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Transcript—2GB with Ross Greenwood

6.22 pm

E & OE

Subject: Media reform, Senate crossbench, marriage plebiscite

GREENWOOD:
First up, let's start with Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications. It's only going back to March this year when he held a press conference and announced a massive shake up of Australia's media laws. So at that time, there was say for example, a 75 per cent reach rule, also the two out of three rule which meant you weren't allowed to control more than two out of three forms of media in any regional area. They were all to be scrapped. But of course, then the federal election gets in the way, the media law changes were put on the backburner, and now they're starting to be brought back as our Parliament is reconstituted. Let's go to our Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, many thanks for your time, Mitch.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you, Ross.

GREENWOOD:
Back in there, back in the Senate this week. What sort of environment have you got? Especially to get these media ownership law changes through that of course you had suggested were going to happen earlier this year.

FIFIELD:
Well Ross, it's one of the truisms of Australian politics that media reform is just on the horizon and so it remains at the moment. But you're right, we introduced into the last Parliament legislation to get rid of the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the two-out-of-three rule. It makes sense to do because the media rules were devised in the 1980s, before the internet was invented. These media rules, which were well intentioned at the time, had the purpose of trying to stop concentration of ownership and ensure diversity. The internet and over the top providers mean that these media laws are bit by bit being rendered redundant, so it's time we changed our media rules to reflect the world we actually live in.

GREENWOOD:
Of course, Nick Xenophon could be the stumbling block. You know all about the Senate being there yourself and being the leader of the business in the Senate for the Government. He wants to see further restrictions on gambling advertising on free to air networks but he's also suggesting a cut to the TV licence fees to offset any revenue lost. Is the Government open to negotiation with Nick Xenophon?

FIFIELD:
In the last Budget we reduced free to air licence fees by 25 per cent. We indicated in that Budget that we were prepared to look further at licence fees, particularly if we could look at that in parallel with things such as spectrum reform pricing. Nick Xenophon has a keen interest in issues of gaming and while I haven't linked the two issues that he has, I'm always happy to sit down and talk with my crossbench colleagues.

GREENWOOD:
So you think that there's room for negotiation with the crossbenchers? Because quite clearly given that you're going to need the support of either Xenophon or probably also Pauline Hanson to get it across the line, there are obviously big conversations ahead.

FIFIELD:
I'll always be prepared to sit down and listen to the submissions of.my crossbench colleagues. It doesn't mean that I or the Government will always agree with them, but I think that the reforms that we're putting forward to get rid of the 75 per cent reach rule and the two out of three rule should stand on their own. It's high time that we reformed our media laws. It's high time that we gave media organisations the freedom to configure themselves in the ways that best suit their business and their viability. So we should get cracking.

GREENWOOD:
But you would agree also that it's likely that if those rules are changed, there would be significant corporate change in the media world. There's likely to be mergers, it could be Fairfax and Nine. It could be a range of regional titles taken over by News, it would have a big interest in those. There's a range of different things, Southern Cross could be in play. There's a number of changes that could happen as a result of the rule changes if they can pass the Senate.

FIFIELD:
Indeed. As the Communications Minister I'm always very wary about citing what the possible future configurations could be, because that's ultimately up to the businesses themselves. But I think a really important thing for your regional listeners is to know that if we introduce these media laws and we get them passed, that there will be new and better protections for local content. That at the moment, in particular areas, there is a minimum standard of local content and local news. If organisations come together as a result of the changes to media law, then we will have in place new, higher and better local content requirements.

GREENWOOD:
I've already explained that you are the leader of Government Business in the Senate for the Government, can you just explain also to me the same sex marriage plebiscite that the Government went to the election with? It's won the election but it now seems as though that plebiscite is dead in the water. Nick Xenophon has said that he will not support it. The Greens have also indicated that they won't support it. Labor is also likely not to support it. Does that mean that the same sex marriage plebiscite is absolutely gone?

FIFIELD:
I am by nature a legislative optimist and I guess as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate you have to be. So there's a long way to go yet. We will introduce into the House of Representatives the legislation to have a plebiscite so that the Australian people can have their say in relation to marriage laws. That will be go through the House and it will come to the Senate and we'll see what happens then. But we did go to the election with a very clear policy which was to put this issue in the hands of the Australian people. Nothing be more democratic than that. And we're going to continue to put that legislation to the Parliament. We think that given we went to the election with this clear policy, the Australian Senate should endorse that approach.

GREENWOOD:
And as you wander around having your cups of tea with the crossbenchers, and coffees, and all that type of thing, trying to make certain that people are informed. You have the likes of David Leyonhjelm is more experienced but the likes of say, a Derryn Hinch, is relatively new, you've got the four Pauline Hanson members coming into the Parliament. What's your feeling about the mood of the Senate now to allow legislation through versus what it was like before the last election?

FIFIELD:
I think this will prove to be a good Senate. Each of the Senators that I've spoken to on the crossbench are displaying goodwill. They've been elected because they want to achieve things for our country. We've got to take people at face value. The approach that I take dealing with my crossbench colleagues is you can't deal with people where you want them to be or where you think they should be. You've got to start with people where they are and work back from there. And if you do that, you can get some good outcomes.

GREENWOOD:
Ok, betting man Mitch Fifield, by Christmas time will your cross media and changes to media ownership rules be through our Parliament?

FIFIELD:
There's every reason why they should be. If my colleagues in the Labor Party, in particular, recognise that it's our duty to make sure that the laws that govern media reflect the world that we live in and give media businesses the freedom they want.

GREENWOOD:
Bottle of wine on it or not, Mitch?

FIFIELD:
Why not.

GREENWOOD:
There you go, Mitch Fifield. I'll ring you at Christmas time and keep you to that. Our Minister for Communications, he thinks it will be through by Christmas time, I'll have a bottle of wine to say it might be a bit more difficult. But we'll wait and see. Let's be optimists as he says. Senator Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications, and of course, the Manager of Government Business in the Senate as well. We appreciate your time here on the program.

FIFIELD:
Thanks Ross.

[ends]