Well, good morning. I’m delighted to be here with the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield who has succeeded in achieving reforms that many sought to achieve – including me when I occupied the position you now hold - but were unable to do so; bringing Australia’s media laws into the 21st century.
It is a great credit to Mitch and our Senate team, it’s a great credit to the crossbenchers who supported us.
This is all about protecting Australian jobs, this is all about ensuring that our media industry is able to compete effectively with the global online giants.
The laws restricting ownership in the Australian media were written in a day, not just before the internet, but before pay television. They were written in another era, in another age and they should have been changed a long time ago, but for various reasons they haven't been, but now they have.
My government has delivered reforms that are long overdue in media and we’ve done it. This is going to secure the future of the Australian industry - give Australian media companies and the people that work for them, like yourselves, the opportunity to compete on a more equal footing.
Still Facebook and Google and the other big international online giants are still very, very formidable. But having the ability to merge, having the ability to operate in a 21st century environment is critically important.
So it’s a great credit to Mitch. It also involves support, as you know, for regional publishers. I’ll leave Mitch to go into the detail on that, but that is very, very, very important too. We are delighted that that is part of the package.
So this is a very important reform and it is another example and I’m delighted it’s happened at the 2-year anniversary of my Prime Ministership but it is another example of making the 45th Parliament work.
It’s another example of legislation which many said we could not get through the Senate, but has gone through the Senate. That is because we show all Senators great respect. We work diligently with them, respectfully with them and when we do so, we can very often defy the pundits and achieve great outcomes. So Mitch?
MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS:
Well thanks Prime Minister. Today is a great day for Australian jobs and it’s a great day for strong Australian media voices.
Australian media companies have been lumbering under the shackles of media laws which were designed in the 1980s when Kylie Minogue was still singing the ‘Locomotion’. They didn't reflect the world that we lived in and they were constraining our Australian media businesses from configuring themselves in ways to best support their viability.
Thanks to my Coalition colleagues, thanks to the support of the Prime Minister and can I particularly single out Senator Bridget McKenzie from the Nationals and Senator Dean Smith from my party, who have been great stewards of this endeavour with me and with my crossbench colleagues.
It’s important to note that the one grouping in the Australian Parliament who didn’t care about Australian media jobs was the Australian Labor Party. Bill Shorten and his team are still acting like it’s 1988. At every stage they sought to thwart this legislation through the Parliament, but it has been successful.
What this package represents is a shot in the arm for Australian media organisations; it will give them a fighting chance. The abolition of the ‘two out of three’ media rule, the abolition of the 75 per cent audience reach rule will enable media organisations to have a wider range of dance partners to make sure they’re strong and viable and can continue to employ. The licensed fee abolitions that we have put in place will benefit small regional radio stations, will benefit regional TV stations, as well as the metropolitan TV stations. It will give them the opportunity to compete on a more level playing field with the Facebooks and the Googles of this world.
It also is important to note that there’s an important community dividend in this package, in the form of further restrictions on gambling advertising. Not just on radio and not just on TV, but across all platforms.
We also have as a result of this package, some important measures which will further support particularly regional media in the form of a $60 million package, which contains an Innovation Fund, cadetships and scholarships. There are also a range of measures that we have supported, which will see greater transparency for our public broadcasters and will more clearly focus their role, particularly when it comes to rural and regional Australia. Again, a particular thanks to Bridget McKenzie for her hard work there.
This is a great package for jobs. It’s a great package for strong Australian media voices and while we mightn’t always like the things that you write and blog and post and stream, we recognise that what you do is one of the important underpinnings of our democracy.
PM arguably one of the biggest threats to media jobs is what doesn’t look like a level playing field, which is the way Google and Facebook and others operate online without paying their fair share of tax in Australia. That’s a big structural problem in the media, that I don’t think is addressed in this media package. What else can be done to level that playing field?
Well I'll make a couple of introductory comments and then Mitch will say more about the inquiry that’s going to be undertaken.
Obviously, we have taken action on GST as you know, so that the online companies will also be paying GST, that’s an action that our Government took. We’ve taken, brought in, the most stringent multinational tax avoidance laws ever introduced in Australia, in fact, they are very forward-leaning within the OECD. So Facebook, Google and other digital online companies, obviously will have to comply with those.
It is very important, we believe in lower business taxes, but we don't believe in a self-help approach to tax planning or tax avoidance. What we want is everyone to pay their tax. Tax is compulsory. So we’re right onto that.
The internet has been extraordinarily disruptive and has created vastly more diversity in the media. Now you hear critics, I heard Richard Di Natale and I’ve heard Labor and Bill Shorten talking about trying to justify their blinkered opposition to this legislation saying: “Oh, we need to protect diversity." There is more diversity in the media than we have ever had before. This legislation goes back to a day when there were literally three commercial television stations and the ABC and SBS. That was it, in terms of television. Well nowadays, everyone is carrying a television around in their pocket, on their smartphone, connected to any number of providers. So, it is a very different world.
The vitally important thing is that the online companies that are participating in the Australian market, the international ones, pay their tax and compete but compete fairly and in accordance with our law. Mitch will say a little bit more about the inquiry that is going on.
MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS:
Firstly, the package that has passed the Parliament makes a great contribution to levelling the playing field for Australian media organisations with the Facebooks and Googles of this world.
There were really three ways that you can progress the issue of a level playing field. There’s tax law, there’s copyright law and there’s competition law. As the Prime Minister has outlined, we have substantially addressed the issues of tax law. In copyright law, we have a process already underway and as part of this package we will commission the ACCC to undertake a market inquiry into the market power of the Facebooks and Googles of this world so that we can see if there is a level playing field and we will await those recommendations from the ACCC.
Prime Minister, just in relation to the latest news on North Korea, at what point is Australia going to consider offering military support of some nature to Japan in response to this action?
Well, can I firstly condemn the latest reckless and dangerous act by North Korea.
This is another example of why it’s vitally important to continue to tighten those economic sanctions on North Korea and I think this latest missile launch over Japan and the violent outbursts of North Korean propaganda threatening Japan and the United States overnight, this shows that the sanctions are working because what has happened is that despite a lot of critics who said it wouldn't happen, the United Nations Security Council has tightened up the sanctions. Oil imports into North Korea are being restricted substantially, 90 per cent of their disclosed exports are being prohibited.
So the economic screws are tightening on North Korea and this is precisely what I have been urging, and other leaders, of course, have been urging and that is putting the pressure on North Korea.
We need to -
But to follow that argument, wouldn't that mean that further pressure puts Japan even further at risk?
I don't accept that, the critical thing is to continue to apply economic pressure on North Korea to bring the regime to its senses.
Nobody wants to see a war on the Korean Peninsula.
If Kim Jong-un were to start a war, to attack the United States or one of its allies, he would be signing a suicide note. That would be the end for his government and thousands and thousands of people would die.
It would be a catastrophe and that is why it’s vitally important to maintain this economic pressure on North Korea.
Now it needs to be concerted, global action, because, as you know, as I have said here before, the country with the greatest economic leverage over North Korea is China, North Korea is not to China what East Germany was to the old Soviet Union. The Chinese are dismayed by the conduct of North Korea, but they have been allies for a very long time, a lot of history there.
So - but it is important for China to continue increasing these sanctions until we see a change of course by North Korea and it’s good to see that they are doing that. They’re imposing the sanctions that were recently imposed and they have voted for the latest round.
And our help to Japan sorry, just our help for Japan?
Well we have a very strong level of cooperation and relationship with Japan. We don't have a formal alliance with Japan in the way we do with the United States. If the United States were attacked, we would come to America's aid, if Australia was attacked, America would come to our aid. I'm not going to speculate about any other scenarios.
Is it fair for a church to cancel a couple's wedding because they post a Facebook status supporting gay marriage as has happened in Victoria?
Well look, churches are free to marry whoever they like. You know, it’s not for me to – let me just make - this gives me an opportunity to say something about the issue of religious freedom.
As you know, Lucy and I will be voting ‘yes’ in the postal survey. Now, I am a passionate believer in marriage. I believe Australia would be a stronger society if more people were married, if more people were formally or legally married. So I'm a great believer in marriage. I'll tell you what the threat to marriage is - the threat to marriage is lack of commitment. Threats to marriage are neglect, desertion, adultery and so forth.
Now, so I support and Lucy supports legalising same-sex marriage because it is fair, but also because it shows commitment and more commitment is good.
Having said that, we absolutely, we, as a Parliament, and I can speak for the whole Parliament here because we know that there is a very broad consensus. As the Senate Committee that reviewed the exposure draft of the bill last year, there is a very broad consensus in this building to support the protection of religious freedoms.
And so if there is a ‘yes’ majority in the postal survey when it comes back, the bill will include – it will be a Private Member’s Bill – but we know that it will include strong protections for religious freedoms, Australians should not be concerned about that.
And I just want to add this, there was an exposure draft of a same-sex marriage bill published last year, presented by the Attorney-General which protected religious freedoms. It went to a Senate Committee, which considered it - lots of submissions, lots of discussion. There was broad consensus about the need to protect religious freedoms.
If there is a ‘yes’ majority in the postal survey, the Private Member’s Bill that will be presented, will protect religious freedoms, but no doubt it will be debated and amended. We don't have a majority in the Senate and in any event, it is a free vote.
So I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, as strongly as I believe in that, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom. Religious freedom is fundamental and it will be protected in any bill that emerges from this Parliament.
But Prime Minister you say you strongly believe in free speech and you've told everyone to go out there and freely say what they think, have their say on this issue. What I'm asking is, is it really reasonable for them to have their wedding cancelled because they've done what the Prime Minister said they should do?
Churches are entitled to marry or not marry whom they please. That is part of religious freedom. I mean there are many churches, including my own church, the Catholic Church, who will not marry someone who has been married before. We're not talking about a religious - we're talking about changing the civil law to recognise the committed relationship of people, in this case, who are same-sex couples.
Prime Minister, you spoke this morning about John Howard having some sort of input post the draw-up of the legislation. Can you see some sort of a formal role for him to play in doing that?
Well look I haven't considered that but John's wisdom is always welcome, particularly on our side of politics. I think it's welcome, you know, we welcome it.
The issue of religious freedom, as I said, has been carefully considered in the context of this issue. There has been an exposure draft of a bill. It has been considered by a Senate committee. There is very broad consensus on the need to protect religious freedoms, so I don't think that there should be any concern about that.
But in terms of the detail, as John Howard knows very well, of course, because there were many of these votes, free votes issues, that were conducted under his time as PM, and what you will get is, private members will present a bill that will protect religious freedoms and there may be an amendment here and an amendment there, a debate about this and a debate about that. And assuming it is introduced in the House, it will then go to the Senate, there will be a similar debate.
And I think what this will do, if we have a ‘yes’ majority in the survey, we will see the Australian Parliament at its best. We will see the Australian Parliament working together to protect religious freedom, to defend the freedom of religion and the freedom of churches and so forth and people of faith, and at the same time, support the freedom and recognise the freedom of same-sex couples to have their commitment to each other recognised by the law, as a marriage.
Just on media reform - you won those reforms with the support of One Nation. How will the government now accommodate their desire for changes at the ABC and SBS?
Well I'll ask Mitch to go into detail on that.
MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS:
Thanks, Prime Minister.
We will do what we said and that is to introduce legislation to give effect to those changes.
Now, people said that we couldn't get media reform through the Parliament. We have.
People said we couldn't re-establish the ABCC. We have.
People said that we couldn't establish the Registered Organisations Commission. We have.
People said we couldn't get education reform through the Parliament. We have.
People said we couldn't get the Omnibus Savings Bill through the Parliament. We have.
People said that we couldn't get childcare through the Parliament. We have.
The more people say that we can't do something, the more determined the government is to deliver on behalf of the Australian people. So I will be giving this the same application I do with everything else.
You got a pretty solid no from Senator Xenophon about those changes. How will you overcome that?
MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS:
Well, what we always do in the Senate is we don't start with our colleagues, our crossbench colleagues where we would like them to be or where we think they should be. Our starting point is where they are. We treat their position with respect and then we work from there. When you do that, you can get good outcomes.
This is about building jobs, the $60 million fund, so why can't it be used to employ journalists?
MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS:
Well the Commonwealth isn't in the habit of providing money for the salaries of private sector organisations.
But if you want to give money to an organisation to use as it feels fit to expand or to innovate, why can't they then use that money to put on a journalist in a regional newspaper?
MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS:
Well we do have a number of elements to this package. We have scholarships, we have cadetships and we have an innovation fund, which is focused on improving the business processes of organisations.
But the Commonwealth Government does not pay the salaries of private sector organisations.
But this is a good fund. It's been welcomed by regional newspapers and they need some support in making the transition to the new environment.
PM, just quickly on religious freedoms, there seems to be an assumption in some quarters that the onus is on you to spell out the protections for religious freedom before the final votes are cast in the postal ballot. But isn't the onus on the ‘no’ case to set out what religious freedom protections they want? If they want that to be clarified before the vote, isn't the onus on them to say what they want?
Well I think that the difficulty, David, is that the ‘no’ case would vote ‘no’ against, oppose any legalisation of same-sex marriage regardless of the protections there are to religious freedom.
Look, this is a threshold question of principle and it's asking Australians a straightforward question. ‘Do you think the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’
Now, if a majority of Australians say in the postal survey, and I hope they do, but above all, I hope that as everyone participates, we are committed to give everyone their say in the election. Now, you know Bill Shorten by the way, had also said in 2013 at the Australian Christian Lobby that he supported everyone having their say in a plebiscite. But then of course for purely political reasons, I mean he has no interest in same-sex marriage as an issue, other than using it as a political wedge or a political vehicle to advance his own interests.
Now, what we did, we could have held a plebiscite if Shorten had supported it. It would’ve been held, I believe it would have been carried and same-sex marriage would have been legalised for some time now. Labor frustrated that for purely political reasons. We now have a postal survey. It was challenged in the High Court, the High Court upheld the government's right to hold it.
We want every Australian to have their say and if a majority vote ‘yes’, then the Parliament, then we will facilitate a Private Member's Bill being introduced.
Now that Private Member's Bill will contain extensive protections for religious freedom, but it is important to remember that it will be a free vote. There’ll be some members who might say, ‘I don’t care what the postal survey vote was, I’m still going to vote against it’. That’s their right. I have no doubt that it will get very big majorities in both houses by the way. But there will be debate about the detail and that's good.
That's why I say this will see the Parliament at its best. Because you will see people of good faith and people of faith on both sides of the chamber saying, ‘Right, the Australian people have spoken’, assuming that they say ‘yes’, ‘What we're going to do now is ensure that same-sex couples can marry and that we provide the protections for religious freedom that a nation whose very foundation document, the Constitution, recognises religious freedom’.
I mean, religious freedom is a fundamental principle of our Australian democracy.
And, of course, that's something that I think you both get, and I think people sometimes are disappointed in the rowdy partisanship of the Parliament, but I think people will see Parliament at its best if the postal survey returns a ‘yes’ majority.
So thank you all very much.