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Sky News with Peter Van Onselen

E & OE

PVO:
Senator Mitch  Fifield, thanks very much for your company.

FIFIELD:
G'day Peter.

PVO:
You must have seen the  cartoon in The Australian today by none other than Jon Kudelka of  yourself, I'm sure you should get a copy of that for the pool room. He had a  bit of fun at your expense! Now I know that you've got a good sense of  humour, you know this notion that you're saying to Barrie Cassidy on  Insiders one thing that you know these changes will have no impact on the ABC  but you might be saying another when talking to Pauline Hanson saying these  will be profound in their impact on the ABC. Come on Minister, which one was  right?

FIFIELD:
Well my point was that  the ABC's own editorial policies talk about fair treatment, but also talk about  having a balance that follows the weight of evidence. So that was my first  point. These aren't weird and wonderful things or something strange and scary  for journalists. And the second point was that we're not seeking  to supplant the role of the ABC board and management when it comes to  editorial arrangements at the ABC. By law they are matters for  the ABC. And they will continue to be. But none of that is inconsistent with  recognising that no media organisation is perfect all the time. And that  journalists should always endeavour to be their best professional selves. So  what we're looking to do is to legislate what are good, common, standard  journalistic objectives into the act of the ABC. Reinforcing what is already in  the act. And that is, that the ABC should be accurate and impartial. These are  good things to do. We hope it assists the organisation. But it's nothing for  journalists to be afraid of.

PVO:
Can I ask you about the  $60 million for regional journalism? Am I right in  my understanding, I think I heard Nick Xenophon say something to this  effect, that doesn't actually include jobs for journalists as such  or cadetships necessarily, it's for equipment, is that right?

FIFIELD:
Well there are three  components to the $60 million that we've allocated. There's a $50 million  innovation fund which is essentially to assist small publishers and regional  publishers, with a particular focus on the regions, to re-engineer their  businesses. And if that means training for staff, if that means some new  equipment, then that's to make a contribution towards those business endeavours.  We also have $8 million going towards journalist cadetships and $2.4  million going towards scholarships. But Peter, you're right, we're not in  the business of having the taxpayer pay the salaries of journalists in private  sector organisations. Now there were some in the media, in some media  organisations, who thought that that was a terrific idea that the Commonwealth  should pay for salaries of private sector journalists. But oddly enough, it's a  path that we've chosen not to go down.

PVO:
You know that I'm in  favour of media reform, we've talked a number of times about it Minister but  there are still conditions or limits if you like. It's not a completely open  market. We spoke to David Lleyonhjelm yesterday here on Sky News, he would like  to see a more open market. How comfortable are you about the limits that still  exist and I guess as an addition to that question how long do you  see them and necessary in the changing landscape that the media is  these days?

FIFIELD:
When it comes to our media  laws we should never see them as set in stone for all time. That is the view of  the Australian Labor Party who think that media laws never need to change. That  we never need to recognise that the internet exists. And that everything's fine.  That's not the approach we've taken. That's why we've got rid of the two out of  three rule. That's why we've got rid of the 75% audience reach rule. But you're  right, we still have the 5/4 or voices rule which says you've got to have five  independent voices in metro areas and four in the regions. We've still got the  two to a market radio licence rule and the one to a market TV licence rule. So,  they are there. They are in place. They are some underpinnings for  diversity. But you never want to see these things as set in stone. You want to  keep them in your sights. But we don't have any plans at the moment to  change those remaining media laws. And I should also point out that when people  are expressing concern about diversity, Peter, that we also have the ACCC and their  role. And we also have that small, struggling organisation called the ABC which  is one of the underpinnings of diversity.

PVO:
I'm glad you got to the  ABC because I had a more general question about them if I can. There's  an interesting debate about whether or not the ABC is  going beyond its remit, going beyond its charter, I mean the nomenclature, the  Australian Broadcasting Corporation, yet they are into online writing, virtual  newspaper if you will in some respects, they do all sorts of other things but  don't get me wrong, they're a sign of the times, podcasts and all the rest  of it. But strictly speaking in what is already a challenged media  environment, what are your thoughts about the ABC moving off into those  areas, and if you like chewing into the space for a private  sector that is already struggling? Should they just be sticking  to a traditional role of a broadcaster, as the public broadcaster,  radio, television, particularly across the regions not just in the  cities and by doing so not if you like gobbling up as other media companies in  the private sector try to innovate in this difficult time economically  speaking?

FIFIELD:
The ABC's charter is  fairly broad. And Stephen Conroy, as Communications Minister,  broadened it further by altering the Act to make specific reference to digital  services, online services. But obviously we hear the views that are put forward  by a number of commercial media organisations who feel that the ABC does, on  occasion, compete directly against them in a way that they see as unfair.  Which is why we've announced that we are going to have a competitive neutrality  inquiry. To see if the ABC, and SBS for that matter, use their position as  government entities to compete with commercial media organisations in ways  that are unfair. So the ABC will have the opportunity to put their view  forward. The commercial media organisations will have the opportunity to  do the same. These are real issues which have been raised. And I think it's a  good thing that there'll be a mechanism to have those ventilated and  addressed.

PVO:
Where to from  here for you as the Communications Minister your big ticket was  obviously to get the media reforms you've done, you've done that. Do you just  kick back and put your feet up between  now and the next election?

FIFIELD:
Yeah, not so much  Peter! The great and exciting thing about  the Communications portfolio is things are forever evolving. We're  looking at the issue, on the comms side, of the universal service  obligation. Something which was crafted before you had  serious penetration of mobile phones, and serious  broadband penetration. It covers fixed line phone and public phones. So  obviously, that's something that we're reviewing to make it fit  for purpose. I've got the NBN which is halfway rolled out.  We're going to complete that. Which we'll have done by 2020. We've  got issues of reforming spectrum. Making sure that we are ready for 5G when that comes.  So there's a lot to do.

PVO:
So things like the  drive towards 5G and beyond, will that render the NBN potentially a bit of a  white elephant project at great expense?

FIFIELD:
Look you're always  going to need a fibre backbone for any communications in Australia. Yes,  there'll be…

PVO: 
The  node would do wouldn't it? With the rise of 5G and beyond?

FIFIELD:
There'll be fresh  applications in the wireless environment. Absolutely that will be the case. But  you're always  going to need to have that fibre backbone. And  one of the good things about the  mandate that Malcolm Turnbull gave the NBN when he was Comms Minister was as an  organisation it's technology agnostic and it can evolve as it needs to.

PVO:
As Communications Minister I  wonder what your reaction is to the Supreme Court decision vis-a` -vis Bruce  Gordon and Channel Ten. Do you think this makes it much more likely that CBS  will ultimately takeover Ten?

FIFIELD:
Well the good thing is,  Peter, I don't have to have a view on those matters. My job is to lay out  the laws in the Parliament which will govern the environment for our  media organisations. Its then up to them to put propositions forward to each  other and, in this case, to the administrators and receivers of Ten. They're  matters for those various players.

PVO: 
Just  finally Minister before I let you go. Just on a wholly  different topic I suppose, this fence at a cost of 126 million bucks going up  around Parliament, it's an eyesore to say the very, very least. I had  Peter Khalil earlier on To The Point with  Kristina Keneally and he basically admitted that they went along with  it as a bipartisan decision to go along with it, just on speaker say so. No  chance to review the security reasoning behind it, it's costing more than  the postal survey, it's more than double the $60 million that you  guys are putting into the regional journalism fund that we talked about  earlier. It's an eyesore, is it really necessary? Even if security is a  concern, wouldn't you have thought you could do some sort of perimeter that's  further afield to the Parliament? I mean it makes the Parliament of  Australia look like a prison?

FIFIELD:
The presiding officers  take security advice as to what needs to be done to make the parliamentary  precinct secure…

PVO:
Well the presiding  officers, in fairness Senator, they talked about banning the burqa in the  Parliament and thankfully that got overruled or they changed their mind and I  mean shouldn't we have another look at this one?

FIFIELD:
It's within the  jurisdiction of the Speaker and the President. But maybe when we're back in  Canberra I'll put my hat on as Minister for the Arts and form a view of the  aesthetics of the fence.

PVO:
But it is an issue I  think, I mean don't get me wrong, obviously security is a big issue and the  most important issue no doubt but you know what I'm talking about, the design  of the building, the nature of where the fence is, it's not  a perimeter that's wider field like, if you like the White House  where it makes more sense. It's literally there on the building, it  just strikes me as something that's worth a bit more thought than everybody  just saying, oh well, we'll give it bipartisan support because the presiding  officers say so.

FIFIELD:
I have no doubt Peter  that it's a matter that will be a subject of ongoing discussion amongst the  community as they come to their House. But I'll focus on  the task that's before me.

PVO: 
Fair enough. Nicely  side-stepped. Mitch  Fifield, appreciate your time as always. 
Thanks very much for  talking to us.

FIFIELD:
See you Peter.

[ends]