Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017, Second Reading – Monday, 20 August 2018
That deal was about the abolition of the two-out-of-three rule on media ownership. We have already seen the results of that with a further concentration of media ownership in this country, a nation that already has a lack of diversity in its media ownership. The two-out-of-three rule prevented a person or entity being in a position to control more than two of the three media—commercial radio, commercial television and newspapers—in the same license area. But that change went ahead, with One Nation’s support. And now we have legislation before us which requires the release of more information about levels of foreign ownership in media organisations.
Other provisions in this bill encourage community radio broadcasters to provide greater coverage of local issues and to increase opportunities for local participation in producing and hosting radio programs. We know that community radio is already doing this. So we certainly support the call, in the second reading amendment that was moved by the member for Greenway, for the Turnbull government to end its war on media diversity. Today I want to concentrate my contribution on the enormous contribution of community broadcasters to diversity and cultural development in this nation. But I do want to take the opportunity to outline my concern about the government’s ongoing attempts to undermine public broadcasting in this country.
Responsible governments understand and nurture a free, diverse and vigorous media environment. Responsible leaders understand that, while a free media can be an inconvenience when it comes to day-to-day political management—I’m sure members of the government regret opening up the plastic wrapper that is often on a newspaper on their doorstep every morning at the moment, because what they read about is the chaos that is occurring on that side of the House—a vibrant media is absolutely necessary for our democratic processes and for an informed society. We know what can happen when you don’t have proper information getting out there in a coherent way.
One of the things we know about this country is that, in spite of the sometimes hysterical response of the right wing of the Liberal Party and the National Party and other fringe dwellers, the ABC and the SBS are very much trusted media organisations compared to the commercial media organisations. They play a particularly important role in regional Australia. They play an important role in the day-to-day life of residents and communities, who may be vulnerable to natural disasters like fires. The ABC and the SBS inform the community, particularly through radio bulletins, of what is going on in those local communities. So the ABC and the SBS are cherished institutions.
Yet, in spite of the fact that the government came to office under the first prime minister—it appears we’re going to get three in just a couple of terms—Mr Abbott, the member for Warringah, who very clearly promised, just the night before he was elected, ‘no cuts to the ABC or SBS’, what we’ve seen since 2014 is that ABC funding has been cut by $366 million, and 800 staff have lost their jobs. This year alone, the government has cut $83.7 million in ABC funding and launched two damaging public broadcasting inquiries, and it has three bills before the parliament to meddle with the ABC charter—all inspired by the deal with One Nation.
So, beyond the cuts, there is the ongoing culture war. The government has used public broadcasting as a political whipping boy so that MPs on the extreme right have something to keep them busy. If the Prime Minister or his ministers don’t like a news report on the ABC, they complain to the board or to the CEO. They don’t do that publicly; they go, sneakily, around the back and put in those complaints. Quite clearly, that is all aimed at undermining public broadcasting.
We did expect that from a culture warrior like the member for Warringah when he became Prime Minister, but when the member for Wentworth, who has a background in the media, became the Prime Minister, in the first coup of this government, we expected a little bit more, and I think the Australian public expected more. What we got, though, was just more of the same. We shouldn’t be surprised, really, because, while the Prime Minister said he cared about the ABC and SBS and the ABC’s independence, he of course has trashed it.
He said he understood the National Broadband Network. He claimed to have invented the internet, according to his predecessor, and yet what we have is a copper based, outmoded system, a hybrid that’s all over the shop, whereby, depending upon which side of the street you live on, you might be getting a first-rate service or you might be getting a Z-grade service. And we’ve seen Australia go backwards when it comes to our ranking on internet speeds. The only thing we’re going forward on is our purchase of copper, which is going extremely well. It’s just a pity that this is the century of fibre, not copper, and that the government is left behind. And this week we’ve seen that played out in the absolutely diabolical position of the government on climate change.
When it comes to community broadcasting, it is a great force for good in this country. There are more than 450 not-for-profit broadcasters. Five million people tune in each week. It provides a platform for communities that aren’t served by commercial broadcasters—Indigenous Australians; ethnic communities; educational services; religious communities; local music and the arts—and for gay and lesbian communities, through radio stations like Joy FM.
Community broadcasting also provides a great entry point into the media. Radio stations in Sydney, like 2SER, 2FBI and Radio Skid Row, play a really important role in and around my electorate in providing young people, people who are still students, with that hands-on experience of running radio programs and of being able to broadcast, in many cases, really valuable and unique material.
They also provide an opportunity for people involved in the arts, particularly young musicians. So many bands and performers have had their material played on community radio stations before they’ve been picked up by triple j or by commercial radio, and that can provide a really important service as well. Community radio can be raw. The truth is that sometimes it can be a bit hit and miss, but that’s a good thing. That’s a very good thing. Certainly many bands get their start on these radio stations. Without them, we might never have heard of Nick Cave, Hunters & Collectors, the Saints or many other bands.
One of the bands that certainly got a run was Radio Birdman, and I take the opportunity to once again call for the ABC to reconsider its decision not to purchase the broadcast rights to the Descent into the Maelstrom documentary that outlines the history of this important band, started in Sydney by Deniz Tek and Rob Younger in 1974. Radio Birdman started in Sydney at about the same time as the Saints in Brisbane. They played a critical role in the alternative music scene in those two cities and in the nation—and, indeed, internationally. These bands were important in having an impact on the musos who followed them in the decades to come.
I conclude by talking about where I was yesterday—Henson Park at the Reclink Community Cup. There you have a game between the Walers, a musician based team, and the Sailors, a media based team. A lot of that media based team are people associated with radio stations like FBi and 2ser in particular. That is raising money for disadvantaged youth who get funding through the Reclink organisation, which tries to take young people who’ve been marginalised from the mainstream of society and include them back in by connecting them through arts and sport. It’s a great example of how the community can reach out to give people a lift up and get them back into mainstream society—people who’ve been engaged with drugs, alcohol or homelessness—making sure that they’re not just left behind.
Community radio getting involved, as they do, and now the community cup, which is a major fundraiser for Reclink around the country, are great examples of how people who are engaged in community radio are also engaged in their communities and make a difference. You’ll find the people involved in community welfare will be the same people who are involved in community radio, which is why it’s important that the government do more to support community radio throughout this nation.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.