Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Given today's announcement of further media concentration with News Limited's reported acquisitions and the potential for Gina Rinehart to launch a full takeover of Fairfax Media, is the minister happy to stand by and do nothing to protect media diversity in Australia? If not, when will the government move to legislate for a public interest test for significant media transactions as recommended by the convergence review?
I thank Senator Milne for her question. As I mentioned yesterday in answer to a question from one of her colleagues, we put the Convergence Review in place nearly two years ago. We recognised that changes were going to come sweeping through the media sector because of the internet—something those on the other side have not yet discovered, as Senator Brandis proved the other day. We are considering the recommendations that came from former Justice Finkelstein's report—again, something we put in place—which included a reference about low-cost but high-quality journalism. We have put in place a number of inquiries to get ourselves the best possible advice and the best possible evidence to make some sensible, coherent decisions. The cabinet is considering those.
I have long been on the public record as advocating a public interest test, which is one of the recommendations that have been made. We are considering that at the moment and I suspect that we will have some news in the not too distant future about a range of these recommendations. But we are not going to respond to individual share market movements; we are not going to respond to somebody setting up a 100 per cent digital newspaper, as Mr Wood recently did, any more than we are to Ms Rinehart, who is legally entitled to buy shares. We have also been very clear on the question of whether or not Ms Rinehart should agree to the editorial independence charter. It is a brand-trashing decision that Ms Rinehart may be making. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The issue is: what are you going to do about it and when? Given that Gina Rinehart already has a stake in the Ten Network and that Fairfax media already owns radio stations, has the government assessed whether Gina Rinehart could be close to breaching current cross-media ownership laws? If she is not yet breaching the cross-media ownership laws, will the government consider tightening those laws in the interim?
Ms Rinehart at this point is not breaching the cross-media ownership laws. As I have said previously, these are the watered down laws that do not include a public interest test. But let me be very clear: Ms Rinehart at the moment is not breaching the former government's media concentration—cross-media—laws. She is not in breach of the current laws and she is not in breach of the past laws. The question that is vital, and that goes to the heart of democracy and diversity of opinion, is whether or not Ms Rinehart is willing to sign the charter of independence for the editorial position. She has been very clear that she wants the right to hire and fire the editors. That will cause the readership a crisis of confidence. It will seriously impact on the remaining—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Minister, if you are not going to legislate for the public interest test in the foreseeable future, if you are not moving for any change to the cross-media ownership laws and if the government continues to refuse to legislate in respect of charters of editorial independence for media companies, what will the government do to address this matter, because it is now happening?
The question is based on a false premise. You have actually just seriously verballed me, Senator Milne. That is one of the problems with pre-writing your question. I did not at all say that we would be doing nothing. Do not come into this chamber and claim we are going to do nothing. I have indicated for some time that we are considering a number of matters and I said we would have a number of announcements. Let me just make the point that the Constitution of Australia does not allow you unilaterally to reach back and make people un-invest. Any law change would be prospective, so the argument that we should somehow reach back and undo what Ms Rinehart has legally done is not going to fly in this chamber, it is not going to fly in the other chamber and it will not fly in the broader community. We will make some announcements after we have given considered— (Time expired)