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ABC AM Parliament House Canberra

E & OE

BRISSENDEN:

For more on  this I'm joined by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Mitch  Fifield. Senator Fifield good morning.

FIFIELD:

Good morning  Michael.

BRISSENDEN:

The  negotiations over the ABCC are, they're moving slowly, to say the least. As we heard  the Senate sat late last night, when do you expect this will come to a vote?

FIFIELD:

Ultimately  that's in the hands of the Senate Chamber itself. But we're working hard to  secure the support of the Crossbench. Pauline Hanson's One Nation have indicated  that they will support the package. David Leyonhjelm has indicated that he will  as well, and discussions with the other groupings are continuing. 
But I've got to  say Michaelia Cash is doing a sensational job. She's absolutely focused on the  objective here, which is to ensure that Australia's building sites are as  productive as they can be.

BRISSENDEN:

No one likes to  hear this least of all Senators who are sitting late into the night, but  presumably there is a mechanism for you to extend the sitting after Thursday if  you need to?

FIFIELD:

Well, in terms  of hours in the Senate everything is in the hands of the Chamber itself. We  don't have a majority in our own right so extending the hours is something we  look to other groupings in the parliament. The Crossbench have accepted and  recognised that management of the Senate is a shared responsibility of all  Senators when the Government of the day doesn't have a majority. And they've  demonstrated that last night providing the Senate with the opportunity to  conclude the second reading debate.

BRISSENDEN:

Ok, you're  still working through the details essentially with Nick Xenophon and the Nick  Xenophon Team. I know Derryn Hinch is also involved in this, but Nick Xenophon  seems to be the sticking point, in particular his demands for more water for  South Australia. Now are you getting closer?

FIFIELD:

Well, look we  are absolutely committed to the Murray Darling Basin Plan to delivering it in  full and on time.

BRISSENDEN:

He worries  you're not committed in the way that he thinks you should be though.

FIFIELD:

The Prime  Minister has made it crystal clear. We are committed. We continue discussions  with Senator Xenophon and his team on a range of amendments. But we're focused  on securing this important legislation. As I say, Australian building and  construction sites are an important part of our economy. They can be, from time  to time, lawless. There can be thuggery, and there can be coercion. It's  important that we have a cop on the beat who can ensure that people can work in  safety, can work without intimidation and this important part of the economy  can be productive.

BRISSENDEN:

Sure, water is  an important part of the South Australian economy too. And Nick Xenophon was on  the program yesterday saying he was taken by surprise when Barnaby Joyce last  week announced that in fact they weren't going to release quite as much water  and there would be more water for the north of the system and less water for  the south of the system. Did it surprise you? Did it surprise the Cabinet that  Barnaby Joyce announced this and if not, what's going on?

FIFIELD:

Well, the  Government is absolutely committed to the plan. Delivering it on time and in  full.

BRISSENDEN:

But it's not,  it's not the plan that Nick Xenophon believed was coming…

FIFIELD:

There has been  no change. There has been no change to the plan.

BRISSENDEN:

So the less  water, the more water for the north not releasing as much water in the north is  not a change to the plan?

FIFIELD:

There has been  no change to the plan.

BRISSENDEN:

Right, he  thinks there has been a change, you say there hasn't been a change.

FIFIELD:

Look, there  hasn't been a change to the plan…

BRISSENDEN:

He's obviously  not convinced of that…

FIFIELD:

The Cabinet is  as one on that. The Prime Minister has made that clear.

BRISSENDEN:

All right, the  Government has also agreed during these negotiations to a demand from David  Leyonhjelm for the ABC and the SBS to hold regular community forums alongside  their board meetings. Now you're the Communications Minister how do you  envisage that working?

FIFIELD:

Well, look I  think this is a good thing. Whether you're a Member of Parliament in public  life, whether you work for a public agency such as the ABC, you can always do  more and should always do more to connect with the community. So the  proposition that David Leyonhjelm has put forward, which we've accepted, is  that after at least half of the ABC's full board meetings, there will be an  open community forum where the board can hear feedback from the community and  where the community can get a better understanding as to how the ABC works. I  think that's a good thing. David Leyonhjelm has also asked, and we've agreed,  that at least two of those full board meetings be held in regional Australia.  And that's not just for the ABC that's also for SBS.

BRISSENDEN:

The Boards will  hear feedback from the community but are they bound to act on that? And if  they're not, are they bound to act on criticisms and if they're not what's the  point of it?

FIFIELD:

The ABC as you  well know Michael, has statutory independence in terms of their editorial, in  terms of their programing. Nothing effects that. But I know that the ABC board  would value this opportunity to hear direct from members of the public. It's  good for all of us to get out and about. I know that you and this program  regularly get out and about in regional Australia, talk to people in a range of  different communities. It's a good thing for you. That's a good thing for this  program. And it should be no less so the case for the Board of the ABC and SBS.

BRISSENDEN:

Sure. His  criticism seems to be that, well the point of this as far as he's concerned  seems to be that he thinks the ABC in particular, perhaps SBS as well are out  of touch with their audience, do you think so?

FIFIELD:

You've always  got to work hard to make sure that you stay in touch. Whether you're a Member  of Parliament. Whether you're a broadcaster. Whether you're a board member of  the ABC. This is a new mechanism to provide that opportunity. I think it's a  good thing. I think the board will appreciate it and the community will  appreciate it.

BRISSENDEN:

OK, Mitch  Fifield, we'll leave it there, thanks very much for joining us.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Michael.

[ends]