05 May 2017

Today the Turnbull Government announced a reactive grab-bag of political fixes, cobbled together to grease the path for its flawed “media reform” package, announced over a year ago.

While there are more pieces in the package this time around, it's still piecemeal.

Nothing in the package changes the fact that Australia has one of the most highly concentrated media markets in the world. Labor is deeply concerned that this Government continues to flog the notion that even greater media concentration, by abolition of the two out of three rule, is in the public interest.

Nothing in the package hides the fact that this Communications Minister has no vision for adapting our media laws for the contemporary environment. Two of the key measures – on gambling advertising and funding of women’s sport – are Labor policy ideas and industry itself proposed and brokered the changes to the anti-siphoning list.

Nothing in the package articulates a principles-based policy or roadmap for a sector in transition, undergoing transformational change. It’s anyone’s guess as to where the Government is headed on content reform, and while the report of the Spectrum Review was released two years ago, there’s still no sign of the exposure draft of legislation or a statement on broadcast policy to inform the proposed abolition of broadcast licence fees.

Labor led the way in addressing community concerns around gambling advertising in 2013. In March 2017 Labor moved a motion in Parliament calling on the Government to work with broadcasters and sporting organisations to address the issue of gambling ads before and during live sports broadcasts. This hypocritical Government voted against the motion only to announce gambling advertising restrictions in live sporting events a few weeks later. 

Labor announced funding to support broadcasting of women’s sport as part of its 2016 election platform. Now, a year later, the Government announces a similar measure.

Labor is committed to ensuring Australians enjoy coverage of premium sporting events on free-to-air television. The proposed tweaks to the anti-siphoning list appear to be a modest trim already permitted within the scheme, with other changes in the nature of regulatory housekeeping.

The announcement of a content review has taken over three and a half years to be made, with the Minister’s dawdling creating uncertainty for content producers. Labor is committed to a well supported and funded Australian film and television industry and to Australian stories being created and told by Australian performers and crew in Australian film and television production. There is nothing however in the package announced today to support independent screen production in terms of hours, expenditure, promotion and access.

In Government Labor provided licence fee reliefin recognition of the impact of the GFC on local content production and in the context of the digital switchover. Labor also supported licence fee reduction in last year’s Budget. Labor has previously stated that any examination of further licence fee reduction should be considered in the context of spectrum reform. Yet the long wait for progress on spectrum reform continues.

Labor believes it is imperative that Australians reap a return on the use by broadcasters of the radiofrequency spectrum, a valuable public asset. This includes blind and vision-impaired Australians who need audio description.

Labor is committed to the execution of sound evidence-based policy to support a strong, healthy, responsible and independent media sector operating in the public interest in Australia.

Labor will seriously consider the Government’s proposals and consult with the sector.

We don’t want to see another year wasted by a Government that refuses to ask the big questions and tries to pass regulatory housekeeping off as major reform.

Labor will continue to work with industry to tackle the fundamental issues facing the media ecosystem, including the influence of global competitors, over the top (OTT) and telco providers when it comes to sports rights, Australian content, children’s content, local content and fair and accurate coverage of matters in the public interest.