Interview with Emma Alberici – ABC Lateline – Tuesday, 23 February 2016



EMMA ALBERICI: Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Communications. He joins me now from our Canberra studio. Many thanks for being there.


ALBERICI: How urgent does Labor see the need to change – update, Australia’s media laws?

CLARE: Well, obviously the Government doesn’t think it’s that urgent, because Malcolm Turnbull spent 2.5 years working on this, talking about it, tiptoeing around this issue, but hasn’t brought a proposal in front of the Parliament. It now seems like the Government made a decision last night, but we still haven’t seen the details of it. We’ll judge it on its merits when the legislation finally appears.

ALBERICI: Would you oppose plans for, say, Channel Nine, Fairfax and Macquarie Media – 2GB, 3AW – to merge?

CLARE: It’s a pretty controversial proposal. This is the “two out of three” removal proposal and it’s one of a number of things that the Government, we think, is considering. Just to take you through those, Emma, the “reach rule” that the Government is proposing to remove is a pretty non-controversial change. We proposed this in government about three years ago. There’s a strong argument to get rid of that rule that says that Channel Seven, Channel Nine and Channel Ten can only broadcast to 75 per cent of the country, but they can stream the same service over the internet to 100 per cent of the country – and do right now. So that’s pretty uncontroversial. There’s a strong argument to get rid of that.

Getting rid of the “two out of three” rule is more controversial. I’ve heard strong arguments in favour of keeping it, but also strong arguments in favour of removing it. I think that it would need proper scrutiny by the Parliament and by a parliamentary committee to look at what the pros and cons of removing that are.

ALBERICI: You’ve been looking at this for a very long time. You certainly scrutinised this in government. Which way are you leaning?

CLARE: Well, as I said there’s strong arguments for and against.

The arguments in favour of removing this rule are that you can create vertically integrated businesses, like the type that David was talking about in his package, where Fairfax and Nine could come together; or News Limited and Ten could come together.

The argument against it is that, while the internet has changed things dramatically and there’s a lot more content out there for people to consume, there’s a difference between diversity of content and diversity of ownership. Much of what we read on the internet, much of what we watch is still owned by the traditional media companies, be it ABC with iView and its websites or other websites owned by Channel Nine, Channel Seven, News Limited and Fairfax.

So I think in addition to hearing the arguments from the owners of these companies, we need to hear the views of the Australian people.

ALBERICI: We heard Mitch Fifield there tonight say he doesn’t want the grass to grow under his feet, albeit, as you say, they’ve been talking about this for 2.5 years. You arguably talked about this for 6 or 7 years. So would Labor be inclined to provide bipartisan support for some media reform before the election?

CLARE: There are options here available to the Government. As I said, there are non-controversial elements of what we think the Government is proposing to do. They could have a relatively quick introduction to the Parliament and consideration by the Parliament.

ALBERICI: So you’d support them on the reach rule, on getting rid of the reach rule?

CLARE: Well, it hasn’t been to our Shadow Cabinet or our Caucus processes yet. But as I said, we proposed this in government and I think there’s a strong argument for it to be reformed. It’s the sort of legislation, if the Government didn’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, that it could introduce separately and we could consider in a fairly expeditious manner. But if the Government brings the two proposals together as one piece of legislation, then I think it’s incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to look at the bill properly, particularly the contentious parts of it.

ALBERICI: Are you concerned about the implications for rural and regional Australia?

CLARE: Well, in terms of the reach rule, what this would do is not reduce the number of owners in a market but replace one with another. Instead of a regional TV station or regional company, it would replace it with Seven, Nine and Ten. I’ve consulted the regional networks. They’re very positive about this reform. They want it.

One of the problems for regional Australia is, the cuts to the ABC that the Government’s made over the last 2.5 years have meant that the ABC, with $500 million worth of cuts over the last 2 years or so, has had to stop programs like the Bush Telegraph and some radio posts have been shut down. The Government bears responsibility for that and the National Party bears responsibility for not standing up to Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott when they cut $500 million from the ABC and SBS.

ALBERICI: Well, if the “two out of three” rule were to also be scrapped, what do you say would be the implications or, I guess, where would that leave the ABC more generally in terms of relevance to audiences?

CLARE: I think the ABC becomes even more important than ever, particularly in an environment where people are looking for good, unbiased media that doesn’t have a particular perspective or a particular point of view. Unfortunately, one of my concerns with the ABC is that the ABC is going through its triennial funding agreement at the moment. One of the things we did in government is we provided the ABC with an additional $20 million a year or $60 million over three years for additional news services in cities but also in regional Australia.

Now, the Government has to consider in the next few months whether they’re going to continue that funding or not. If they don’t – and if that funding is not in the Budget in May – it will mean that as many as 100 journalists at the ABC could lose their jobs; not just in cities like Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, but right across the country including in regional Australia.

ALBERICI: Jason Clare, Fairfax and News Corp would say, “so what?” They’ve lost hundreds.

CLARE: And that is very true and I said, when the Government proposed cuts to the ABC, that the ABC, like any organisation, can be more efficient. But this is a Government that promised no cuts to the ABC. The night before the election, Tony Abbott said “no cuts”. And then he’s cut them.

If Malcolm Turnbull does this in the Budget in May and doesn’t renew this funding, then this will be a cut by Malcolm Turnbull. He blamed Tony Abbott for the last $500 million worth of cuts to the ABC. If he cuts this funding, he will have no one to blame but himself.

ALBERICI: What did you make of the ABC’s managing director’s comments to Senate estimates earlier this month, suggesting ABC and SBS should merge?

CLARE: Well, I don’t think we should go down that path. As I said, I think the ABC and SBS can be more efficient and I’ve heard arguments that say that you could potentially find savings by more shared services, more back-office shared services. But particularly with an organisation like SBS, that has a very special mandate to tell the stories of multicultural Australia and explain the different parts of Australia to all of us, I think it’s very important that we protect its role.

As a Member of Parliament from western Sydney that’s got probably the most multicultural electorate in the country, I want to make sure that we protect and preserve that special role that SBS plays.

ALBERICI: On the NBN, before we go, Labor moved a transparency amendment to an NBN Bill in the Senate. The Government has said this was nothing more than a stunt. Explain it for us?

CLARE: Well, all we did in the Senate is we asked the Government to provide us with the same information on the NBN that we provided in documents, in corporate plans, when we were in government – basic information on capital costs, operating costs, revenue projections.

If the Government is so desperate to hide this information, it begs the question about: what else is wrong with the NBN? We know the mess that Malcolm Turnbull has already created. The cost of it has doubled from $29.5 billion up to $56 billion. The time it will take to build has doubled as well.

ALBERICI: But to be fair, Jason Clare – I’m sorry to interrupt you, because we are running out of time – but to be fair, between 2009 and 2013 NBN failed to meet every rollout target it set for itself under Labor?

CLARE: One of the things I said about the NBN under us is it rolled out too slow but Emma, Malcolm Turnbull has been in charge of the NBN for 2.5 years now. It was basically his only job and he made a mess of it. The cost has doubled. The time it will take to build has doubled.

Everyone in Australia was promised they would have it this year. If you’re still buffering this program, if you’re watching it over the internet, blame Malcolm Turnbull because he promised he’d have it here right now.

The cost of fixing the copper to make his second-rate NBN work has gone up by 1,000 per cent. And where they’ve started to switch this on across the country, it’s not working properly.

It’s a mess. I’ve seen this over the last 2.5 years and slowly but surely, the people of Australia are starting to see the Malcolm Turnbull that I’ve seen over the last 2.5 years. And the fact is: he’s not that good. All talk but not a lot of action.

ALBERICI: Jason Clare, we have to leave it there. Thank you very much.

CLARE: Thanks, Emma.