Interview with Graham Richardson – Sky News Richo – Wednesday, 16 December 2015



SUBJECT/S: Media reform; NBN; MYEFO

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: In our Sydney studio is Jason Clare, Shadow Minister for Communications. G’day Jason, how are you?


RICHARDSON: Good. Now the Government keeps talking about these changes to the laws of how much reach you can have and who you can talk to, I wonder when are we going to actually see the detail?

CLARE: It’s a good question, there has been delay after delay on suggestions of media reform over the last two years. Part of that was because of a fight between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull over whether they should change the laws at all. Now in the aftermath of the leadership change from Abbott to Turnbull there’s a fight between the Liberal Party and the National Party over what these laws should look like. There is speculation that we might see laws come before the Parliament next year but we are still waiting for the Government to sort out the dispute and division inside their own side before the Parliament gets a chance to look at these proposed changes.

RICHARDSON: Lets look at what you might do just for a start. Obviously I was there in the Paul Keating days when he said quite famously, you can be a prince of print or a queen of the screen but you couldn’t be both and I think pre-internet there might have been an argument for that. Post internet I can’t see any argument at all because now the number of choices you have for where you get your news and comment are just so broad aren’t they? I mean the number of choices is massive now.

CLARE: There are most probably three changes that the Government will bring forward the first is a change to the reach rule. At the moment Channel Seven, Channel Nine, Channel Ten are only allowed by law to broadcast to 75 percent of the country. Now I think there is a very strong argument that that law is outdated, it seems very out of date that in the 21st century Channel Seven, Channel Nine and Channel Ten can only broadcast to 75 percent of the country but they can stream on the internet the same program to 100 percent of the country.

RICHARDSON: And do, don’t they?

CLARE: They do, so I think there is a very strong argument that that should change but there is a dispute going on at the moment it seems between the Liberal Party and the National Party over how you protect local content to make sure that local businesses can still advertise their businesses in regional areas and that National Party MP’s still get their mug on TV every night. So we are waiting to see what happens there.

The second part is the two out of three rule, whether major news companies should be limited to only being able to own two out of three out of a radio station, a newspaper or a TV station. You make the point that the array of different content is much larger today than it ever was. The internet has meant that you can get information from a number of different sources that you couldn’t once upon a time. It is true though Graham that the companies that own most of those news sources are predominately still the traditional media companies. So whilst the internet has changed things in this area it’s important to make the point that probably seven or eight out of the top ten news websites are still owned by the major news organisations, companies like News Limited, Fairfax as well as organisations like the ABC.

The third area where the Government might make some changes, we are waiting to see, is in the area of the anti-siphoning list and that goes to whether there will be some sports which at the moment are only broadcast on free-to-air channels, on Seven, Nine or Ten that might be taken off that list and then allow Foxtel to broadcast first those sporting events.

RICHARDSON: Is that not a case though that Foxtel is looking to the future and obviously streaming now, Netflix and Stan and a million other things that will come up are supposed to be putting the networks and the pay television platforms in some future danger and if that’s the case sport and news are going to be the things that the Netflix’s of the world won’t be having, so therefore they want to garner more. But it takes a fair bit of courage doesn’t it for a government, of either political persuasion I might say, to start taking things off the anti-siphoning list and making them available therefore to 30 percent of the population not 100. It’s pretty courageous as Sir Humphrey might say.

CLARE: Everybody watching our interview today has got Foxtel so they can press a button and watch whatever sport that’s on Fox Sport that they want, you’re right in saying that that’s only 30 percent of the country and if you’re one of the other 70 percent of the country that relies on Channel Seven, or Channel Nine or Channel Ten to get the sport you want to watch or even SBS or ABC, you’d be pretty angry if your favourite sports suddenly you had to pay for. I think the Government needs to tread very carefully here, we wait and see what they are proposing to do.

RICHARDSON: Getting back to the reach argument, there couldn’t be an argument for 75 percent anymore and from what I’ve heard from the new Minister it seems they are going to move on that aren’t they?

CLARE: I would think they would. I’ve said just then that I think there is a powerful argument to get rid of the reach rule. The Labor Party, when we were last in government proposed to get rid of that rule. We have laid our cards on the table, we think that that rule is out of date but we are sitting here on the sidelines waiting for the Government to get its act together before legislation is introduced into the Parliament to remove what is really now a pretty antiquated, out of date rule.

RICHARDSON: It seems to be. Now what about the two out of three rule, it seems to me usually it’s an argument about print and screen and I don’t think it’s an outrageous thing the way that everybody is talking about whether News Limited is going to buy Ten. It’s pretty clear they are going to buy Sky. Everybody tells me they are going to buy Ten. Do you know anything about that? Is it likely? And if so is it something the Labor Party would approve?

CLARE: That might happen, that might very well happen, that News buys Sky. It’s a matter for companies and executives to make decision about that not politicians. It might end up that Sky finds its way onto free-to-air sometime in the future as well. What I’ve said on the two out of three rule is that we will take an open mind approach to this. Lets wait to see the legislation introduced into the Parliament. Lets make sure that we go through all the arguments for and against, I think there are strong arguments in favour of keeping the rule and against keeping the rule and getting rid of it. So lets go through them in detail and judge this proposal on its merits.

RICHARDSON: It’s not only about News and Channel Ten, you at the moment have Fairfax with the newspapers and a very big radio network into which they’ve bought, could you see any circumstance where you could have all three?

CLARE: You mention Fairfax, so what might happen under a removal of the two out of three rule is that Fairfax and Channel Nine for example might get together. By getting rid of the rule what you would create is an opportunity for businesses to be in a sense vertically integrated. One company could own a newspaper as well as radio stations, as well as a TV station. So that would create the opportunity for one business to own a major television channel as well as radio stations and newspapers. It would be up to those businesses though to make the decision to go into those mergers or acquisitions and it would still be up to the ACCC to make a decision that that didn’t breach competition rules. These are all the sorts of things Graham that will be part of the debate next year.

RICHARDSON: But it’s very hard Jason to argue that they interfere with competition rules, I mean you might have an argument to say and I’m not saying you would but I could argue I think this is concentrating too much media power in one hand but I can’t say it affects competition. There’s still a hell of a lot of competition out there.

CLARE: The point I’m making Graham is that as part of the legal process for any merger or acquisition in a world beyond these rules, is that the ACCC would still have to go through that process. They did that for example recently when News sought to purchase 14.9 percent of Channel Ten. If the rule was to be removed and for example News tried to buy more of Channel Ten or Fairfax tried to buy more of Channel Nine or to enter into an agreement with Channel Nine the ACCC would have a role to play there as well.

RICHARDSON: Ok can I turn to something that no one seems to talk about much these days and that’s the NBN. Have you been letting Malcolm Turnbull off the hook, because it seems to me in his time as Minister for Communications the blowouts in cost are just about as bad as they ever were under Stephen Conroy or worse?

CLARE: Worse. Numbers don’t lie. Malcolm Turnbull promised that he would be able to build a second rate, slower version of the NBN for $29.5 billion, now they have released a Corporate Plan that says that this will blow out to up to $56 billion – it has almost doubled in cost. The time it will take to build has more than doubled. Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott promised in April of 2013 that everyone across the country would have access to the NBN by the end of 2016. In other words everybody watching this program and everyone else across the country would have access to the NBN by the end of next year. That’s not going to happen. That’s not going to happen, there are about 12 million households and businesses across the country, they’ve only gotten to about 1.5 million so far. They are not going to get to 12 million. They are now saying it will take until 2020 to get everybody connected to the NBN. So that’s blown out by more than double as well and it gets worse Graham. Only a couple of weeks ago we found the cost of fixing the old copper network their using to build fibre to the node, that’s blown out by 1000 percent.

RICHARDSON: That was always a very dodgy decision to use the copper, wasn’t it?

CLARE: It was a bad decision made 12 months ago. 12 months ago they bought the copper network back and I said earlier this week they did it without proper due diligence. In their documents they say that they could fix the copper network for $50 million, we now know it has blown out to more than $600 million just to fix the copper network – a blowout of more than 1000 percent. Most people don’t get promoted when they blow their budget by 1000 percent, most people get the sack. That’s not what has happened to Malcolm Turnbull, he’s being promoted. The great irony here Graham is that Tony Abbott got the sack because of all of the broken promises he made on health and education and everything else. Malcolm Turnbull is just as bad. He’s broken the promise on how much it will cost. He’s broken the promise on the time it will take to build and broken the promises on how much it would cost to fix the dodgy old copper network and he gets promoted.

RICHARDSON: Indeed he has, he’s got the biggest promotion. I’ve got to go, one last, very quick question. Can I just run this one past you, I note Chris Bowen today, you’re going to oppose the savings that the Government announced yesterday, the pathology, MRI etc., I’m just getting a bit weary of this. Labor opposes every change, every cut. You’ve come out with some proposals for extra taxes on things that I agree with on super etc., that’s all fine but when are going to announce some cuts? You’ve got no credibility on this until you too come up with an alternative plan and I am not seeing any evidence you’ve got one.

CLARE: Graham don’t believe this line from the Liberal Party that we oppose all cuts, we’ve supported $20 billion worth of cuts already in this term of Parliament but we’ve also said we would get rid of their Direct Action program, that will save billions. They want to bring the Baby Bonus back we have said we will oppose that as well and we’ve made the point that the budget has a spending and a revenue problem. This idea that it doesn’t have a revenue problem I think is naïve and ludicrous. But we also make the point that you’re making Graham that there are spending challenges as well.

The key issue here is where do you cut? Malcolm Turnbull said he’d be different to Tony Abbott, MYEFO’s released yesterday, we find that deficits up, debts up and what do they cut, health and education. That’s what Tony Abbott promised he wouldn’t cut and he got stuck into that. Malcolm Turnbull’s first chance to show the people of Australia what he’s all about, he cuts health and education. It just shows that he is Tony Abbott with a nicer smile and longer sentences.

RICHARDSON: And a better suit. I’m not sure I agree with all of that but I don’t have the time to pursue it. Jason Clare thank you very much for your time and Merry Christmas.

CLARE: Good on you mate, Merry Christmas.

RICHARDSON: We’ll see you in the New Year.

CLARE: Will do.