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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 AM Agenda with David Lipson

2 November 2015

LIPSON:

Joining me now on the programme is the Communications Senator Mitch Fifield. Thanks very much for your time this morning. Before I get on to media reform, I just want to ask you about the GST debate, do you agree with your colleague Arthur Sinodinos that there is a sense of urgency that any major tax changes should be done quickly while the Government is enjoying strong support?

FIFIELD:

David it's important to explain to the Australian public the need for tax reform and the reasons for change. It's one of the reasons why back in 1998, the Howard-Costello Government had success with tax reform because it took the time to explain the need for reform. As Scott Morrison says, the 'why' is as important, if not more important than the 'what' of tax reform. So you've got to balance the need to explain things to the Australian public, but at the same time recognizing that our tax system is not all that it can be, all that it should be. That there is a great need to change our tax system to make sure that we can provide the incentives for Australian individuals and families and businesses to work and to invest. So yes, we don't want to take too much time, but we do need to take the time to explain what it is that we are seeking to do.

LIPSON:

Is there enough time to explain this before announcing a major change?

FIFIELD:

Well, Scott Morrison is ploughing ahead. He is undertaking work at the request of the Council of Federal Financial Relations. He is going to be reporting back to State and Territory Treasurers early in the New Year. And we've got to remember that this is really a joint venture. This just isn't a Commonwealth venture. The States and Territories have their own tax bases, we've got to see what they're prepared to put on the table in terms of their own taxes. To make sure that we have a system that is as efficient as possible, and that does help us to become a much more productive economy.

LIPSON:

Let's look at media reform. Some suggestion that the Government is embarking on this pathway fairly quickly, fairly urgently. Firstly, why do we need to change the laws that have governed the Australia media for quite some time?

FIFIELD:

Well you've hit the nail on the head there David. The media laws that we have, have been there for quite some time. They were crafted in a pre-digital era, for a pre-digital world. They don't reflect the environment that contemporary media operates in. They don't reflect the world that we currently live in. So you have a number of media laws that are really designed for a world where you had free-to-air tv, you had radio and you had newspapers. Where you didn't have subscription television for instance. You didn't have the likes of Google or Netflix. Increasingly, it's a combination of both technological advances and consumer choice that is rendering day by day our media laws obsolete, and will ultimately render them practically irrelevant.

LIPSON:

So the reach rule for example, and it looks like Labor is going to support the Government in this, axing that rule that effectively at this point stops metro television stations buying out their regional counterparts. What will that mean for content when it comes to regional programming?

FIFIELD:

I think that's an important point. Regional TV operators are at the forefront of arguing for reform to media law, because regional operators recognise that the absolute prerequisite to have good local content is you have to have viable regional media operators. So they're at the forefront of arguing for change. So it's important to recognise there are some protections which no one is proposing are altered. The license conditions for TV stations in certain markets do have local content requirements. They will not be disturbed by any media reform. So that's important. But, in order to have diversity in media, in order to have local content, you've got to have viable media operators. And what we want to do is to see an environment where operators can configure their businesses in the way that they think best to ensure their long term viability.

LIPSON:

Just briefly before I let you go, I just want to look at a story in your former portfolio disabilities, it's in the Australian newspaper today. A suggestion of a $17 billion cost burden from the Disability Support Pension going ahead. Is that more than the sort of numbers that you had seen when you were in charge of that portfolio?

FIFIELD:

We have about 800,000 Australians who are on the Disability Support Pension. It costs about $17 billion a year. The numbers have been growing and the reason that's a concern is not because we don't want to provide income support to people with significant disabilities. We absolutely do. That's part of the core business of government is helping people who face challenges for reasons beyond their control. But what we don't want to happen is for the DSP to become in effect a set and forget payment. There are lots of people on the DSP who would want to work, but they're not given that opportunity. So everything that we do in relation to the DSP is relentlessly and remorselessly focused on seeking to help people with a capacity to work, to move from the DSP into work. That's why we have the Disability Employment Service programme, the disability equivalent of Job Services Australia. A billion dollars a year to help people into work. Now that has a high failure rate, and that's why we're reviewing that in the lead up to current contract expiry. To make sure that we're giving people with disability the greatest possibility of getting into work. And the NDIS also in parallel with that. If people are getting the daily living supports that they need, they'll be in a much better position to consider work.

FIFIELD:

Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield thanks so much for that.

FIFIELD:

Thanks David.

ENDS

Media contact:Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 |

Justine.sywak@communications.gov.au
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