27 May 2015

I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise and oppose this bill before us, the Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility and Other Measures) Bill 2015, because this bill goes to the heart of the deceit of this government. The genesis of this bill is a broken promise. This bill has been made possible because of this Prime Minister's broken promise. In fact, it is the embodiment of this government's dishonesty.


What is this bill about? It is about more advertising on prime time SBS viewing as a direct consequence of this Prime Minister's broken promise. That is all it is. This bill seeks to amend the SBS Act to increase the amount of advertising that can be shown in SBS prime time—6pm to midnight—from five to 10 minutes per hour. So it is a doubling of the amount of advertising.

On the night before the election, the now Prime Minister stared down the barrel of an SBS camera and said there would be no cuts to the SBS. Despite this, the 2014-15 bu dget included a funding cut of $53.7 million over five years for the SBS; $25.2 million of this was in direct cuts. The SBS argues that the amount was found through back-office efficiencies. A further $28.5 million was cut on the basis of allowing SBS to alternatively raise the revenue through legislative amendment and its advertising restrictions, which is the subject matter of this bill. In summary, this bill has been introduced to cover the cuts made by this government to the SBS despite explicitly promising the night before the election not to do so.

As I am sure my colleagues have mentioned, and as my colleague the member for Melbourne Ports so eloquently put it, the SBS has, and continues to play, a vitally important role in the Australian media landscape, and has done since its inception. When new citizens who spoke little English wanted to find out about a historic Labor initiative called Medicare, they turned to SBS. Indeed, SBS earned the respect of the Australia people. It deserves this parliament's respect and the support of government to continue its path of innovation and comprehensive broadcasting, and the fulfilment of its roles in Australian society. I believe any attempt to water down this remit must be rejected.

As I would also point out, we have seen leaders in this sector really come out against this bill. I quote an article by Matthew Knott from The Sydney Morning Herald in October last year:

The move has infuriated the commercial TV sector, which says more prime-time advertising will drive SBS towards more populist, advertiser-friendly programming.

In the words of Harold Mitchell of Free TV Australia:

This would create by stealth a fourth commercial network. If this happens, the free-to-air television networks will be up in arms.

He also said:

I don't believe the minister will allow this to happen.

This is the bill we have before us. It is opposed by Free TV Australia, the commercial networks and Foxtel. As has been pointed out—even though reputable organisations like FECCA note in their submission that it is something that is going to happen—they are doing this very clearly through gritted teeth. You only have to look at the transcript from the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, which, in fact, is not due to report until 29 May. So tonight we are debating and will divide on this bill for which a parliamentary inquiry in the other place is still occurring and for which an extension of time has been granted until 29 May to report.

When you look at this transcript, you can see from Ms Grammatikakis of FECCA:

We have found ourselves in a conflicting position. We have found ourselves between a rock and a hard place given the current situation. On principle FECCA would not wish to see increased advertising on SBS; however, we are concerned that if this bill does pass or does not pass it could mean cuts to programs, to services and to opportunities to invest in additional initiatives that we believe could benefit our multicultural and multilingual Australian community.

So here we have it. I will just continue the quote:

FECCA—and this has been our position all along—has repeatedly called on the government to reinstate the funding …

That has been their first call.

You can see quite clearly that this is a government which is seeking to blackmail—just as it has in other pieces of legislation and other policy areas that it is trying to pursue. We see this in child care funding—a choice between increased childcare funding or adequate childcare funding—and cuts to family assistance and family tax benefits. It is just like how this government has tried to tie research funding to its higher education cuts. This is typical policy blackmail of this government writ large in this bill.

I have a suggestion for them: stop breaking your promises. There was the explicit promise before the election not to cut funding. I just to go to the point made earlier this year in an article by Matthew Knott from the Herald:

SBS will have to immediately axe local programs and lay off staff unless Parliament passes legislation allowing it to double the amount of advertising it can air in prime time, the multicultural broadcaster has warned.

The article goes on to quote the broadcaster:

Without the flexibility to generate further revenue, SBS will be forced to implement immediate cuts to its programs and services …

Apparently an online survey of over 1,000 people conducted by SBS found that 73 per cent of respondents would prefer increased advertising on SBS rather than cuts to local content. What sort of question is that? Would you like to choose between having less content or having more advertising—doubling the amount of advertising in prime time? Again, I would say to this government: stop breaking your promises. There is the solution for that one.

I also point out that this government has a zero mandate to undertake the measure that is before us right now. I quote from the Free TV submission on the regulation impact statement, which quite correctly states:

Commercial broadcasters should not be required to subsidise funding cuts to a government-funded broadcaster.

Such will be the impact on the Free TV sector that it will result in a situation where they are subsidising others. But just do not think it is the view of Free TV. I quote here from the Foxtel submission to the Senate inquiry, which rightly points out:

Foxtel is aware that there has been debate about the potential financial impact of the amendments on the commercial free-to-air television sector. While Foxtel does not express a view on these calculations, we note that it is evident that no consideration has been given to the impact of the amendments on the subscription TV sector.

The explanatory memorandum states:

… it is not certain that any increase in SBS advertising spend will draw away revenue that would have otherwise gone to other commercial free-to-air broadcasters.

That is proved wrong by Free TV in its submission, but as Foxtel points out there is no reference to the subscription TV sector at all. The main tenet of this argument is that further commercialisation of SBS—and here I am referring to representative groups such as Save Our SBS—is that further commercialisation of SBS would undermine the ability of SBS to adhere to its charter responsibility to educate and entertain all Australians. That effectively creates a fourth commercial network by stealth, as Harold Mitchell comments, given the advertising restrictions that would essentially mirror those placed on commercial networks. I agree.

The President of Save Our SBS, Steve Aujard, has stated that, if passed, the proposed changes will make SBS look 'no different from commercial TV'. It is a great concern to me what the impact of doubling advertising in prime time will have on SBS and its charter requirements and it should also be a concern of every member of this House. Even the government's Lewis review made this point:

... there will be a greater pressure on SBS management to consider the trade-off of delivering on commercial expectations, against delivering those functions described in the SBS Charter.

Beyond the flawed rationale for this bill and the industry opposition, which is substantial, it is also worth looking at the minister's positions and statements on public broadcasting. I note that the Save Our SBS website reports:

In 2011, Malcolm Turnbull told Save Our SBS that if he had been in the Parliament in 1991-the year that SBS was granted permission to broadcast advertisements-he would have crossed the floor and voted against that.

So, according to Save Our SBS, the minister told them that he would have crossed the floor to vote against advertising on SBS—and he feels so strongly about it that he now seeks to increase prime time ads on the multicultural broadcaster. That is according to the Save Our SBS website.

Mr Turnbull interjecting

If that is incorrect, I am sure the minister will correct the record. Since we are talking about public broadcasters, I would also like to take issue with our minister's recent directive, if I could call it that, to journalists on our public broadcasters. Recently on The Bolt Report the minister urged senior SBS journalists to adopt a less aggressive style of interviewing. Quite frankly, I would suggest, and I know that many people on this side would also suggest, that the minister would be well advised to stay away from offering advice on the interviewing styles of journalists on our public broadcasters. If he thinks that that is appropriate and he likes to stay close to directing editorial content then sobeit, but it is not something that is looked upon kindly by the public.

This bill is an attempt to blackmail the parliament into supporting this government's explicit broken promise. If the bill is passed, it will tip the scales too far in favour of profit over public benefit—and all for the sake of a broken promise. I urge this parliament not to be coerced into supporting this government's broken promises. I will not be part of a vote which goes towards assisting this government to break it promises.

Lastly, whilst we are talking about SBS, it would be remiss of me not to mention an issue that is very close to the member for Chifley's heart and is also one that is very close to mine, and that is the recent broadcast of the series Struggle Street. I am all in favour of a creativity. I am all in favour of telling Australian stories. I am disappointed that I missed the member for Chifley's contribution, but I will look it up later. Whilst we have this opportunity for people to create and tell stories that we find difficult to hear, I would have preferred—and I would think there is plenty of material to demonstrate it—stories about the success of individuals of Mount Druitt. I refer to this in particular because, obviously, it is something close to my heart, and it is not the first time I have mentioned it in this place. I think my husband is one of the best examples of someone who has been a leader in the Mount Druitt community, someone who grew up in a public housing estate in Shalvey. He could not speak English when he started school but through the care of his local Shalvey public school and then Shalvey high school and the teachers there, through his parents and through the initiative that he took himself, he is now a senior partner with Corrs Chambers Westgarth. How does that happen for someone from a Lebanese background who could not speak English when he started school, who grew up in a public housing estate? That is not in the script. That is not the script that is supposed to happen, but it should be the script—it should be a success story that is told.

I can think of any number of success stories out of Mount Druitt, where young people in particular need to see role models. We have been talking a lot today about social cohesion. One of the key drivers of social cohesion is having role models to show you that 'I can achieve my dreams if I persist, if I work hard, if I have patience, if I apply myself, if I ensure that I do whatever I do with enthusiasm and attention to detail.' I would have thought that that would have been either a good ending to Struggle Street or certainly a part 2 of Struggle Street. A lot of people in our community are doing it hard—and often doing it hard, may I say, because of the decisions of this government, including the abolition of very successful transition to work programs and abolishing very important organisations like Blacktown Community Aid, which has had to close its doors after 41 years. It stayed around for four decades—it survived the GFC, it survived everything else, but this government is so mean that it cannot enable such an important grassroots community organisation to continue doing its work.

As I said, the genesis of this bill is a broken promise. We on this side will not be party to assisting this government to break their promises. If they feel the need to do that, if they feel like doing this even without having the report of the Senate inquiry, then they can be my guest. But we will not be part of it.