increase it and a good question for Minister Fifield - what discussions have been entered into to somehow guarantee, are there any guarantees, that have been given to One Nation in terms of ABC's funding for the next budget?
MAIDEN: So you don't think the ABC should have to disclose any of the salaries?
ROWLAND: I think this will reveal a couple of really serious points. Firstly, something that's pertinent to your network, is One Nation claims this is because they are being publicly funded that we need to disclose their salaries. Well, Fox Sports has been given $30 million under this deal for women's and niche sports, whatever that means now, we still don't know, so since they're being given public funding, are we going to know how much the presenters on Fox Sports or their talent receive? Question number one. Second issue, we have had a situation in the UK where that was disclosed and that lead to nothing productive whatsoever. Instead there was a debate from everything from gender and ethnicity of presenters, producing very little of a productive nature. The other point is that, currently the ABC is required as per all the other APS standards, to disclose the bands of their employees over $200,000 and finally, does the Privacy Act actually permit this, because they have to consent in order to have this revealed. So are we going to have an amendment to the Privacy Act or are we counting on all these ABC talent giving their consent to this disclosure?
MAIDEN: Newspapers take money from the government for advertising. Are you suggesting that they should have to disclose their salaries?
ROWLAND: This is a different situation. This is the government specifically in its budget giving $30 million to Fox Sports.
MAIDEN: So let me clear this up. You think that they should disclose the Fox Sports people's salaries if they disclose the ABC salaries?
ROWLAND: I'm saying if you take this argument to its logical conclusion, why aren't One Nation asking for that? I'm asking the question.
MAIDEN: Well it’s not completely publicly funded.
ROWLAND: It's got $30 million of public funding at least. There's a question for them.
CONNELL: Just on the salaries when you said it didn't do any good over in the UK, it kicked off a big debate as you say about gender, but the debate was 'why are men getting more money than the women', you'd like that sort of transparency wouldn't you. Make sure the male presenters don't get more?
ROWLAND: On the other hand you have a situation where not only did it reveal the salaries of the talent at the public broadcaster, but also made it easier for commercial outlets to up the ante and try and poach some of this talent. Now David Speers made this point very eloquently I thought in his comments last night on this matter, so if we want to go down that path then One Nation needs to ask 'what is this?', and the government needs to explain 'what is this going to achieve?'.
MAIDEN: You got a lot of flack for your comments a couple of months ago, where you said essentially that just because everyone's happy with this, why should we change it. Isn't the point that, we've arrived at a particular point in history where all of the media companies have come together, they don't necessarily like everything, they haven't necessarily got everything that they want, but they see that it is vital for the industry that reform occurs so they've tried to reach a consensus. Isn't Labor going to look very isolated, very isolated on this important policy issue if you're just not a player in it at all and it passes in some form via the crossbench.
ROWLAND: Firstly, I don't accept that characterisation at all. We have been very clear in formulating our policy based on the evidence before us, and the facts are that we have one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. Now if you want to examine where the sector goes from here, why isn't the Minister doing something about establishing some sort of road-map about where were going? We've got these disparate inquiries into everything from local content, now throwing the ABC into it, there is nothing co-ordinated at all about this matter. This is not an issue on which we should be doing just deals - just deals - and seeing which stakeholders agree and which don't. You need to assess public policy on all the merits, all the merits of the issue. This Minister has indicated he is absolutely incompetent at doing that.