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Interview 2GB Sydney Live with Ben Fordham

E & OE

BEN FORDHAM:

In the studio this afternoon ahead of the Prime Minister’s appearance is Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. Minister, good afternoon to you.

FIFIELD:

Ben, great to be with you.

FORDHAM:

What a time to be alive, as the Prime Minister would say.

FIFIELD:

It is a great time to be alive. We’re doing a lot of the people’s business. We’ve got the Parliament working. And we’ve got the economy growing. We’ve got more jobs. We’ve secured one tranche of company tax cuts. So it’s a great time to be alive and we’re transacting the people’s business.

FORDHAM:

I was quite surprised that the PM volunteered to come in my studio today for a chat. Am I being too much of a cynic? Because here’s me thinking, this is not a day when Malcolm Turnbull is really going to want to be all over the place in the media but he volunteered to come in today. What’s all that about as a strategy?

FIFIELD:

I think you might be just a little bit too much of a cynic, Ben.

FORDHAM:

[interjecting] Really?

FIFIELD:

Malcolm is someone who is hugely available. So, I’m not at all surprised that he wanted to spend some quality time with you today.

FORDHAM:

You don’t have any regrets about switching allegiances and helping put Malcolm Turnbull in the top job, even though we can now see that not only on the two-party-preferred basis but also on preferred Prime Minister – where once upon a time he was belting Bill Shorten and now you’ve got the Opposition Leader nipping at his heels, two points difference there – you don’t have any regrets about the decision you made in regards to the leader?

FIFIELD:

Look, not at all. Because we wanted to be competitive. We wanted to make sure that we could keep Bill Shorten out of office. And we succeeded. We won the last Election. We won the Bennelong By-election. Every electoral outing that Malcolm has led us on, we’ve won.  But also, Ben I’ve got to pick up something you said in your intro earlier, that the Parliament wasn’t working. We have secured the passage of 200 pieces of legislation since the last election. And, as part of that, we’ve been ticking off each and every major item on our agenda. Re-establishing the Building and Construction Commission. Establishing a Registered Organisations Commission. Reforming the processes of the Human Rights Commission. Reforming school education. Reforming childcare. And we’ve legislated the first tranche of company tax cuts. And we’ve legislated $34 billion worth of savings since the last election.  So, we have the Parliament working.

FORDHAM:

I suppose we all have things that we wish we could take back, when we say things. Malcolm Turnbull has acknowledged today that, when he used Newspoll as a bit of a benchmark or yardstick for judging Tony Abbott, that that was a mistake. He spoke about the trajectory – in fact he said the one thing that is clear is the trajectory – where if you have a look at your trajectory at the moment, as a government, it ain’t looking good. It’s looking like a Shorten government is coming our way.  Even Peter Dutton, your Home Affairs Minister, has acknowledged that today.

FIFIELD:

No, well, we can’t have a Shorten government coming our way. The trend is good. We had a terrific Fairfax poll at the weekend. In this latest…

FORDHAM:

[interjecting] The trend is good?

FIFIELD:

The trend is good. Look at the Fairfax poll. Look at today’s Newspoll. 52-48.  That’s not a bad spot for a government that’s mid-term. John Howard was often in a place way beyond that, way behind. And he would be very happy to have those sorts of numbers at this stage of the cycle.

FORDHAM:

Okay. Let me ask you just about criticisms, whether some of these things are valid. Because there was an interview in the Daily Telegraph today – and you’re the Communications Minister, so you take a particular interest in everything to do with the media.

FIFIELD:

Sure.

FORDHAM:

Sharri Markson, in the Daily Telegraph, asked Malcolm Turnbull today: “Has the hate campaign against you, by Alan Jones and others, been a problem in getting your message through to the public?” The PM’s response was:  “What can I say? They’re free to express that. I can tell you it’s not something that is resonating with the public.” In other words, that kind of campaign, that kind of criticism is not resonating with the public. But, when you’ve lost 30 Newspolls in a row, are you better off acknowledging that maybe some of these criticisms might be valid?

FIFIELD:

Well, it’s up to commentators to commentate. I’ll let you do that. I’ll let your colleagues in the media do that. What we’re focused on…

FORDHAM:

{interjecting] But the point I’m trying to make, though, this isn’t a media campaign, is it? This is something going on in the public. This is real world, real life, where people are saying, “At the moment, we’re not convinced that you guys are the right people for the job”.

FIFIELD:

Well, “real world, real life” isn’t so much Newspoll. “Real world, real life” is the result at the last General Election. “Real world, real life” is the result in the Bennelong By-election. When we’re actually dealing with the real elections, with real voters, who are in a position where they’ve actually got to make a real choice, they’re choosing us.

FORDHAM:

Let me bring in another topic, which is Facebook. You say you’re considering introducing a legally-binding duty of care for Facebook, and other social media giants, if users are hurt or bullied on their networks. Now, that sounds good but surely you don’t have the power to fine or punish these social media platforms if they don’t show a duty of care to users, do you?

FIFIELD:

Well, that duty of care is a recommendation of a Senate Inquiry. I’ve said that we’ll look at all of the recommendations of that Inquiry. But we already have in place some strong measures that we can tackle these social media organisations when people use them in the wrong way. We have legislated the world’s first cyber-bullying take-down regime, where the eSafety Commissioner, that we’ve established, can issue a direction to a social media organisation to take down cyber bullying material aimed at kids. We can issue an end user notice to someone who’s putting that material up. And the eSafety Commissioner has had a 100% success rate in having that material taken down.

FORDHAM:

So even though it’s commonly known as a place can’t be policed when we’re talking about social media, you are policing it in a way, you are making it safer, you’re feeling confident that you’re making it safer when it comes to the bullying of school kids and others out there.

FIFIELD:

Look, we’re absolutely making it safer. The eSafety Commissioner is a one stop shop for kids who are being bullied. They’re also a cop on the beat. But if we can do more, we will do more. Regrettably we have creeps and cowards who are finding their way into kids’ bedrooms and classrooms through online mechanisms. And I think social media organisations do need to lift their game. I think they need to be more transparent. And, if they’re not, then absolutely as a government we will look to take further action.

FORDHAM:

We’ve got Communications Minister Mitch Fifield in the studio with us. Malcolm Turnbull will be here after 5 o’clock. Lottoland, Minister why are you banning Lottoland?

FIFIELD:

Well Ben. We’re not banning Lottoland. Lottoland is a company. We’re not banning them. What we’re doing is banning a particular form of gambling activity. Which is betting on a bet. Online. On lotteries. And on keno.

FORDHAM:

So you’re effectively banning Lottoland, you’re not directly banning Lottoland.  Is that what you’re telling me?

FIFIELD:

No, we’re not even indirectly banning Lottoland. Lottoland are a sports betting agency. They pursue other activities. And they’ll look to other products as well.

FORDHAM:

But why are we cracking down on this, I don’t understand it. And look, when they first came along, I interviewed newsagents and promoted the concerns of newsagents initially, but then I discovered from a lot of my listeners that people like to play Lottoland. And if I have a look, 650,000 paying customers, they pay their taxes, they sponsor some NRL stuff and some AFL sides as well, I think the Swans. Why aren’t they allowed to exist? Why is it that when a business comes a long and makes some money and gains some popularity that government finds a way of stepping in and trying to strangle it?

FIFIELD:

Lottoland can exist. It’s just this particular activity we don’t think should be happening.

FORDHAM:

What’s wrong with it? I don’t understand.

FIFIELD:

My role as the Minister for Communications isn’t to be the gambling regulator. That’s the role of the states. My brief is to make sure that online gambling activity is of a form that the community accepts. And what you’ve always got to do in this area is to find a balance between the right of Australians to have a punt and a drink, and to do what they want to on the one hand. And on the other, to ensure that there are appropriate community safeguards. I’m not comfortable with a bet being placed on a bet. It’s also not good for pubs and clubs. They run keno. You know pubs and clubs very well. And the clubs put the money that they raise in these activities back into the community. I don’t want to see an undermining of traditional lotteries and traditional keno which is why we’ve taken this action.

FORDHAM:

Is it an example though where government steps in and someone’s moving in an area where they’re able to freely, and they’re working within the rules and within the law, and then government says no hang on, we want to change the goal posts on you. Like when Uber came along, or whether it’s eBay that might be stealing business away from traditional retailers. Can you really get in the way of these things? Aren’t we supposed to stand back and say oh well the people have voted here, they like playing this stuff. It’s all legal.  They’re playing by the rules, why don’t you let them play by the rules?

FIFIELD:

Well I just think that this is a form of gambling that is a step too far. We’re going to give Lottoland six months’ notice from when the legislation takes effect, so that they can alter their business. We’re absolutely not banning Lottoland. It’s just this particular activity. And pubs, clubs, and the majority of newsagents support what we’re doing.

FORDHAM:

The last time I saw you was on Cockatoo Island while we were filming season 2 of Australian Ninja Warrior. Is this the moment when you reveal that you’re one of the contestants on the show this coming year, or are you going to keep all announcements for a later date?

FIFIELD:

Ben it’s been a well-kept secret, but I can confirm that I definitely will not be a contestant.

FORDHAM:

The Communications Minister Mitch Fifield with us in the studio, thank you very much for your time.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Ben.

[ends]