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Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Sky News PVO News Day

20 January 2016

E & OE

Subjects: ABC, beard, media reform, NSW Liberal Party

VAN ONSELEN:

I'm joined now by the Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield. Thanks very much for your company.

FIFIELD:

Good to see you Peter.

VAN ONSELEN:

Can I start with the ABC you've made comments in the past about how you'd like to see stronger regional television for the ABC not just regional radio news services which we know they really do have a monopoly over. What are you thinking in that respect? How can the ABC recalibrate in your view to be able to do more for regional television in particular?

FIFIELD:

Look my point has been that the ABC is there to service all Australians including the regions. There was a bit of an issue at the end of last year when the ABC sought to amend its regional radio formatting which caused some concern in the community. And that just really highlighted to me what a valuable and important role that the ABC plays in the regions. It's an issue that my parliamentary colleagues are very keen about and you would have seen that Bridget McKenzie, who is a Senate colleague from Victoria, has put forward a private Senators bill to make some suggestions as to how the ABC might be more regionally focussed. Now that doesn't represent Government policy, but I'm very happy for my Parliamentary colleagues to float ideas as to how the ABC can best meet its charter. .

VAN ONSELEN:

At the risk of moving away from a very important subject to one that's a bit more light hearted, having asked the first question down the barrel of a camera. I now have noticed the beard that you're sporting. Is that a change of pace for 2016 or is that going to come off when the Parliament returns?

FIFIELD:

Look it's a new and subtle form of disruption Peter. But look I just thought it was important to show Chris Bowen and Ed Husic what a real beard looks like.

VAN ONSELEN:

Fair enough. Let's get back to media ownership laws. You have already made some comments this year about changes. We are really more talking about the two out of three rule but surely mixed into any sort of package you will also have to look at cross media ownership laws as well?

FIFIELD:

Well we have as you know essentially five laws, or rules, which govern the media landscape that were drafted in a pre-digital world, for a pre-digital world. And two of the significant ones are the 75 per cent reach rule, which is often focused on, which prevents TV from having more than 75 per cent audience reach through the nation, and obviously that doesn't make a whole lot of sense now that we've got live streaming with 100 per cent reach. But in terms of what you might call cross media ownership there's the two out of three rule which prevents someone from owning more than two out of the three regulated platforms of print, radio and TV in a particular area. Now I think that also should be looked at.

VAN ONSELEN:

Is that going to change?

FIFIELD:

Well it's one of the ones I'm seriously looking at along with the reach rule because Australians have a lot of options, they have a lot of choices. Technology is changing the way that they access their media. It's giving them more choices. And so both the reach rule and the two out of three rule are gradually being rendered redundant. And look they were well intentioned when they were first put into place. It was to ensure that there was diversity of media. But we have diversity of media by virtue of technology. That's not something that we need to be so concerned about today.

VAN ONSELEN:

What about the likelihood of being able to actually get the changes through? Because it's one thing to hear you as the Minister talking about them becoming redundant and taking the view that they have to be looked at, and I couldn't agree more quite frankly. But the whole other thing obviously as a Senator, putting your cap on as having been the Manager of Government Business in the upper house for a while now, dealing with the crossbenchers, dealing with the Labor Party. We've heard soundings from your opposite Jason Clare that he's open to these discussions. Particularly the 75 reach one, but the two out of three around cross media ownership laws does seem a little bit more contentious potentially. How do you think it's going to go? Even if the Government settles on the policy when you then have to take it to the Senate?

FIFIELD:

Look as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate I am by nature a Senate optimist who sees the Senate as a wonderful place of opportunity. Jason Clare is a good and sensible and reasonable person. He takes a very deep and sincere interest in public policy and he's indicated publicly that they are open to removing the reach rule. The two out of three rule, the Opposition have said look, put forward a proposition and we'll take a look. So I'm optimistic. I've had good discussions with the crossbench as well as my Coalition Party Room colleagues. What it really comes down to, where the rubber really hits the road is the issue of protection for local content. And what most people mean when they say that is protection for local news services. We as a Government are pretty much ownership agnostic. Warren Truss earlier today I think made that point in a doorstop. We're not really fussed who owns media, we think it's for business to configure themselves in the way that they think suits their model best and that can give them viability. That's one of the reasons why we want to change the media laws is to enable business to do that. Because if you've got a viable business then they're going to be in a much better position to provide local content. But I understand that there's a desire amongst colleagues and in the community that in any changed landscape where there may be mergers or reconfigurations, that the local content that is currently there is protected. Now we do have local content requirements attached to TV licenses in certain markets. But there are many regional TV providers who actually present local news and local content in excess of their license requirements. So we would want to see in any legislative package, mechanisms to ensure that local content was protected. And as regional TV providers tell me that getting scale will put them in a better position to present local content, then I don't imagine that they will have much difficulty with a sensible approach in legislation to local content.

VAN ONSELEN:Moving to internal party matters, as a Victorian are you just looking at what's going on in New South Wales and shaking your head and thinking fella's, get it together?

FIFIELD:

Look I was a member of the New South Wales Division of the Party for about 8 years before I moved to Victoria 25 plus years ago. And I'm very happy in the Victorian Division of the Party. One of the good things about our Party, I think in contrast with Labor, is that we do have open, transparent and democratic processes where it's the individual branch members who make the decisions. And they really do make their own decisions.

VAN ONSELEN:

That doesn't really happen though in New South Wales. I've got to pull you up on that Senator because whilst I know that there's been a shift in that direction, I'm writing about this for a feature in the Australian tomorrow. There's been that shift right around divisions around Australia. Here in Western Australia, where I am, where you are in Victoria. Not really in New South Wales, that's why the Prime Minister was effectively laughed at late last year when he said there are no factions in the Liberal Party to a New South Wales division audience. They broke into laughter because the structures support factionalism there in a way that perhaps they don't as much in States like your own.

FIFIELD:

Look there are people who have particular tendencies. There are people who will gather around strong personalities from time to time. But that's just human nature and happens in any organisation. But we don't have in the Liberal Party, dictation to individual branch members by trade union blocks. Who can and do direct people how to vote. The Liberal Party just really doesn't operate like that.

VAN ONSELEN:

Alright Mitch Fifield we appreciate your time as always here on News Day, thank you very much for finding the time for us in this January period before Parliamentary sitting coming up in the first half of the year.

FIFIELD:

Absolutely, but as I say, the Senate is a wonderful place of opportunity. And people should resist the temptation to only tune in to the green chamber. Look at the red one for a change.

VAN ONSELEN:

Well we'll keep an eye on it when we assess Question Time this year with David Speers, thanks for your company.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Peter.

Media contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | justine.sywak@communications.gov.au

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