Mrs SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (13:04): As I sit in this room and listen to some of the comments being made about changing the media laws, they refer back to the Howard years and to this government, and somehow or other there were six years missing in there when nothing happened. That was nothing to do with the coalition. I kind of wonder what divided and what went invisible at that stage.
There is already a concentration of media without considering, would you believe, the population numbers. We only have 24 million people in this nation. You cannot have 150 media suppliers when you only have 24 million people. It simply is not economic. Naturally, that is an economic consideration that is very often missing when it comes from the other side.
Going back to this actual legislation, why the heck would the government mess around with media legislation if it were not in the best interests of the general population those people who are going to vote for us afterwards? Especially not when, in my view, the media often acts as the unelected fourth level of government. When the bill was first floated all my local media reps, whether they were stringers, managers or interviewers, asked me to stand up on their behalf because they believe this is great change. We talked at length about how this was absolutely critical to maintaining regional news. As a regional MP, that sort of news is essential for my community to hear what I have to say for them. Then they can have their say back to me, which is always a good thing as well.
I know that many in Gilmore are not yet using the internet or Facebook for their news, so the TV is still our primary provider of news. It has done an amazing job over many decades, and I have a great deal of respect for most members of our media. I find them to be fair about issues, for the most part. They are not always on my side, but they at least give me a chance to have my say and put an alternative point of view forward. I do not always like the clips they show, but that is okay; that is the way it is. I support the legislation as it will retain many regional jobs and we will still get great regional news.
There have been three parts to this change. It is about proposing a market aggregation. This process has been happening since the 1980s, with a gradual change here and a gradual change there. This is not actually a new concept; it has been going on for a very long time. A lot of the legislative framework is already there, but that was determined a long time ago about the time when I was about five and this great big box came into the lounge room. It was about six feet by four feet by however much. It was Easter time. It was our first TV. I played with the box. I was not really interested in the TV, because I was only little. This legislation has been around for a very long time. It is time to tweak it. It is time to fix it. It is time to sort it. Indeed, later on, when there is different technology, it will need to be tweaked and changed again. With only three media platforms newspapers, TV and radio the legislation was appropriate; but with smartphones, social media and streaming services, it absolutely isn’t. It is totally unfair. This includes the ’75 per cent audience reach rule’, which prohibits either a person in their own right or as a director of one or more companies from controlling commercial television broadcasting licences, which actually caused grief in my area. It meant that those other services were supplying the news, the items and the articles for many of my people who could not get it. I think it is a grand idea to change it. In the digital media environment, this rule is redundant.
Digital media can reach anywhere, wherever you have a phone or wherever you have reception for it or wherever you are connected to the internet. You can get anything from anywhere. There are no limits. Viewers can already receive heaps of video and audio media services, including even the streamed versions of the metropolitan television services. I am not much interested in what is going on in metropolitan news, but sometimes I need to know what is going on in the cities as well. I am much more interested in what is going on in my area. Two of the three metropolitan commercial stations already provide streamed versions going across Australia. We have already got quite a coverage going on. Viewers in regional areas already receive the same number of commercial television services and substantially the same commercial television programming, including news, as their metro counterparts. I would much prefer to have our regions retained. Any merger between metro and regional commercial TV broadcasters, should this occur, would generally involve the replacement of one television voice with another, due to the fact that metro and regional networks generally operate in separate licence areas. Media transactions would still be subject to general competition laws, and the government will ask the ACCC to update their media merger guidance accordingly.
Together, the repeal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule and the two-out-of-three rule will reduce the regulatory burden on the media industry. It will allow the media business to operate more flexibly in the market and help ensure it can continue to provide high quality news and entertainment services to Australians. The two-out-of-three rule restricts traditional media companies from optimising the scale and scope of their operations and from accessing resources, capital and management expertise in other sectors, which of course any business needs to be able to access, especially these days when things are expanding so much. You need to be able to tap into other areas to get all sorts of help in many different ways. At the same time, other unregulated platforms, YouTube and Facebook, are free to consolidate and adapt their businesses as much as they like, subject to wider considerations like competition rules. From a consumer perspective, online media is no longer viewed as something distinct from the more traditional media platforms. Audiences in Australia and overseas now use multiple sources such as news organisations, and multiple media platforms such as online social media, television, radio and newspapers to discover and access news. I know for one that most of my family, my young kids, access their news on Facebook. Heaven forbid, I am a bit worried about that. I would hope they go to some more reliable sources as well.
Changes to this rule would only have a material impact on the capital city markets in Darwin and Hobart. Most of the other places are generally going to be in advance of that. In most regional and remote markets, the removal of the two-out-of-three rule will have minimal impact. In 62 of the 99 regional and remote radio licence areas in Australia, which is 63 per cent, the current media outlets do not include operations from all three regulated platforms: commercial television, commercial radio and associated newspapers. The removal of the rule would therefore have no bearing on cross-media ownership in these markets. In 10 of the remaining 37 licence areas, further media consolidation of any sort will be prohibited, because they are all at or below the diversity floor of a minimum of four voices under the 5/4 rule. Only in 27 of the 99 regional and remote radio licence areas, which is 27 per cent or just over, could any acquisition or merger activity take place as a result of the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule. So it is basically just under a third. Media transactions will still be subject to the ACCC. Together, these two different changes will help ensure that these businesses can continue to provide high quality news to all of us.
I think the last measure, that of establishing new local content obligations, is probably the most critical for any regional MP. This measure is needed to make sure that regional Australians, such as all my people in Gilmore, can have access to the local content and the local news that they value. They are a bit like me; they are not that keen on news from Sydney. They want to know what is happening in their local area, particularly as summer is coming and bushfires are coming. People need updates and warnings; it has to be local. The new obligations will apply to regional commercial television broadcasters, subject to what is called a ‘trigger event’. This is where, as a result of a change in control, they become part of a group of commercial broadcasting licensees whose combined licence area population exceeds 75 per cent of the Australian population. These new obligations will apply to licensees as a trade-off for the opportunity to use new possibilities and improve the efficiency of their operations. The bill specifies a minimum amount of local content which licensees must broadcast each week to applicable local content areas, depending on the type of licence area and whether a trigger event has occurred. Points are pretty hard to get, so this is important. Where there is no trigger event, licensees in aggregated markets must continue to meet the 720-point requirement over a six-week period.
So the public can rest assured that there is still going to be an enormous amount of local content, especially when you look at how many points that broadcasters can achieve by putting in certain content. They get three points, just three points, for broadcasting during the eligible periods, which is when more people are looking at it, instead of the two- to four o’clock in the morning period. For broadcasting something that has not been previously broadcast, they get three points. If it is absolutely local content, it is three points. If it is local news, it is three points. If it is only just a little line item in the news, it is just two points. If it is any other material for a regional area, it is just two points. Seven hundred and twenty points is a lot for a regional TV station to get, so we can rest assured that we are going to get our local content. Licensees in non-aggregated markets will not be subject to any local programming obligations, which seems pretty fair to me.
Where a trigger event has occurred, affected licensees in aggregated markets must meet a higher, 900-point requirement over a six-week period. Affected licensees in most non-aggregated markets must then meet a 360-point requirement over a six-week period. These will absolutely ensure that local programming is in nearly all regional licence areas following a trigger event, including where there is none currently. That means if they are walloping in a whole stack of other stuff that has nothing to do with the local region, at the moment they do not have to. It suits them better though; they get better advertising revenue. This bill will also introduce an incentive for local news content to be filmed in the local area, which will be built into the new points system. I have to tell you, as a regional MP, I really appreciate that because running a bit of film from some other area and then having my voice over a news item does not work particularly well for my people.
Licensees will be required to submit two annual reports on their compliance with new obligations, commencing 18 months after the trigger event. So there is actually going to be some follow-up to make sure they are doing the right thing. Additionally, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be required to undertake a review of the effectiveness of new local programming obligations two years after their commencement. This is quite an amazing change, and the reviewers, the managers and I feel that it is such a great thing for our local region.
I need to have local news stories. When I put out an idea that I am going to have a forum for youth in my area, I use the local paper and the local radio stations. That is how I get the message out. Sometimes I do paid advertising, but sometimes it is on the news. If there is a special event, like funding for Jindelara, which is going to have accommodation for children with disability, or when we have a birthing facility in Ulladulla, my local people need to see that news. If it is Yumaro, who are getting some funding for their disability structures; or if it is my local cadets, who have been given a grant; or Riding for the Disabled, who are getting a grant all of those stories need to be run by my local media. They usually like to be involved in it, because they personally like to run local stories. My stringer, Michael, has a favourite project, which we have managed to get $300,000 for. As part of the river wash every time the Shoalhaven river floods at a particular bend, there is the loss of about a metre or a metre and a half of shore. It is a favourite project of Michael’s. He keeps saying, ‘When are we going to get this done?’ If we keep having a storm event every six months, which has been happening currently, then that river is going to wash out part of the ‘sand track’, as we commonly call it where we live, and that will cut out off the alternative South Coast route to get down for holidays. We are concerned about that. The community learned about the $300,000 commitment from the government to fix that breach in the river, and we can manage that. Eventually we will get the Green Army in there to plant, and it will be absolutely fabulous. I am so proud that that is happening. I could not get those messages out to the community without my local media. I think they do a phenomenal job and we need to support them in every possible way that we can. This legislation does exactly that. We will retain our local media content and our local people will be very, very happy to see the reports on the news of storm events, shark sightings when we have to get new shark nets out, bushfires and even car accidents that are blocking off the highway. If you or your family are intending to travel and you are tuned in to your local radio or tuned into your local TV at home, you can ring your family and say, ‘Don’t bother coming down to the coast for a couple of hours, it’s blocked.” A couple of years ago, when there were fires at Jerrawangala and the highway was cut, people would say, ‘Don’t bother coming up from Milton, you can’t get there, and don’t bother trying to get south.” So, thanks to the local media.