Interview with Kieran Gilbert – Sky News AM Agenda – Wednesday 12 March 2014





SUBJECT/S: Media ownership; Missing plane.

KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks for your company. This is AM Agenda. This morning, with me now is the Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. Mr Clare, thanks for your time. I first of all want to ask you about a story in the Australian newspaper suggesting Labor is hardening its position against the floated media reforms from Malcolm Turnbull. Is that correct?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well Kieran, there is no plan. We are waiting to see what Malcolm Turnbull brings forward to the Parliament and we’ll consult with the industry, we’ll consult with the general public before we make a decision. Malcolm Turnbull’s mentioned two changes, the so-called reach rule, and the two out of three rule but there are three other very difficult, very contentious issues that are on his desk. There’s a fight that is brewing over anti-siphoning laws, they are the laws that determine whether sport is available to everyone on free TV. There’s another fight that’s brewing over re-transmission fees. The free to air television networks want to be able to charge Foxtel to re-transmit their signal and there’s also a decision on Malcolm Turnbull’s desk about whether he reduces the licence fees, the hundreds of millions of dollars that the free to air networks pay to the Government every year. These are three other things that the Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, needs to make a decision about. Their contentious and their difficult and we need to see what the Government brings forward on all of these fronts.

GILBERT: What about the reach rule though? First of all, if we just go one-by-one through them, the reach rule, there’s a suggestion by some caucus members, according to that report that I referred to earlier, that their worried about mergers between metropolitan and regional stations. Is this something you’re picking up from your colleagues? Are you worried about it?

CLARE: Well the National Party’s said the same thing. I’ve seen Senator Williams make the point that local content is very important, members of the opposition have made the same point as well. I think that anybody who thinks seriously about this issue would appreciate that it’s important, particularly in regional Australia, that there’s access to local content, so yes I do agree but this is something that we need to look at in its totality. We’ve got a couple of ideas that have been put out by the Government, it may all come to nothing. We need to see what they bring forward to the Parliament.

GILBERT: What about in principle though the notion of relaxing some of these rules? What is Labor’s starting point here? Because it did seem towards the end of your term in Government that Labor had aligned with the view, the majority view among media executives at least, that these laws need to be relaxed?

CLARE: Well media reform is a minefield and Malcolm Turnbull is in the middle of it right now and if he doesn’t know it, he’ll know it soon because it’s not just the ownership changes, the local content changes that are problematic, it’s also any change that you make that affects people’s ability to watch sport on TV as well as the fees that are causing difficulties for some of the major networks at the moment. Now these are things that the Government needs to have a serious look at and bring forward proposals to the Parliament. We’re happy to look at all the different proposals the Government brings forward but at the moment they’re just talking on television about some ideas, they haven’t brought anything serious for us to consider.

GILBERT: But it sounds like you are open to some of these ideas. Certainly the proposal of the two out of three rule going which restricts media companies from owning more than a radio licence, TV station and a newspaper, they can only have two of the three in any particular market. Is that viable, is that not anachronistic in the current media landscape where you’ve got the internet as the super platform Malcolm Turnbull describes it as?

CLARE: Well Kieran I would make the general point that diversity is important, the general public is well served by having as many voices as possible. But let’s wait and see what the Government brings forward. We haven’t heard very much and as I said, there are a number of contentious and difficult things that are on the Minister’s desk. He’s got to make his own mind up and he’s got to come forward and seek the approval of the Parliament, we haven’t seen anything like that yet.

GILBERT: On the anti-siphoning though, I want to ask you about that. It obviously has implications for Foxtel, Sky News is obviously broadcast on Foxtel so it’s hardly necessary to have a disclosure on that front but anyway, there it is. Jason Clare, in terms of that anti-siphoning regime do you see any argument for change on that right now, what’s your position on that when it comes to the sport?

CLARE: Well Kieran there would have to be a pretty damn good argument. Everybody loves sport in Australia, we want to see the Ashes on telly, we want to see the AFL grand final live, we want to make sure we can see the Rugby League grand final live as well and we want to make sure that everybody in Australia has access to it and don’t need to pay a subscription fee in order to see their favourite teams, in order to see the Australian cricket team play or to see the grand final of the NRL or the AFL for that matter. There would have to be a pretty good argument. That’s why I say this is a difficult decision for Malcolm Turnbull that’s on his desk. I am sure everybody watching this program would agree with me that these are things that Australians care passionately about and they don’t want to lose their favourite sports from free TV.

GILBERT: Now Jason Clare, as a former Home Affairs Minister, I just want to get your thoughts on this missing Malaysian Airlines plane, there are a number of theories floating about, INTERPOL basically all but ruling out a terrorist attack, the CIA hasn’t done that, it’s unusual if it was because nobody has claimed responsibility. What’s your take on what we are seeing at the moment? It is quite baffling isn’t it?

CLARE: It’s an awful mystery and I feel very deeply for the family and friends of people on that plane who just want to know what’s happened. I’m not an aviation expert but people who are have said it’s difficult to speculate on what’s happened until you find parts of the aircraft, to know exactly what has happened, until we know that you really are just speculating. There’s been points made about people on stolen passports, we don’t know whether they were up to anything nefarious or not. I know that we do have strong systems here in Australia and there’s an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today that talks about that in some detail but that doesn’t mean we should sit back on our laurels and say that our systems are good enough. We operate in a world where planes are travelling between countries and the systems in other countries can be weaknesses that affect Australian citizens so we do need to work together with other countries to make sure that our systems are as strong as possible.

GILBERT: As a former Minister with responsibility for Customs, how widespread is this idea of fake passports, because that’s something regardless of the cause of this ill-fated airliner, that has been something that has generated enormous coverage, as you pointed out, what’s Australia’s experience with that?

CLARE: Well let me speak generally about that Kieran and the point is made in that article in the Herald that where this occurs we have got INTERPOL databases in order to stop people at the border, as well as other checking mechanisms. Our systems are good but they are only as good as the way in which we operate with other countries. Last year I set up the first five eyes meeting of National Security Ministers in the United States. I met with my US, UK, New Zealand and Canadian counterparts. We made the decision at that meeting that we need to work more closely in the exchange of criminal database information, particularly as it applies to airports, that’s a good start. There’ll be more discussions on that this year I suspect with my successor Michael Keenan who will host that meeting here in Sydney but it needs to be bigger than that. We need to make sure that we are working with other countries in our region to make sure that if people are breaking the law, are carrying false passports, then they’re picked up before they get on the plane.

GILBERT: Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare, thanks for your time this morning.

CLARE: Thanks Kieran.