Minister for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

A/g Minister for Regional Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

ABC AM Canberra with Sabra Lane

29 August 2017

SABRA LANE:

Until America’s number one Network CBA swooped in the buy the troubled Ten Network yesterday it was believed that Lachlan Murdoch and the WIN Corporation Executive Chairman Bruce Gordon were the front runners to claim it.  But both men have been thwarted by existing media rules preventing each from owning the network. The Federal Government have been working to try and changes to those rules, and in a touch of irony, the delay in securing that support in the Senate gave CBS the time it needed to organise it’s successful bid.

To discuss it we are joined by Senator Mitch Fifield the Communications and Arts Minister.  Thank you and good morning, welcome to AM.

FIFIELD:

Good morning Sabra.

LANE:

Where you surprised by CBS’ decision to buy Ten?

FIFIELD:

Well these are ultimately matters for the receivers and administrators of the Ten Network.  And what they are looking to do is to ensure there is a network that is stable, secure, broadcasting and employing.  So I welcome that.

LANE:

You welcome it but did it surprise you?  It seemed to come out of nowhere.  People were being told that Mr Lachlan Murdoch and Mr Gordon were the only front runners around.

FIFIELD:

Well I never cease to be surprised in the media environment.  But look what we want to see are good, strong Australian media organisations.  And that’s what our media reform package is all about.  And I have got to say it was a peculiar sight yesterday, Bill Shorten basically breaking a hamstring to jump on board the receivers and administrator announcement, searching for some strange justification for why he isn’t supporting our media reform package. It’s still needed.

LANE:

We will get to the reform package in a tick.  But in the lead up did you hear from Mr Murdoch and Mr Gordon about their bid?

FIFIELD:

The bids are matters for the parties concerned and for the receivers and administrators.  I am someone who sits back from these things and I let the market do its job.

LANE:

And they didn’t attempt to speak to you or your office?

FIFIELD:

There was no direct approach to me.  There may well have been to other elements of my portfolio.

LANE:

And CBS?

FIFIELD:

No, CBS didn’t approach me either.

LANE:

The CBS deal is still subject to the Foreign Investment Review Board giving its approval. Do you anticipate that there will be any problems with that?

FIFIELD:

I make it a point not to comment on possible regulatory processes.  There is obviously also shareholder approval that’s required.  But these things will go through their usual processes.

LANE:

The opposition leader Bill Shorten says that this shows that the two out of three rule, that the Government wants to abolish, doesn’t need to go.  This is the rule that you have been trying to get support for.  And the rule is that you can’t own more than two of three regulated media in one licence area.  You can’t own TV, radio and newspaper for example.  Does he have a point?

FIFIELD:

No, he doesn’t have a point.  And this was never a media reform package that was about one network.  This is a comprehensive package.  This just isn’t about changing some of our media ownership laws.  It is also about giving tax cuts in the form of licence fee relief to commercial radio and TV.  It’s about giving Australian media organisations more options in terms of how they can configure themselves to better support their viability.

Now Bill Shorten is essentially saying that the views of Seven, Nine, Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, News Limited, Fairfax, Commercial Radio Australia, ASTRA, Foxtel and Free TV count for nothing.  They are all the Australian media organisations that are calling for the passage of our media reform legislation.  Bill Shorten should get on board.  If he cares about strong Australian media voices, then he will support our package.

LANE:

Labor supports everything else that the Government has put forward in terms of media reform.  Are you now going to try and split the Bill and get it passed through the Senate?  Get passed what you can?

FIFIELD:

Labor say that, but look at the facts.  In the House of Representatives the Australian Labor Party voted against the entire package.  The lot.  They voted against it at the second reading stage.  They voted against it at the third reading stage.  Don’t listen to what Labor say, look at what Labor do.  And at every point Labor has opposed this media reform package lock, stock and barrel.  We want to see good, strong Australian media voices.  Now every Australian media organisation supports this package. And there is a reason for it.  They are challenged by the over the top providers, by the Netflix, by the Facebooks.  They have never been under greater challenge.  We want to give them a fighting chance.  We want to give them a shot in the arm.  Bill Shorten has no policy.

LANE:

You have got One Nation across the line with these reforms.  You are still talking to Nick Xenophon.  Again are you going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good? Are you going to hive it off and get through what you can?

FIFIELD:

Well Nick Xenophon isn’t asking us to hive anything off this package.  Nick wants to look at adding some things to this package.  We have had good and constructive discussions with the Senate crossbench.  They have been willing to engage.  That is contrast to the Australian Labor Party who have essentially said talk to the hand.

LANE:

You have said that you want to see good Australia voices here, but I mean CBS its American giant.  Are you sad in one way that Lachlan Murdoch, I mean he is an American citizen now, but with Australian ties, that he and Bruce Gordon are missing out here?

FIFIELD:

Well I am proprietor agnostic.  What I want to do is give our Australian domestic media organisations the greatest range of options when it comes to dance partners.  If we had passed this media reform package, then there would be a whole range of dance partners for Australian media organisations to combine with.  And that is what I want to see, is more options.  A viable Australian media industry.  And journalists employed.  That is good for our democracy.

LANE:

On a chamber related matter.  There are claims this morning that Katy Gallagher is entitled to Ecuadorian citizen because her mother was born there.  Labor says it is wrong.  Will the Government pursue this?

FIFIELD:

Well it is incumbent on each Member and Senator to make sure that they are in accord with Australia electoral law and with the Constitution.  Where there have been circumstances on our side, where there have been some issues, we have done the right thing and we have referred that to the High Court.  The High Court will undertake its deliberations.  We will wait and see what they are.  But ultimately this is a matter for Senator Gallagher.

LANE:

Minister thank you for joining AM this morning.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Sabra.

[ends]

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