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

PVO Newsday Sky News 12.30pm AEST

15 May 2017

E & OE

In terms of the media sector, some key changes in the reform package that have been put up around anti-siphoning, around the two out of three rule, and around the reach rule. And of course, the removal of some of those licencing fees for broadcasters was welcome news to some pretty challenged sections of the industry. To discuss all this as well as other news of the day, of course, we're joined now by the Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield live from Melbourne. Thanks very much for your company.

FIFIELD

Good to be with you, Peter.

PVO

Let's just get the Newspoll question out of the way and then we'll get into media reform. I think it's 12 now in a row that the Government's trailed in. You would well know that the Prime Minister used 30 in a row as a yardstick for taking out Tony Abbott. Why shouldn't the same apply to him? If he chalks up another 18 behind the Labor Party?

FIFIELD

Peter, we are completely focused on transacting the peoples' business, that's what this budget is about. We, as always, leave it to commentators and pundits to talk about other things in the ether, but we're just going to focus on the peoples' business.

PVO

Alright, well let's get to one of those, the media reforms. The sector is, correct me if I'm wrong, all but united that it wants those reforms to go through. Something that hasn't really been the case in the past, Labor, however, seem to be resisting the two out of three provisions. What about the crossbenchers, how are your talks with them looking?

FIFIELD

Well, Peter, I'll just pick you up on one thing. You said the media sector is all but united, I would say it is all united. We're talking Nine, Seven, Ten, Prime, Win, Southern Cross Austereo, News Limited, Fairfax, Foxtel, FreeTV, and Astra are all on the one page that this package as a whole has to proceed. And that's my message to my Senate colleagues be they Green, Labor, or independent. This is an historic moment. We have the entire media sector on board. 

PVO

Well, what's going on Senator? I mean, look it's not your job to explain their intransigence here, but I know the Greens aren't going to buckle. Two out of three is their biggest gripe. I spoke to Senator Hanson about this the other week. The Labor Party is it right that Michelle Rowland and her team are not going to give in to these reforms even though the entire sector, as you just mentioned, are in favour of it. Why?

FIFIELD

Well, let's wait and see. Labor over a period of time have expressed their reticence to remove the two out of three rule. Labor have, however, said that they're happy to talk. So I'll take that at face value. As I've said to you before, Peter, not only as Comms Minister, but as Manager of Government Business in the Senate, I am by nature a legislative optimist. So I'm going to keep talking to my colleagues. This package has the support of the entire industry. There are elements of it that are well and truly overdue. Not least of which is the abolition of the two out of three rule. And, I know commentators will sometimes say 'oh, the abolition of that will favour a particular part of the industry'. But Ten is calling for the abolition of two out of three. Fairfax is calling for abolition of two out of three. News limited is calling for the abolition of two out of three. And the entire sector has now said that they support all elements of the package. So we should just get on and do that.

PVO

Okay, once upon a time I would've been somebody that would've said 'look I can see the logic behind not changing two out of three, the concentration of ownership, you'd rather avoid that to the extent that you can, not everyone agrees with this but from when Paul Keating brought it in I get the point,' and I got that point up until however many years ago, it's not my job to explain it, I'll let you do so, Senator. Why what has changed for people when looking at this. Including, as you point out, the sector where there were various disagreements within it once upon a time that no longer exists.

FIFIELD

Well, I guess if I could say it in one word, it's called the internet. When the two out of three rule was put in place and the other media ownership control laws were put in place back in the late 80s the internet really didn't exist. And there was an understandable desire to ensure media diversity was persevered and the mechanism for doing that was to ensure that there wasn't a concentration of media ownership. Things have changed dramatically now. There's a heck of a lot more competition courtesy of the internet. There are a whole range of media sources. But it's not just that. It's also that Australian media organisations are coming under increasing pressure. Australian media organisations, their costs are going up, their revenues are falling, their share of the advertising market is falling as more shifts to online platforms. Now, what that means is, Australian media organisations need to have the capacity to configure themselves in ways that best support their viability. What I want is Australian media organisations to have a wider range of dance partners. That's one of the reasons why you have a broad cross-section of Australian media calling for the abolition of the two out of three rule, and also the 75% audience reach rule. Because they want to be able to configure themselves in ways that best support their viability.

PVO

There's a large part of putting together this package to ensure that you do have the whole industry together through the consultation process? I mean, some parts of the industry are particularly happy about the anti-siphoning changes, both the extent that you've gone as well as where the limits have been held. Other parts of the sector really like the idea of the reach rules changing. There's self-interest at play, they see the value in that. Equally so presumably on the two out of three rule, whether it's those who are looking to directly do something quickly or whether it's those that like the opportunities and the synergies that it might create going forward. The sum total of the package I guess is a two pronged question, Senator. How important has it been, the process of what you put together to get the whole sector on side, and as an extension of that question- how open are you to carving up the reforms. Because we know for example that Labor likes the reach rule change, but it's got reservations about the two out of three.

FIFIELD

This package needs to go ahead as a whole. Getting the broad...

PVO

That's the commitment? All or nothing?

FIFIELD

I'm working to secure the package as a whole. And it's going forward as a whole. And one of the reasons why we have the support of the entire media industry is partly because of the process that we have gone through. Not everyone gets everything they want, but everyone gets something of what they want. And I want to pay credit to the leaders of the Australian media industry. They have looked beyond their own legitimate organisational interests to the broader interests of the Australian media industry. They all want to see a strong, vibrant Australian media. And just back to the point of diversity for a second, one of the things cited against the abolition of two out of three rule is a concern about lack of diversity. Well, one of the great underpinnings of diversity is having strong Australian media organisations. If they're not there in the position where they can grow and prosper, that would be a blow to having diversity in the media.

PVO

Just on another topic, before we run out of time. Obviously you're part of cabinet, you're part of Government. You support the various policy measures in the budget including the bank levy as it's been titled. Can I ask you this in relation to that. I've seen the argument put that this bank tax will help create competition in the sector, put by the Government. Do you concur that it could have that effect?

FIFIELD

Absolutely. It helps even the field with some of the smaller operations. And look this is…

PVO

How does it do that though, Senator? That's really my question. Because it's easier to say that's what it does than to explain how. Because as far as I can tell, the only way that it can do that is if the big banks pass this on somehow.

FIFIELD

Well, it is a levy that those smaller institutions don't have to pay. And our expectation is that the larger banking institutions will look to take that on-board themselves. That's the clear expectation of the Government.

PVO

But, for it to increase competition as the Government have been saying, as you have just said then, the only way that is does that is if it hits the bank's bottom line, and it's passed on somehow, either via and interest rate change or by a reduction of dividends that makes their stocks less appealing than smaller banks. You see my point? The Treasurer's trying to say the banks shouldn't pass this on in any way in the same breath that he says 'this will increase competition' it's one or the other.

FIFIELD

Well, it's a factor, it is a levy that those smaller institutions don't have to take on-board. But as I've said, it's our expectation that it's something that those larger institutions will take on-board.

PVO

Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, appreciate you coming on the program to discuss the media reforms as well as other issues, thank you.

FIFIELD

Terrific, thanks very much

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