28 June 2017

The Turnbull Government has started to pick away at its own Media Reform package, with the announcement of interim financial relief for commercial broadcasters.

The Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield, states that the package has the unanimous support of industry and must be dealt with as a whole, even as he undermines that approach.                                    

Where is the support for the subscription television industry? Where is the relief for the independent production sector?  Where is the ‘community dividend’ for the Australian public? Nowhere to be seen.

Aside from its unequal treatment of various industry groups, this incompetent Government is now robbing the public purse of a return on broadcasters’ use of the spectrum. Removing commercial broadcasting licence fees for the 2016-17 financial year is worth around $127 million and begs the question: What return does the Australian public get for broadcasters’ use of the spectrum over that same period?

Yet again, this hapless Minister for Communications proves he is incapable of anything but piecemeal and ad-hoc tinkering.

It is remarkable that the Turnbull Government came away from Parliament last week with nothing to show on media reform, despite having Labor’s support for all but one of their proposed measures. With Labor’s support, the Government could have passed the majority of its media reform measures through Parliament by now, including licence fee abolition and the introduction of a new spectrum tax.

Labor opposes one measure only – the repeal of the 2 out of 3 rule – on serious public interest grounds. This position is evidence-based and is not up for trade as part of some backroom deal that would see further consolidation of Australia’s already heavily concentrated media sector.  Twice now, Minister Fifield has tried and failed to get repeal of the 2 out of 3 rule through the Senate. This is a ‘wake-up call’ for Government that this proposal is simply not in the public interest.

The Turnbull Government has been in office for almost four years now, yet seeks to blame Labor for its failure to secure the passage of media reform through Parliament, even though it is plain for all to see that Coalition Senators actively frustrated and delayed the vote on the bills in the Senate last week. While Labor had only two speakers, Minister Fifield lined up no less than eleven senators to filibuster so that a vote on his own bills would not be reached. Proceedings are available at this link

Minister Fifield has only himself to blame for his inadequate attempts at media reform, yet his most recent media release mentions Labor six times. If the Minister focussed less on playing the blame game and more on working constructively with Labor, he may have achieved something by now.