Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014

22 October 2014

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Minister for Communications) (12:53): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

As the Prime Minister said in the House earlier today, and as Parliamentary Secretary Frydenberg just said with great energy and persuasion a moment ago, the key task of any government and especially this government is to help not hinder businesses and individuals to do their work, to innovate, to go about their lives and to ensure that we are enablers of every aspiration, every dream that the citizens and the businesses of Australia have.

As far as regulations are concerned, in enacting regulation and considering regulation to meet a policy objective, as the parliamentary secretary said, echoing the Prime Minister, governments should use regulation as a last resort and always look for a simpler, more straightforward answer. Is regulation needed? Because we are in the business of making laws, there is a tendency for governments and parliaments to assume that every problem needs a law, every problem needs a new regulation. And it does not. We need to be very practical and focused on ensuring that there is the lightest touch on business, consistent with achieving our policy objectives.

In terms of existing regulations, our statute books are littered with regulations that are an unnecessary burden on business. I will not repeat the parliamentary secretary's address, but I thought he set out very well the way in which the government, by going through this exercise of regular spring cleaning, is able to save billions of dollars of expense off the shoulders of business, and indeed off the shoulders of government, because of course unnecessary regulation has a cost both to business and to government.

The approach that we need to take with every regulation is to say firstly in respect of it: what is the policy objective this regulation is designed to achieve? Is that policy objective still relevant? Do we still agree with it? If the answer to that is no then the regulation should go. But if the answer is yes, yes the policy objective is still a valid one and a relevant one, then the question is: is there a smarter, cheaper and more efficient way of achieving that policy objective?

The innovations that we have seen in terms of digital platforms that the parliamentary secretary and the Prime Minister described earlier in this debate are so relevant. The fact is that invariably legislation and regulation are playing catch-up with technology. Technology is moving so quickly we cannot just sit back and think that when we are making laws with respect to transactions and regulations between citizens and government, we can leave them there forever untouched. The technological context in which they operate is changing so quickly we have to make sure the laws can be brought up to date. That is why, ideally, one should have a minimal level of regulation because the less regulation you have, the less you have to update and spring clean, and we should endeavour wherever possible to make that regulation technology agnostic so that as technologies change they continue to be effective.

Turning to the specifics of the Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill, I note that the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors, which are within my responsibility and my department, are two of the most heavily regulated parts of the Australian economy. Their regulatory frameworks are still fundamentally based in a mid-1990s world of relatively stable technologies and business models. They are still in large measure pre-internet regulations. The world we live in today has seen the rise of the internet and mobile devices. Smart phones have become ubiquitous. And we have social media and fast broadband networks, not just the NBN Co but so many other wireless networks and so forth. Of course empowering all of this, is the rise of cloud computing. The combination of greater computing capacity, greater telecommunications capacity and innovation has utterly transformed the communications environment in which we live.

The pressures that these changes will make on our regulatory arrangements will only increase. We will always seek, as we go through our deregulatory agenda in this portfolio, to ensure that we strike the right balance between deregulation and ensuring that there is diversity in our media industry, whilst always ensuring that consumer protections are both effective and relevant.

As part of the first repeal day, we removed more than 1,000 pages of unnecessary regulation in my portfolio, which has saved the communication sector $35 million a year. Today my parliamentary secretary and enthusiastic deregulator, the member of for Bradfield and I are announcing a package of measures to eliminate yet more unnecessary red tape and remove more onerous and outdated reporting requirements across the sector. Of course, many of the reforms in the broadcasting and communications area have been included in the omnibus package that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister spoke to a moment ago, but a number of measures are dealt with in specific bills dealing with broadcasting and later my parliamentary secretary will deal with similar deregulatory changes in the telecom sector.

This bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Radiocommunications Act 1992 and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005. It removes unnecessary legislation and reduces the regulatory burden on the broadcasting industry. The bill will implement a number of broadcasting related measures identified in the communications deregulation road map I released in May this year. It will also address issues raised through extensive consultation with industry and accessibility advocates. The bill will remove some of the onerous requirements placed on the free-to-air broadcasters and subscription television licensees, streamline and simplify broadcasting legislation and save industry time and money.

Schedule 4 to the Broadcasting Services Act provided the regulatory framework for the transition from analog to digital-only television broadcasting. The last terrestrial analog television services were switched off on 10 December 2013. After completion of digital switchover in each licence area, the restack program commenced. This restack program involves the progressive reorganisation of television services in terms of their location in the spectrum across Australia. This is to ensure that broadcasters do not use the digital dividend spectrum, which was the spectrum vacated as a consequence of the switch to digital, and a large part of it has been licenced for the purpose of wireless broadband, and also to ensure that television services are transmitted in a more spectrally efficient matter. The restack program is on schedule to be completed by 31 December 2014. Therefore, many of the licensing and planning provisions in broadcasting legislation that regulated the industry during the simulcast period are redundant or, for the purpose of restack, are about to be. This bill will remove or amend those provisions.

The bill will also amend the framework for the planning of broadcasting services band spectrum by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. While many of these planning provisions were necessary when the ACMA first established its planning instruments, many are now considered onerous, given the other legislative requirements the ACMA is required to adhere to.

Reflecting stakeholder feedback, the communications portfolio deregulation road map identified captioning reporting as an area for reform in 2014. The ACMA and my department have consulted with industry and key accessibility groups on a range of potential reforms that primarily seek to improve administrative arrangements for the free-to-air broadcasters and subscription television licensees while requiring that they continue to meet their captioning obligations. I want to make it quite clear that broadcasting licensees will still be required to meet the same specified level of captioning for television programs to assist viewers with hearing impairment. In recent years, captioning requirements on the free to air television stations have gradually increased to such an extent that it has become very clear to consumers when services do not meet them. This allows a move to a complaints based system instead of the existing onerous annual reporting arrangements. The change will reduce compliance costs for free-to-air broadcasters and it is a condition of commercial broadcasters licences that they do supply captioning services and a breach is a serious offence which could result in a direction from the ACMA or, in more extreme cases, the suspension of a licence.

The captioning requirements placed on subscription television licensees, pay television licensees, are considerably more complex than those applying to free-to-air television broadcasters. Subscription television licensees are required to provide differing levels of captioning over a 24-hour period on different channels, which means there is currently no easy way for consumers accurately to know whether a particular program is required to be captioned. A move to a full complaints based system for subscription television licensees therefore is not appropriate for these licensees at this time. To achieve a better outcome in the long term, the Department of Communications will conduct further consultation with the industry to identify ways in which the subscription television captioning regime could be improved to best suit the needs of all stakeholders. In the meantime, this bill introduces a number of measures designed to enhance flexibility and to reduce the regulatory burden on subscription television broadcasters.

The amendments will also reduce record keeping requirements and provide greater flexibility for the ACMA when assessing whether subscription and free-to-air broadcasters are providing high-quality captioning services. Among these changes, there is the amendment of section 130ZV to allow for the aggregation of captioning targets across an identified associated group of sports channels which would allow a channel provider to direct its live captioning budget to those events of greatest interest to subscribers. To ensure that subscription broadcasters are not able to meet the entire aggregated target on one channel we are also setting a minimum captioning level for each channel. This will assist in ensuring an appropriate distribution of caption content across the various types of sports content.

The bill will also make changes to the way in which increases in population affect the regulation of broadcasters.

It will do this by providing grandfathering relief for commercial broadcasting licensees that, through no fault of their own, would otherwise be placed in breach of the statutory control rules and local content rules for commercial radio if they maintained their existing operations. This measure will ensure a more consistent application of grandfathering arrangements to deal with any inadvertent consequences arising from changes in population.

The bill will also correct an anomaly in the way certain licence areas are treated with respect to the media ownership and control rules. This will make sure that the method used to calculate media diversity voices—the requirement variously five or four independent media voices—more accurately reflects the practical reality of commercial radio services available to residents in certain licence areas.

The bill will ensure, for example, that, where a smaller commercial radio licence area is entirely within another larger commercial radio licence area, the commercial radio services licensed to operate in the larger licence area are also counted as media diversity voices in the smaller licence area.

Finally, the bill repeals section 123A which requires the ACMA to conduct periodic reviews to assess whether a number of provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act operate in accordance with prevailing community standards. The provisions require industry codes of practice to apply the classification system provided by the Classification (Publication, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to films that are broadcast and include additional measures to ensure that films are suitably modified, broadcast in appropriate time zones, and that consumers are aware of the reasons for a particular film's classification.

I note there has never been a review under section 123A since its enactment in 1992 as there are alternative mechanisms for the ACMA to determine whether these provisions operate in accordance with prevailing community standards. This may be based upon the volume of complaints received from viewers or the ACMA's own inquiries. Codes of practice are also periodically reviewed and the ACMA is required to ensure that a draft code provides appropriate community protection.

The bill also repeals a similar provision that applies to datacasters which also suffers from the same redundancy as section 123A. This particular provision is even more unnecessary as there has never been an industry code of practice for datacasters. Both provisions are clearly redundant and should be repealed.

The government is committed to reforming broadcasting legislation, particularly in areas where onerous regulation is holding the industry back. This reform process, this deregulation process, does not end today; it will be a continuing part of the Abbott government's agenda as the Prime Minister has said today. Every government, I think, in the history of civilisation has promised to cut red tape and to deregulate. We are determined not just to talk about it but to do it. This bill and many others that are being introduced today are evidence of that. I commend the bill to the House.

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