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RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly

Parliament House Canberra
19 October 2017
7:37am

E & OE

FRAN KELLY:
Legislation requiring the ABC to be fair and balanced has been introduced into the Senate as part of the Government's trade-off with One Nation over media reform. Under the One Nation deal the national broadcaster will also be forced to reveal the salaries of staff who earn more than $200,000 a year. Also in the Senate, this push for a parliamentary inquiry into the extraordinary allegations that Crown Casino has allegedly allowed its poker machines to be rigged. Communications Minster Mitch Fifield joins us in our Parliament House studios, Minister welcome back to breakfast.

FIFIELD:
Good morning Fran.

KELLY:
Let's start with the allegations that Crown Casino staff have illegally tampered with poker machines. You have some responsibility at the federal level for gaming, online gaming, as Communications Minister. Considering the seriousness of the claims raised by the independent MP Andrew Wilkie in the federal parliament yesterday, will the Government support a Senate inquiry into regulation of the casino industry in Australia?

FIFIELD:
It's important to recognise that when you're talking about casinos, when you're talking about venue-based poker machines these are matters that fall squarely in the jurisdiction of the states. In relation to the allegations that Mr Wilkie has made, the Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, has already made clear that AUSTRAC, our financial intelligence agency will as it always does investigate claims of wrongdoing. In relation to the matters of casinos and poker machines, as I say, they're really matters for Victorian law enforcement authorities and Victorian regulators.

KELLY:
Let's just talk about that because Andrew Wilkie says the Victorian regulator which is the Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation. He says, he alleges, has done nothing to stop the misconduct and quote, in some cases, was complicit in covering it up. He also says the whistleblowers went to the Victorian regulator and their concerns were brushed aside. So if they're not doing it and if the authorities too are accused, doesn't somebody else need to do it?

FIFIELD:
The Federal parliament can't assume responsibilities that it doesn't possess. If there are matters beyond the responsibilities of the regulators in Victoria that need to be examined, then they're matters for the Victorian Government.

KELLY:
Well hang the Federal Parliament can call inquiries and certainly federal governments in the past and federal parliaments have had major debates and votes on policies affecting poker machines and gambling before, you only get involved when it suits you?

FIFIELD:
Well, look obviously the Federal parliament has the capacity to conduct inquiries into whatever it decides. What I'm talking about…

KELLY:
So they can do it? You could do it?

FIFIELD:
Obviously a simple vote in the Senate can establish a parliamentary inquiry into any subject. But the point I'm making is that really you want to make sure that the focus is through the avenues that can be most fruitful. And the avenues that can be most fruitful are within the jurisdiction that actually has direct responsibility.

KELLY:
But if you are convinced and I'm not sure if Andrew Wilkie has come to show what he's clearly shown and Nick Xenophon, and Senator Lambie who we spoke to earlier. Senator Lambie says she's seen his evidence. And you are persuaded that there is an issue with the response, let alone allegations of involvement of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Regulation would you then think it was appropriate for the Federal government to step in?

FIFIELD:
We have appropriate law enforcement bodies at the federal level. We have AUSTRAC and the Justice Minister has said that they will look into the allegations that have been made. And I think it's appropriate that we allow them to do their job.

KELLY:
But the case has been made that this is happening here this kind of behaviour. If it is and no one knows, it's an allegation, then isn't it time to look at the behaviour and the regulatory framework across all our casinos?

FIFIELD:
I point out again, casinos in Australia are regulated by the state jurisdictions. There are state regulatory bodies. There are state law enforcement agencies. They have the responsibility in this area. If there is more that needs to be done in those jurisdictions then that is fairly and squarely a matter for those state governments. They have the power. They have the legislative authority. They are the people who can move swiftly in this area.

KELLY:
A lot of people listening might hear this as buck-passing and in particular when they understand that Crown is a major political donor, something like a million dollars to the Coalition and the ALP over the past decade and more broadly looking at gaming donations, the Coalition received $770,000 in 2015/16, the ALP $523,000, I mean it's doing to fuel the perception isn't it the money buys softer gaming laws?

FIFIELD: 
Fran, we have a Federal system of government in Australia…

KELLY:
Which has got involved in poker machines before..

FIFIELD:
The Federal parliament has certain responsibilities. The state jurisdictions have certain responsibilities. The Federal parliament has been involved in a cooperative way with the state jurisdictions who have the primary responsibility for gambling, on issues of harm minimisation. The Federal parliament has responsibility for online gaming and we take that very seriously. These particular matters which have been raised are ones which fall within the jurisdiction of the state governments, of the state parliament. So the most fruitful, the most productive way, to have these matters examined and quickly is by the jurisdictions that actually have the legislative authority and the legislative responsibility. Obviously it is up to the Senate if it chooses to have an inquiry into these areas. But I'm pointing out, we have state parliaments, we have state governments, we have state regulatory authorities and we should let them do their job.

KELLY:
You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. In your second reading speech on the ABC legislation yesterday, you said, I quote, people expect the publicly funded broadcaster to canvas a broad range of issues in a fair and balanced manner. Are you suggesting that we don't do that? Can you give us an example of where the ABC hasn't been fair and balanced?

FIFIELD: 
All media organisations need to strive to be their best selves. There is no media organisation in Australia that is perfect. Where the ABC differs from the commercial media organisations is that is receives more than a billion dollars a year in taxpayer funding. Now what that means is that the public are entitled to expect a degree of confidence in the way the ABC executes its duties…

KELLY:
Are you suggesting we're not doing that now?

FIFIELD:
As you know Fran, the ABC's Act already requires it to be ‘impartial' and ‘accurate' in its news and current affairs presentations. What we're proposing is that we put alongside that in the Act, the requirement to be ‘fair and balanced'.

KELLY: 
And what's the difference, as you mentioned the act there and that's one of the differences where the ABC is different from other media organisations, we have a charter which says, quote, “gathering and presentation of news and information must be accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism'. So what's the difference of accurate and impartial and fair and balanced?

FIFIELD: 
Well, ‘fair and balanced' is something that is already in chapter four of the ABC's own editorial policies where it talks about the need to have “fair treatment”, where it talks about a “balance which follows the weight of evidence”. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance own Journalistic Code of Ethics talks about fairness on no less than six occasions. These are well-known journalistic concepts…

KELLY:
Already built into our editorial guidelines as you say... following the weight of evidence. Does fair and balanced mean giving equal weight to both sides of an argument, no matter if one side is spurious because that seems to be One Nation's understanding, is that yours?

FIFIELD:
I'm very comfortable with what is in the ABC's editorial policy, a “balance that follows the weight of evidence'. And if you're comfortable with that Fran and if I'm comfortable with that, and if ABC journalists are comfortable with what is in the ABC's editorial policies and think that it's good journalism, then there should be absolutely no objection to that being enshrined in the ABC's own act.

KELLY:
Okay, just so long as legislating I suppose doesn't mean that then a politician can say well that's not fair and balanced then for instance when you were covering the anti-vaccine campaign for instance, you didn't give equal say to an expert with a political opinion from an anti-vaxxer. That would be allowed to be charged under the legislation.

FIFIELD: 
Fran, the Act is given effect to ultimately by the board of the ABC. And it finds expression through the ABC's editorial policies. The ABC's editorial policies, as they are today, will be matters that are determined within the organisation, because the ABC has legislated independence…

KELLY: 
I understand, but once there's legislation people will be able to challenge the ABC for breaching the law if they don't believe that is happening?

FIFIELD: 
Well, Fran it's open to Members of Parliament and members of the public, even today, to question the ABC. To ask whether the ABC is operating within its charter…

KELLY:
As it should be…

FIFIELD:
As it should be. And that will be the case if this legislation gets through the Parliament. The ABC is not beyond question. The ABC isn't always perfect. The ABC should always be striving to achieve the best journalistic standards…

KELLY: 
But just in that example I gave for instance, would there be a case for someone like Pauline Hanson or someone to argue that when it comes to anti-vaxxer campaigners they should be given equal say as expert medical opinion?

FIFIELD: 
Fran, if the MEAA and if the ABC, through its own editorial policies is already comfortable and supports the concept of fairness and balance then it should be very comfortable with having fair and balanced in its own legislation.

KELLY:
And can I just ask you to, the deal with One Nation requires pay disclosure of all ABC and SBS staff earning more than $200,000 and you've given the ABC until the end of the month to publish pay and allowances voluntarily, if it doesn't try and force it do so through legislation. In the commercial world, employee salaries are protected by privacy laws, why shouldn't ABC salaries be the same?

FIFIELD:
The ABC receives more than a billion dollars of taxpayers' money Fran. And people in the ABC, paid for by the taxpayer, hold significant positions of public trust. In that environment it is appropriate that there be the same sort of disclosure in terms of what people are paid as there are for members of parliament, ministers, judges…

KELLY: 
But it's different for Members of parliament, because yours are determined by a remuneration tribunal, I mean by definition they are determined, ABC salaries are not. What are you hoping to achieve by this? Do you think we're overpaid or…?

FIFIELD: 
You're right, the pay of members of parliament and judges and senior military officers and senior public servants are determined by an independent tribunal. That's not the case with the ABC. The ABC staff receive taxpayer money, just as we do, and there is no reason why there should not be a similar level of transparency as there is for Ministers, judges, members of parliament...

KELLY: 
But what would it achieve? Do you think we're being overpaid?

FIFIELD: 
Well Fran that will be a determination for the public. When you have transparency, the public forms a view about the value and worth of individuals and what they're paid. The public has views about members of parliament. The public might form those views about senior people at the ABC as well.

KELLY: 
Vote us out. Mitch Fifield, thank you very much.

FIFIELD: 
(Laughs) Thanks Fran.

[ends]