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ABC Insiders with Barrie Cassidy

E & OE

Subjects: media reform, ABC, ABCC

CASSIDY:

On media laws now, and after years of handwringing, I think it's fair to say on both sides of politics, are you a little surprised about how suddenly these new rules are being broadly embraced?

FIFIELD:

I think it's a sign that Australians recognise that our media laws were crafted in an analogue world for an analogue world. They don't reflect the contemporary way that Australians access media. Australians have more choice than ever before. So I think Australians get that. Also, I think the media organisations understand that the media laws at some point would have to change. So I've been very encouraged by the response across the board. Obviously there are varying degrees of enthusiasm amongst media organisations for these changes. But I think basically everyone gets reality.

CASSIDY:

There will be sensitivities over regional coverage. How will this local content requirement work?

FIFIELD:

Well, at the moment, there's a requirement in what are known as the aggregated regional TV markets for 720 points of local content...

CASSIDY:

What does that actually mean?

FIFIELD:

That essentially is a proxy for the number of minutes of local content that there are over a sixweek period. What we are proposing is that after a trigger event, namely reconfigurations, changes in ownership that would see a group of TV licences have more than 75% audience reached nationwide, that there would be a new and higher base line of local content. Which would be 900 points of local content. And we are also including in the points system an incentive for regional TVs to actually produce and film local content. So they get bonus points if in their news they have local footage.

CASSIDY:

And on the anti-siphoning rules, you haven't spoken a lot about that because it's not part of this package, but I gather it's something you will be looking at further down the track. Now I accept that there are major events, AFL, Rugby League, Commonwealth Games, Olympic games, those sorts of things that will probably always be on the list. But do you think it's time to look again - that there is room to move on that front?

FIFIELD:

You're right. The anti-siphoning list isn't part of the package that I'm putting forward. But this is a list that has changed over time. There have been things that have come on the list. There have been things that have come off the list. The anti-siphoning list does not provide an absolute protection for the events on the list going onto free-to-air. There is nothing to compel free-to-airs to actually acquire the events. There is nothing to compel them to put them on air. And there's nothing to stop them from grabbing the events and then on-selling to subscription TV. But it does provide a degree of comfort for the public that the events they love will be on free-to-air. I think if there was to it be a significant change to the anti-siphoning list, that there would need to be a good understanding in the community about what the list does and what it doesn't do. But also, there would need to be broad parliamentary support for change. And I don't think that those circumstances are there at the moment.

CASSIDY:

I want to go close to home and I hardly have to declare an interest here, but nearly three years ago the Gillard Government gave the ABC $20 million a year to boost news services, including in the regions. Is that allocation now at risk?

FIFIELD:

At the moment, we are in the lead-up to the budget. We are in the lead-up to agreement for the next triennium of ABC funding. The ABC as you know Barrie gets about a billion dollars a year. Part of the ABC's core business is, should be, and will always remain, I hope, providing services to people in regional Australia. Exactly what the funding arrangements will be, they'll be revealed in the Budget. But you can rest assured that the Government will always make sure that the ABC is appropriately resourced to do its job and that we see part of the ABC's core business as servicing rural and regional Australia.

CASSIDY:

Mark Scott said of you to do that, if that allocation was to go, that would be the third significant cut since Tony Abbott first promised not to cut the budget. Do you see this as a special one-off allocation or do you think it is part of ongoing budgetary arrangements?

FIFIELD:

Barrie, you'll have to wait and look at the Budget to see what the funding provision is for the ABC. But we will make sure that the ABC has the dollars to do what it needs to do.

CASSIDY:

From the ABC to the ABCC. As Manager of Government Business in the Senate, I now gather that that bill won't be put to the Senate for a vote in the autumn session?

FIFIELD:

Well, in the next sitting week, our focus is going to be the Senate electoral reform bill. Now, we don't have the numbers in the Senate. So that means, if we want to make sure that we can get the electoral reform bill to a vote, we need to reach an agreement with the Greens for extra hours. The Greens have agreed to do that, but part of that arrangement is that we can only deal with bills that they're comfortable with. So the ABCC will be dealt with in the sitting week after that.

CASSIDY:

So there still might be a vote in the autumn session?

FIFIELD:

We'd love to get the ABCC bill to a vote. Labor, are filibustering just as they do with the electoral reform bill. If Labor made appropriate contributions we could get it to a vote. I want to get it to a vote. Michaelia Cash wants to get it to a vote. But ultimately that's in the hands of our colleagues in the Senate.

CASSIDY:

Are you denying yourself a second trigger or do you see it a failure to support it amounts to the same thing?

FIFIELD:

We want to get this bill passed. So far there's been a failure to have it passed. We would much rather, we would much rather, get the votes that we need from the cross-bench to see that legislation passed. That's our objective.

CASSIDY:

Thanks for your time this morning, much appreciated.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with Barrie.

[ends]