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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

Doorstop interview

20 January 2016

E & OE

Subjects: NSW Liberal Party, media reform, ABC

JOURNALIST:

Minister, there's obviously a lot of talk today about preselection issues in New South Wales, is this pulling your party apart a good look in the public?

FIFIELD:

The Liberal Party has open, transparent and democratic preselection processes. It's the Party members who have the say, which is in contrast to the Labor Party, where unions will direct blocks of people how to vote. There's always speculation before preselection rounds, particularly when there's been a redistribution, but the ordinary Party processes will take their course.

JOURNALIST:

Is this a push by moderates to knock off some of the big name conservatives in New South Wales?

FIFIELD:

Look, the Liberal Party is a broad church and whenever you have preselection nominations open, there will be a range of commentary in the papers. But ultimately the preselectors choose the candidate that they think is the best person to be the Party's flag bearer.

JOURNALIST:

Isn't there the danger here that the Liberal Party could lose some well-respected and very experienced people because of the emerging fight within the party?

FIFIELD:

The preselectors in my experience, get it right. As someone who's been a preselection candidate before, you mightn't always like the decisions that they take, but look, they invariably make the right call. And branch members are sophisticated individuals who take into account the Party's electoral prospects and that's one of their key considerations.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, are the Nationals being realistic or over demanding in terms of their push for safeguards, particularly on news services, but more generally on services delivered to regional Australians under your proposed media changes?

FIFIELD:

I think that my Party Room colleagues, regional Liberals and Nationals have a genuine and legitimate desire to make sure that there is good local news content in the regions. It's something that we perhaps take for granted in metropolitan areas. But local news is important. We do have license conditions at the moment in certain markets for a certain level of local content. Many regional TV providers provide content in excess of that at the moment. And in any changes to media law, it's important that we can provide reassurance that there is, and will be, protection for local content.

JOURNALIST:

So is your aim as Minister to maintain, broadly, the current levels of services delivered to regional Australia. Or might you ask in return for relaxation of other laws that broadcasters actually deliver more to their audiences than they currently are?

FIFIELD:

Well the bottom line is that we don't want to see a diminution of what is provided in regional areas at the moment. What else there may be in addition to that, that's something that we're currently taking a look at and having conversations with the regional TV operators and with my parliamentary colleagues.

JOURNALIST:

When will we see the legislation, Minister?

FIFIELD:

Well when I am confident that it has good prospects of passing through the Senate. I think one of the things we've learnt over our first couple of years in government is that the starting point for legislation really needs to be the Senate. It shouldn't be the last thing a Minister thinks about, it should be the first thing a Minister thinks about. Which is why I'm spending time talking to my crossbench colleagues, spending time talking to my own Party Room colleagues as well.

JOURNALIST:

Would you be willing to split the bill to allow the passage of the reach rule, if not the two out of three rule?

FIFIELD:

Look I'm keen to see both the reach rule and the two out of three put forward as a package. But look the Senate has a mind of its own and it's the Senate as a whole that ultimately decides whether a package is split or whether a vote is put on a bill as a whole. So I'm keen to pursue a package, and that's my intention.

JOURNALIST:

On the timing issue, can this wait until after the next election if the Senate can't get its act together? Or are the economic needs of some of the players in this such that it's got to be done this year?

FIFIELD:

I think it's important to move quickly. There is no question that media laws are outdated. That's something that's accepted by my parliamentary colleagues. It's accepted by media organisations. That being the case, let's get on and do it so the media organisations can configure themselves in the way that best supports their viability.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, given that we've known many of the media companies we now have and that employ us for many years, how different do you think the media landscape will look in a year or two compared to the way it is today?

FIFIELD:

The media landscape, even putting aside any change in the media law, is changing day by day. We have Nine and Seven who have commenced live streaming, which really is 100% reach. So that in itself renders that particular media law redundant. But I wouldn't want to predict what the media landscape will be, because it's changing so quickly.

JOURNALIST:

The Deputy Prime Minister has taken a bit of a swipe at the ABC today and said that amid all this discussion about what sort of news services would be available in regional areas, there isn't any express provision outlining what the ABC should be doing in terms of news, in particular TV news. Is that a fair criticism considering the ABC does have the biggest regional footprint of any broadcaster?

FIFIELD:

Well the ABC is there to service all Australians, and that includes regional Australia as well. The ABC has a terrific reputation in regional Australia. I think regional radio in particular is much loved by the community. It's important for the ABC to make sure on an ongoing basis that it is continually reviewing what it does and how it does it, to make sure that it really is servicing all of Australia.

JOURNALIST:

If you are going to put any sort of provisions in there for commercial TV networks to up their game in regional areas, are we likely to see any changes to the ABC and its charter?

FIFIELD:

Well the changes to media law that I'm looking at is a separate exercise to the ABC. I'm not currently looking at any legislative or structural change to the ABC.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have a view on Bridget McKenzie's private members bill on the ABC, changing the board structure?

FIFIELD:

Look, I encourage my parliamentary colleagues to put forward their ideas as to how the ABC can best service the community. Bridget McKenzie has put forward a private Senator's bill that has some propositions in it, including mandating a couple of positions on the ABC board to be filled by people from regional Australia. As a private Senator's bill it doesn't represent government policy, but I'm very happy for a debate as to how the ABC can best service all of Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, could Tony Abbott ever be Prime Minister again?

FIFIELD:

We have a good Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull, and I fully expect that he will be in that position for many years to come.

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

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