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Interview Sky News Live with Patricia Karvelas

E & OE

7pm 30 April 2017

Subjects: Metadata, gambling, advertising, licence fees, anti-siphoning laws, ABC, Liberal Party, GST, Productivity Commission

PATRICIA  KARVELAS:
Mitch Fifield,  welcome to the studio.

MITCH  FIFIELD:
Good to be with  you, Patricia.

KARVELAS:
On the metadata  breach, that was revealed by the AFP on Friday. What are you doing to  ensure that a breach like this never happens again, because this was not meant  to happen to journalists' data? It has happened; it's a very serious  issue.

FIFIELD:
Well, I think  the positive thing here is that the Federal Police have self-reported to the  Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is going to be undertaking an inquiry. The  Federal Police Commissioner gave a full account of his understanding of how  this  transpired. It is important that, when it comes to the metadata of  journalists, it is only accessed when you have a warrant given to enable that  to happen. So, it's important that the rules are followed –

KARVELAS:
But the fact  that the rules weren't followed and that this has happened; the journalist who  it has happened to has not been told. Shouldn't the journalist  know? I mean, that puts all journalists under this cloud of thinking: “it  could  be me”

FIFIELD:
Well, look, I  think the important thing is to wait for the Ombudsman to undertake their  review of this incident, of the circumstances around it. The Commissioner has  made clear that they are going to be improving their internal training.  I  think we need to go back a step, though, and recognise that metadata is  something that has been accessed by law enforcement agencies for a long  time. The changes that the Government put in place, really, were  two-fold: one was to recognise that businesses  weren't, for a range of reasons,  retaining metadata for the periods of time that they used to be –

KARVELAS:
Sure, but for  journalists –

FIFIELD:
So we now  require it for two years; but the other important point is, there used to be  around 80 law enforcement agencies who could access metadata. That's now  come down to about 20. But you're right, these sorts of things shouldn't  happen.  It's a positive that the Commissioner was up front and the  Ombudsman will be investigating.

KARVELAS:
Are you  prepared to look into whether the protections for journalists are strong  enough?

FIFIELD:
Well, I think  the protections for journalists are very strong. I think the requirement  that there be a warrant is important –

KARVELAS:
But, clearly,  police aren't adhering to this because this shouldn't have happened.

FIFIELD:
Well, in this  circumstance, according to the Police Commissioner, there was no ill-will  involved. It was, from what he said, a mistake. So, let's take a  look at what the Ombudsman ultimately finds.

KARVELAS:
Okay but you  are prepared to look at it if there is a case for bigger protections for  journalists because all… I mean, it's a very chilling effect on journalists,  who, as I say, don't if it's them, don't know if they're under a  cloud or  they're being watched?

FIFIELD:
Well, look,  under the legislation, there are greater protections than there were  previously. But obviously, this is an area that the Parliament  continually monitors.

KARVELAS:
So you do think  the Parliament should take a look, based on what the Ombudsman finds,  potentially that the Government is watching this closely?

FIFIELD:
Look, I'm not  making a statement of policy. I'm just stating a fact that this is an  area that the Parliament does continually monitor.

KARVELAS:
But, as  Communications Minister, do you want to take a look at this, to make sure that  journalists are protected, so there is no, I suppose, second guessing by  journalists of the important work they do?

FIFIELD:
Look, I think  there are good protections. There will, on occasion, be human  error. From what the Commissioner says, it looks like this is a case of  that.

KARVELAS:
Okay. Just on  some of your portfolio issues, before we get to the politics of the day; on  gambling ads during live sporting events, do you support a betting ad from five  minutes before and five minutes after a game begins? Is that something  you  think might be a good idea? I know it's on the table.

FIFIELD:
Well, at the  moment, what we have in Australia is a code-based system of protection, when it  come gambling advertising. The industry will consult on a code. It will  be registered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. And  the  Code, as it stands, essentially says that you can't have gambling ads in  programming which is directed at children. There are certain carve-outs  from that around sport and current affairs and news. We're mindful, as a  Government, that there is community  concern about the prevalence of gambling  advertising, particularly in sport. It's something that parents are  concerned about and we're taking a look at it.

KARVELAS:
Do you think a  buffer before and after, as well, though, should be perhaps part of that?

FIFIELD:
Well, look, the  –

KARVELAS:
Because,  obviously, you know, it's not just when the game starts that you're  watching. There is a lead-up and after; after the fact as well.

FIFIELD:
Well, we're  mindful of the community view in this area. We're taking a look. I  can't tell you what the end result will be –

KARVELAS:
What's your  instinct? Are you really –

FIFIELD:
But there are a  range of different ways that you could further enhance the protections for  kids.

KARVELAS:
But they will  be beefed up? Is that definitely something that you think needs to  happen?

FIFIELD:
Look, it's an  area that we're taking a look at and I can't announce something –

KARVELAS:
I know you're  not going to announce it but you can give me an indication of just where you're  moving, based on what you have determined so far.

FIFIELD:
Well we  obviously, consult closely with the industry. We talk to the sporting codes as  well. We also talk to the gaming operators themselves. So, we're  considering and have considered what they've put to us and we'll have something  to  say in future.

KARVELAS:
How about  licence fee cuts? I mean, we've heard a lot about them. Is that a  done deal? Can we expect that in the Government, in the Budget  rather?

FIFIELD:
Well licence  fees, for those members of your audience who probably aren't au fait with  this. Because it's not something we sit up in bed thinking about, or  no-one other than me and those who work in TV. Licence fees were  introduced  in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. Essentially a super profits tax  of its time.  There wasn't any competition for the electronic media so  they were in a good position to make good profits. Obviously, there's massive  competition now. So as a result, successive  governments have reduced  licence fees. When Stephen Conroy was Comms Minister, he reduced licence fees.  I reduced licence fees by 25% in the last Budget.  I think, between him  and me, we've reduced licence fees by about 62.5% since 2013.  And we  announced  last Budget that we would examine further licence fee cuts in the  context of this Budget.  And it's something we're looking at.

KARVELAS:
Okay, do you  think the case has been made for further cuts?

FIFIELD:
Well, we've  demonstrated already that we think there was a case for cuts – 25% cut in the  last Budget. We said we'd look at it again in the context of this  Budget.  And that's what we're doing.

KARVELAS:
Okay, how about  the Anti-siphoning List – trimming that list – is that very much on the  cards?

FIFIELD:
Well, it's a  proposition that is routinely raised by subscription television and it's  something that's constantly under review.  I think it'd be a mistake to  see the Anti-siphoning List as something that had always been set in  stone.  Over  time, there are events that go onto the list and events that  come off the list.

KARVELAS:
Okay ongoing,  but is this something immediate that you're looking at now?

FIFIELD:
Well it's a  petition that is always strongly made to us by subscription TV.

KARVELAS:
Sometimes it's  strongly made, and you don't strongly listen. Are you strongly listening this  time?

FIFIELD:
Well we always  listen.

KARVELAS:
You don't  always listen.

FIFIELD:
We always  listen.  We don't always agree with the proposition that's put to us. We  always listen –

KARVELAS:
Are you more  likely to agree? Are you convinced? Are you convinced it needs a reduction?

FIFIELD:
Look the  Anti-siphoning List is something that is governed by – I think – a lot of  myths. I think there's a bit of misapprehension that the Anti-siphoning List  guarantees that the events on the list must be broadcast on free-to-air.  It  doesn't. It gives free-to-air the first go. The Anti-siphoning List doesn't  even mandate that if free-to-air have those rights, that they've got to broadcast  them. And also, it doesn't prevent free-to-air from onselling those to  subscription TV. So a lot of myths around  the Anti-siphoning List.  We're  having strong views put to us about it.  And we'll consider those.

KARVELAS:
Just another  question in your portfolio area: something you were asked about, but haven't  spoken about on camera and that's Yassmin Abdel-Magied and her Facebook post.  She later apologised as being quite a strong reaction to it. I know  Barnaby  Joyce said she should be sacked off the ABC, for instance. Where she is a very  much part-time, I don't think she even has a long-term contract at the ABC. Do  you think she should be sacked, or is that an over-reaction?

FIFIELD:
Well the first  point is I was appalled by what she posted on Anzac Day. Anzac Day is a time of  national reflection. It's important that that is respected, and that we take  the time to pause and think about the service that men and women  in uniform  have rendered, and the sacrifices that they make. And on the day, I said that I  thought it was a crude attempt to politicising a day of national reflection.  For my part, I recognise that the ABC has its independence. Who they choose to  take on board  as their presenters, is a matter for them. But if I was in charge  of a broadcasting organisation, let me be clear: she's not someone I'd be  hiring.

KARVELAS:
Okay, but she  apologised straight away. I wonder what room there is for people to retract, to  show contrition, to show that they went too far, in our culture. I mean a  broader question, you know, I see these Facebook and Twitter statements  from  lots of people that have been very inappropriate; and when people show they're  sorry, is that good enough?

FIFIELD:
Well I think if  you're engaged by the national public broadcaster, whether that be as a  full-time employee, or as someone who part-time presents at the weekend – as in  her case – you have a particular duty of care.  And  you especially have a  duty of care when it comes to Anzac Day. And although she was not speaking on  behalf of the ABC, nevertheless, because she does work for the ABC, that reflects  on the ABC as an organisation. And I think that's a great pity, that there is  that  reflection on the ABC. And it's important that the ABC absolutely  distances themselves from what she said.

KARVELAS:
Ok, on a few  other issues, because that story's quite old now, there's a few newer issues;  like for instance Kelly O'Dwyer, one of your colleagues, on maternity leave,  but facing a hit. Basically people, you know, trying to destabilise  and pull  her out of her seat. What's going on in the Victorian branch of the Liberal  Party?

FIFIELD:
Well I don't  think what you saw is representative of the Victorian branch of the Liberal  Party. In fact, I'm not even sure that the individuals involved in that are  members of the Party. Look, it was unseemly. Kelly's a terrific colleague;  she's  doing a great job as Minister -

KARVELAS:
Why is she  getting all the blame for this, when it was a whole Government decision?

FIFIELD:
Well look,  everyone in Government owns our superannuation policy. Kelly has been a fine  minister. I'm really happy and excited for her, that she and Jon have had their  second kid. And you know, let's give them a bit of space.  Let  them enjoy  this time in their life. I think Kelly has handled this particular incident  with a very dignified silence, which is appropriate.

KARVELAS:
Yeah I don't  imagine it would've been very easy. Just a couple of issues on stories of the  day; GST review is on the cards, a Productivity Commission review – I think  2018 is the day where it reports – are you just buying  yourselves some more  time?

FIFIELD:
No not at all.  I mean the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and the Finance Minister have very  much been on the front foot when it comes to the issue of GST and distribution.  The PM – I think it was back in August – announced  that the Council of  Australian Governments would be looking at the concept of a ‘floor' below which  your share couldn't go below. And that was very much in the context of Western  Australia. Western Australia's share is growing over time, when that goes above  a  particular threshold then that's something that the Council of Australian  Governments can look at. Separate to that is what the Treasurer has announced  today, which is the Productivity Commission inquiring into horizontal fiscal  equalisation – basically, the sharing  of the GST. And this is doing it through  the prism of how that works to support, or otherwise, productivity and growth.  Because you can have some perversities in the particular arrangements; where if  you have a particular jurisdiction that reforms in an area, is efficient  in an  area, they can sometimes through the formulas, actually be penalised as a  result of being more efficient. So you want to make sure you have the right  incentives, for the right behaviours –

KARVELAS:
Okay, you do,  but at the end of this process, are you really prepared to take money away from  a state like New South Wales and have the fight? Because there're Premiers that  are very grumpy right now, this is a huge fight. Are you willing  to have this  fight to give money to WA?

FIFIELD:
Well I think  it's appropriate.  The GST has been in place since 2000. The current  formulas have been around since then. So let's take a look and make sure  that the grants system, sorry the Grants Commission, and the formula it  oversights  is actually working to support productivity and growth.  That's  a good thing.

KARVELAS:
Mitch Fifield  thanks for coming in on a Sunday night.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with  you.

[ends]