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

ABC News Breakfast, ABC Studio Canberra, 7:05am

8 August 2017

E & OE

Subject: Same-sex marriage and media reform

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:
We're joined by the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield from Canberra. Minister good morning thank you for making time for news breakfast.

FIFIELD:
Good morning, Virginia.

TRIOLI:
Just starting off with that issue of same-sex marriage, so if we understand it correctly, back to the Senate, then a postal plebiscite, then a parliamentary vote.  Is all of that, and all that time, the best use of your time?

FIFIELD:
Well, Virginia, this could have been done and dusted in February this year if Bill Shorten hadn't stood in the way of us honouring our election commitment to give the Australian people the opportunity to have their say through a plebiscite. It was a commitment that was very clear at the election. We were elected.  We were honour-bound to give effect to that. We endeavoured to do so.  But Bill Shorten stopped us. That's why we're still talking about this. That's why this issue hasn't been resolved.

TRIOLI:
I don't think those seven dissenters within your party would say they are doing this because of Bill Shorten. It's because they actually believe that the Government, the Government that actually has the reins should do something about it when it seems the majority of Australians have a strong view on this?

FIFIELD:
Well, we take very seriously the commitments that we make at elections.  And it would be passing strange if we didn't seek to give effect to an election commitment. So, this, as I say, could have already been dealt with if Bill Shorten had gotten out of the way. And let's not forget, Virginia, that in 2013, at the Australian Christian Lobby annual conference, Bill Shorten himself said he thought a plebiscite was a good idea. It remains a good idea and what we want to do is give the Australian people the opportunity to have their say.

TRIOLI:
Now, is the Government certain that the postal plebiscite can stand up to a legal challenge, because that has been foreshadowed?

FIFIELD:
Our first objective and our preference is to have a compulsory attendance plebiscite that is legislated.  And that's what we will endeavour to do later this week in the Senate. If that isn't to pass, then we're still determined to seek to give effect to our election commitment and, in that circumstance, we would seek to pursue a postal ballot and we're confident that it's both legal and constitutional.

TRIOLI:
So you're confident are you? That was my particular question: Are confident it will stand up to a High Court challenge? You've had legal advice on this have you?

FIFIELD:
We wouldn't be looking at this as a proposition if we didn't think it was valid.

TRIOLI:
Have you had legal advice on it?

FIFIELD:
We always when we have propositions take appropriate advice.

TRIOLI:
And have you sought formal legal advice on a postal plebiscite, a last throw of the dice if you like?

FIFIELD:
Virginia we are going to have our Joint Party Room meeting today when we will talk about the mechanics of these things and we'll have more to say after that.

TRIOLI:
Let's move onto media reforms it looks like the Greens are willing to sit down and talk Turkey to you now. Will the Greens get you there?

FIFIELD:
I'm having really good discussions with the Greens, with One Nation and with Nick Xenophon's team. That's the interesting thing about this Senate.  They said it wouldn't work, but we've had great success with this Senate.  And that's been thanks to the productive and cooperative approach of the Senate crossbench.
It hasn't been because the Australian Labor Party have stepped up to the mark as the alternative government. It has been because we've had good dealings with our crossbench colleagues and they've been prepared to entertain good propositions.

TRIOLI:
So on that comment you made but having good conversations with One Nation, are they on board next change for cutting the ABC's funding?

FIFIELD:
We haven't reached any agreements with any parties in relation to media reform.  But I should point out that in the Budget before last, we established the funding for the ABC for the three years, for the triennium, and we didn't alter that in the last Budget.

TRIOLI:
And would you alter that as part of getting One Nation's support in this particular matter?

FIFIELD:

We lay out that funding on a triennium basis so the ABC knows the environment that they could operate in.

TRIOLI:
So would you rule that out as a negotiating point?

FIFIELD:
I can't stop political parties putting different propositions to us.

TRIOLI:
No, but you can decide your actions?

FIFIELD:
Yes.  All I can tell you is what the facts are.  And the facts are that we've laid out the ABC's funding.

TRIOLI:
Now, Nick Xenophon is interested in talking to you and interested in discussing this matter with you as well, in exchange for making sure that there are some recommendations to boost news coverage. Can you actually legislate for that?

FIFIELD:
As you would appreciate, the various parties are putting a range of different propositions to us. We're talking to them about those propositions. My policy has always been that I don't provide a commentary on those discussions.

TRIOLI:
Is further market shrinkage and less diversity a possible unintended consequence of these changes?

FIFIELD:
I think the real threat to diversity would be the failure of an Australian media organisation. Our media reform package is all about ensuring that we have strong Australian media voices.  And getting rid of the 75% audience reach rule and the 2 out of 3 rule are about giving Australian media organisations more options in terms of how they configure themselves to best support their businesses.  So my real fear is the loss of an Australian media organisation when it comes to diversity.  


But you should remember that we also have remaining protections. We're not going to get rid of the two to a market radio rule, where you can only have two licences in one market. We're not going to get rid of the one to a market TV rule, where you can only have one TV licence in a market.  Also we've got what we've what's called the 5-4 or voices rule, which says that you have got to have five independent media voices in metro and four in the regions. There will still be the ACCC's competition ruler to be run over any proposition.  So still important diversity protections.  But what we really want to do is give Australian media organisations a fighting chance.

TRIOLI:
Just finally this morning I just wanted to ask you Minister about some really interesting IPSOS analysis yesterday in the Fairfax papers. They basically rejected both Malcolm Turnbull and the Leader of the Opposition in despair. And instead found that politicians such as Derryn Hinch and Pauline Hanson and the like, as far more worthy of their esteem because they were independent and spoke their mind. Why do you think Malcolm Turnbull finds to so hard to stand up and stand for something? As the IPSOS analysis has found, these are not my words.  This is a concept given by those voters who are polled by IPSOS.  

FIFIELD:
Well Malcolm Turnbull does stand up for things every day.  

TRIOLI:
Sorry to jump into, I'm going to have to because this is the premise of entire research and my question which is the voters don't see it. Now let's say you're right and he does, how come he is not communicating that?

FIFIELD:
Well, it is a job for all of us to communicate what we're standing up for. We stood up for and legislated the Australian Building and Construction Commission reestablishment.  We stood up for and legislated the establishment of a Registered Organisations Commission, so trade unions leaders are subject to the same requirements as company directors. We are standing up for our election commitment to have a plebiscite on same-sex marriage so that people can have their say. What we need to do is articulate what we're doing.  And what we hope is that when the next election comes, the Australian people recognise what it is that we've done.

TRIOLI:
Mitch Fifield, we'll leave it there. Thanks for your time today.

FIFIELD:
Thanks, indeed.


[ends]

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