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Doorstop Treasury Place, East Melbourne

E & OE

FIFIELD:
Well thanks for coming. Last year, the Government secured passage through the Parliament of historic media reform legislation with the intention of unshackling Australian media organisations as they face competition from global online media giants. That legislation was supported by Nine, Seven, Ten, WIN, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, News Limited, Fairfax, Free TV, Commercial Radio Australia and Fox. The reason these media organisations came together and set aside their historic differences was because they recognised that a media environment that was governed by laws crafted in the 1980s, that didn't recognise the existence of the internet and that shackled Australian media organisations had to change. As a government, we recognised that. We changed the law to give Australian media organisations more options as to how they configure themselves and combine to strengthen their operations, so they're in a better and stronger position to compete with the global giants.

Today, Nine and Fairfax have announced that they are taking the opportunity that our media laws present to bring together two great Australian media organisations. Now, these matters are still subject to shareholder approval and still subject to regulatory approval. But what this proposition from Nine and Fairfax demonstrates is that our changes to media law are giving the opportunity for Australian media organisations to look at how they can make themselves the strongest they can be. The whole reason, the whole purpose behind our changes to media law is because we want to see Australian news organisations be strong. We want to see Australian media still tell Australian stories in Australian voices. So today we have this important announcement. It's now a matter for the shareholder. And it's a matter for the regulators.

JOURNALIST:
Do you foreshadow any regulatory barriers for this kind of merger?

FIFIELD:
Well, the ACMA, the independent media regulator, have announced that they don't immediately see any impediments. That at first look, it looks to be in accord with media law. We do also have the competition regulator, the ACCC, who have announced that they will be undertaking a public inquiry to determine whether this would lead to any lessening of competition. This is what the ACCC does, as a matter of course, whenever there are propositions such as this.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, do you think consolidating companies like this will wield too much power in the media landscape today?

FIFIELD:
Well, I think it's important to recognise that we can't pretend that we're still in the 1980s. We can't pretend that the internet doesn't exist. If we had maintained the previous media laws, then we could have seen significant Australian media organisations going out the back door. I don't want to see Australian media organisations fail. I want to see them have the capacity to have scale, so that they can continue to employ Australian journalists.

Now, it's important to recognise that when we made our changes to media law, we still ensured that we had a number of diversity protections. We still have the one-to-a-market rule, where you can't have an outfit that has more than one TV licence in a licence area. We still have the two-to-a-market rule, which says that you can't have one outfit having more than two radio licences in a license area. And we still have the five-four rule, which is that you need five independent media voices in metro areas and four independent media voices in regional areas. So we still have important diversity protections. It's also important to recognise that the Commonwealth Government puts $1.3 billion a year into media diversity in the form of the ABC and SBS which are both important underpinnings of media diversity and also a big Commonwealth contribution to civic journalism in Australia.

JOURNALIST:
What do you make of the symbolism of the name change? Nine and Fairfax merging into a new company called Nine. Is that not Fairfax disappearing into Nine? What does that say for the state of diversity in media?

FIFIELD:
The company might be called Nine, but the mastheads of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Australian Financial Review – it's the intention according to Nine and Fairfax that those mastheads continue. So what this is about is securing the future of great Australian mastheads: the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the Australian Financial Review. It's about ensuring that we have a media environment where we still have Australian journalists reporting our news and we still have Australian voices that are telling our stories across all platforms.

JOURNALIST:
I was just going to say, the concentration, though, of the media – that can potentially be quite a problem in WA isn't it that's recently lost News Corp as well to Seven West you've got significantly less there. So how is that [indistinct] in smaller markets it is becoming quite tiny?

FIFIELD:
I'll just make two observations. One is the ACCC are still yet to do their work where they will address across markets from the point of view of advertisers and consumers the question of competition. But the other observation I make is that the greatest threat to media diversity in Australia would be an Australian media organisation that fails. What our media reform legislation was all about was helping to create an environment where Australian media organisations can thrive, can prosper and are in a stronger position to compete with the global media giants.

JOURNALIST:
So do you think consolidation like this is inevitable? Depending on how this goes, do you think there's going to be more mergers proposed in the future like this one?

FIFIELD:
Look, this is ultimately a matter for individual media organisations. It's individual media organisations who are in the best position to know what is in the best interests of their business. Our changes to media law was all about giving Australian media organisations more options, more avenues to consider how to strengthen their businesses.

JOURNALIST:
So is this a new blueprint for success in media in Australia? Consolidate to survive?

FIFIELD:
How media organisations configure themselves is a matter for them. But we can't pretend that this is 1988. This is 2018. The internet exists. There is significant competition from global online media platforms. So, what we want to do is say to Australian media organisations, we have passed legislation to give you the capacity to configure your businesses in the way that will see them survive, that will see them prosper, that will see them employ Australian journalists, that will see them creating Australian content.

JOURNALIST:
So the ACCC will be looking at this deal at the same time that it's conducting a review into digital platforms such as Google. Do you think that there could there be any findings in this digital review that might present hurdles or challenges to, or implications for the Nine and Fairfax deal?

FIFIELD:
They're two separate exercises. The ACCC is…

JOURNALIST:
But they're happening concurrently.

FIFIELD:
Two separate exercises, which are happening concurrently. The ACCC has been given a reference by the Treasurer to conduct an inquiry into the online market and what that means for the production of news. Separate to that, the ACCC have announced that they will, as happens in the ordinary course of events when there are merger propositions, that they will be looking at the competition aspects of that proposition. So, they're happening concurrently, but they're two separate exercises.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, just on the regional cadetships scheme, can you confirm that regional outlets under a combined Nine-Fairfax entity are eligible for this scheme? And if so, how does contributing taxpayer funds to a giant like this support a healthy media?

FIFIELD:
Look, I haven't considered the cadetship plan, which is currently there and open for application, in the light of today's announcement. And as I say, Fairfax and Nine still need the support of shareholders and they still need to go through the regulatory processes. But for any media organisation, it's a matter for them to determine if they meet the eligibility criteria for the cadetships or the scholarships or for the innovation fund.

JOURNALIST:
Sorry, just to be clear, so could there be any implications found by the ACCC in their inquiry- in their review of online platforms that could have implications for this deal?

FIFIELD:
Well…

JOURNALIST:
I know they are separately, but could there be implications that arise from the review into online platforms on this deal?

FIFIELD:
Look, where the ACCC source information for their considerations is a matter for the ACCC.

JOURNALIST:
So, are you seeing this as a sign of strength for the industry or how are you interpreting this?

FIFIELD:
This is a recognition of the world that exists in 2018. That the traditional media platforms of print, radio and TV face online competition domestically. They also face global online competition. So media organisations need to adapt and change for the new environment. This is not 1988. This is 2018.

JOURNALIST:
Just on another issue, Standard & Poor's have released a review of the NBN. They describe it as a uniquely Australian. They're quite critical. Have you read the report? What's your reaction to it?

FIFIELD:
Well, I think Standard & Poor's really were reflecting quite badly on the proposition and the path that was embarked upon by the Australian Labor Party when they established the NBN. The Australian Labor Party wanted to have an NBN which was fibre to every premise in the nation. Now that approach would have seen the NBN cost $30 billion more than our multi-technology mix approach. And costing $30 billion more would have meant that Australians were paying, on average, about $500 a year more in their internet bills than will be the case under our approach to the NBN. And if you're paying that much more for internet under Labor's approach, that would have led to even higher mobile substitution for the NBN. So, whatever misgivings Standard & Poor's have about the NBN, they would only be worse if we had persisted with Labor's approach to the NBN. Under us, the NBN will be completed by 2020, which is six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under Labor. And at $30 billion less cost. And Australians will be paying $500 a year less for their internet under our approach than would have been the case under Labor. Right, thanks very much.

[ends]