Go to top of page

PM Agenda with David Speers—Sky News, Canberra

4.40 pm

E & OE

Subjects: Senate business, media reform

SPEERS:

Well, with me now is the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Mitch Fifield. He's also the Communications Minister. Minister, thanks for joining us. What did happen this morning, how did all that come about?

FIFIELD:

There are always contributions in the Address-in-Reply debate on the Monday of the first full week after an election. But what we saw this morning was Labor talking out of both sides of their mouth. While they were saying 'Oh, the Government's mismanaged things, they don't have legislation in the Senate.' A big part of the reason for that was that the Labor Party were playing procedural games in the House of Representatives on, of all things, a bill that deals with the registration of Australian deaths overseas. Hardly the most controversial piece of legislation.

SPEERS:

Hang on, but you've got the numbers in the Lower House. How does that happen?

FIFIELD:

We do have the numbers in the Lower House. That does not prevent oppositions from moving procedural motions, from denying the opportunity for the third reading of legislation.

SPEERS:

Yes, but you can gag those, and pass the bills so the Senate has something to do.

FIFIELD:

Can you imagine if we sought to gag? Labor would be saying that it's the end of democracy as we know it. 'The first day of the full week of the new session and the Government is gagging us.' That's what they'd say. Look, what we expect is that the Opposition will at least, on legislation that is far from controversial, observe the regular courtesies and just simply deal with it quickly. So we have this bizarre situation where Labor was saying 'Look, in the Senate, there's no legislation there.' But the reason there was no legislation there was because of the games that Labor were playing in the House.

SPEERS:

Well, that's one bill they delayed in the House, and maybe they did it to make things look bad for you. But can you understand people watching on and thinking: 'Hey, we pay all these Senators a lot of money, we pay them to go to Canberra, do their job and get some stuff done,' and you have nothing to do there for that period, for much of the day. Why isn't there more legislation that you've been able to get through? I know you've only been sitting for a week, but why hasn't the House been able to get some things through for the Senate to do?

FIFIELD:

Well, we had basically two days in the last sitting week. In the House, you have to give notice of intention to introduce legislation. You've then got to wait for the next day to introduce that legislation.

SPEERS:

What's going to happen this week in the Senate?

FIFIELD:

We have legislation to transact. There are 12 bills that we would like to get through the Senate. We could have been onto that legislation before lunch if Labor hadn't been playing their silly procedural games. Labor talk the language of 'Let's cooperate, let's move to a better and higher plain,' but when it actually comes down to it, they just can't resist the opportunity to play silly buggers. That's what we saw this morning, pure and simple. Silly buggers. They were saying on the one hand 'Oh gee, why isn't the Senate dealing with legislation?' And then on the other hand, they're the reason why. They were playing stupid games in the House.

SPEERS:

Again it goes to how much you can control the House. If Labor is able to do that to you, and as we saw on Thursday last sitting week, managed to call on votes when people are missing from the House, embarrassing the Government then, it doesn't look good does it? You've got to show that you can control the Parliament.

FIFIELD:

Regardless of the size of your majority in the House of Representatives, there is still the opportunity for an opposition, that isn't focussed on the people's business, to play procedural games. Any opposition can delay things in the House of Representatives, even without the numbers. There's nothing clever about that. There's nothing smart about it. Labor are probably patting themselves on the back. But really, what's the point?

SPEERS:

So have you got business to get on with tomorrow?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely. We have the Excise Reform Bill, which is addressing the issue of tobacco excise. We have National Cancer Screening legislation. And hopefully tonight we will be able to deal with the two bills that Labor have been delaying in the House of Representatives.

SPEERS:

Let me ask you, in your portfolio on media reforms, has Labor now referred that to a committee as well?

FIFIELD:

They have. Surprise, surprise. This is the Australian Labor Party that says why isn't the Government dealing with legislation, why isn't it moving things through quickly? Yet a bill that has been inquired to death has been referred to yet another Senate Committee by the Australian Labor Party. We just want to get on with the business of bringing our media laws into the 21st Century. To reflect the world that we live in.

To recognise the fact that the internet exists. To free up Australian media businesses so that they can configure themselves in the ways that put them in the best position to compete.

SPEERS:

So to remind people, this will be the reach rule that allows a network to cover 100 per cent population and the cross media rule?

FIFIELD:

That's right, the two out of three rule. Now, these should be very straightforward things for the alternative government of the country to say: 'Yes absolutely, long overdue, we'll get alongside you and we'll help you do this.' That's not happening. It's gone off to another Senate Inquiry. So, whenever we hear the Australian Labor Party talk about 'Why isn't the Government moving things through the Parliament quickly?' 99 times out of 100 the reason is the Australian Labor Party.

SPEERS:

Cabinet is meeting tonight, and I'm sure you're not going to divulge what is specifically on the agenda, but what's your personal view though on whether the taxpayers should fund the yes and no camps in the plebiscite on gay marriage?

FIFIELD:

Well David, it won't surprise you that as the Communications Minister, I don't run my own independent policy line when it comes to any other portfolio.

SPEERS:

This covers Communications though?

FIFIELD:

Well, everything does. But look, the important thing is, we'll certainly deal with the mechanics of the plebiscite. We want to give the Australian people the opportunity to have their say. The Australian Labor Party are saying 'No, no, no, no, no. Don't allow the Australian people to have their say'. We took this to an election. We won the election. Labor should get out of the way and they should allow us to have a national plebiscite.

SPEERS:

Alright, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

[ends]