Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014

This Bill, the Broadcasting and Other Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014, is part of the Government’s so called ‘regulation repeal day’.

Most of what is in this Bill is part of the routine function of Government.

The former Labor Government repealed 16,794 acts and regulations during its time in office. All part of the ordinary work of Government.

It is important work, but we didn’t make a song and dance of it.

This Government has taken a different approach, holding regulation repeal days. Making a lot out of very little.

The first regulation repeal legislation saved the industry $35 million.  I said at the time that it is a good thing that it is being done but that it’s value should not be overstated…you do not put out a press release when you vacuum the lounge room and that is what the Government is effectively doing here.

If they were vacuuming the lounge room last year then they are mopping the bathroom this year because this Bill saves industry just $350,000 according to estimates from the Department of Communications.  

Having said that, much of this Bill is straight forward and we agree with it.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA), the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Radcomms Act) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 (the ACMA Act).

It does a number of things.

Firstly it removes a number of provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act which were associated with the simulcast of analogue and digital television signals in the transition to digital broadcasting and the restack of spectrum which commenced after the last analogue signal was switched off. Given the digital television rollout is complete.  These changes make sense and should be supported.

This bill also amends the framework used by the Australian Communications and Media Authority to plan the broadcasting services band spectrum by removing requirements in the Broadcasting Services Act and the Radcomms Act which are no longer necessary.

The bill also removes the requirement for reports made to ACMA under the New Eligible Drama Expenditure Scheme to be independently audited.  The Opposition is satisfied that compliance with this scheme is of a sufficiently high level and there are alternative mechanisms available for ACMA to ensure this continues to allow the removal of this requirement.

The requirement that ACMA reviews industry codes of practice will be also removed.

The bill also amends the process by which the calculation of media diversity points is made in some commercial radio licence areas and introduces grandfathering provisions for commercial broadcasting licences which would be in breach of the statutory provisions on control as a result of fluctuations in population.

There are however some other areas of this Bill that are more contentious. They relate to captioning.

The bill makes an array of changes to captioning.  For example the bill seeks to:

  • remove the requirement for free-to-air broadcasters to report annually on compliance with obligations which require them to provide captioning of programs to assist vision and hearing impaired consumers with access to electronic media and to replace these obligations with a complaints-based assessment process
  • change aspects of captioning target obligations for subscription television and the assessment of the quality of captioning of live and pre-recorded broadcasts for free-to-air and subscription broadcasters and:
  • Remove the requirement for a statutory review of captioning obligations.

The Opposition has been inundated with concerns about some of these changes from the deaf community.

When the Minister for Communications introduced this bill to the House in October last year he said:

“The ACMA and my department have consulted with industry and key accessibility groups on a range of potential reforms that primarily seek to improve administrative arrangements for the free-to-air broadcasters and subscription television broadcasters while requiring that they continue to meet their captioning obligations.”

It turns out that the Minister’s assurances that key accessibility groups had been consulted were not accurate.  The Deaf community certainly didn’t feel like they were consulted on these reforms.

The bi-partisan report of the Senate Environment and Communications Committee on this Bill was very critical of this lack of consultation with the deaf community.

 “The Committee notes that a large number of submitters indicated that the consultation process in relation to this bill had been inadequate. The Committee agrees that the breadth of consultation in relation to this bill has been insufficient.  As a consequence, the effect of some proposed amendments appear to have been misunderstood and inadequate attention was given to a range of serious concerns and interests.”

This lack of consultation reflects poorly on the Minister for Communications.

It is his responsibility to make sure that all affected stakeholders are engaged.

Over the last month Labor has done what the Minister should have done. We have sat down with deaf advocacy groups and the broadcasting industry and worked through their concerns with the changes in this Bill.

As a result of this work we have developed a reasonable compromise that both sides have agreed to.

And that is:

  • Restoring the requirement for free-to-air broadcasters to report annually on their compliance with captioning obligations.
  • Restoring the statutory review of captioning – to occur in 2016. This will allow a comprehensive review of all the issues that concern the deaf community and broadcasters.

I will move amendments to this effect in this debate.

We have also consulted the Government on these amendments and I understand they will support them.

I thank the Government for that.

This is the sort of work the Government should have done themselves.

They should have sat down with the deaf community and consulted them on these changes. They didn’t do that.

They were more concerned with the headlines on ‘Regulation Repeal Day’ than getting the substance right and making sure the deaf community were properly consulted.

These amendments get the Minister out of this mess and I hope that the Minister does a better job on consultation with the next Bill he brings into this place.