ABC CANBERRA BREAKFAST
MONDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 2017
SUBJECTS: Media reforms, a third seat for the ACT, public service cuts under the Coalition, Labor’s support for charities and not-for-profits.
DAN BOURCHIER: To discuss what is likely to be dominating discussions this week, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and Labor MP for Fenner Andrew Leigh are both with me. Good morning.
ZED SESELJA: Good morning, Dan. Morning, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH: Morning Dan, morning Zed.
BOURCHIER: Good to have you both along, I want to start with media reform – lots of discussion of course about this in the last couple of weeks and then the Channel Ten sale shifted directions. Is this still on the agenda, Senator?
SESELJA: Yes, it is. Obviously this is about bringing our media laws into the 21st century. Uh, these are media laws which we have in this country at the moment, which were, which were drafted or passed in the 1980s. Obviously the media landscape has changed dramatically and most importantly we’ve seen the rise of the internet and the way, particularly in the last decade, and the way that people consume media in very different ways. So, things like a two out of three rule, a 75 per cent reach rule for say TV networks and others are obviously need to be looked at in the context of Google and Facebook, Netflix, which are ubiquitous. They are all over the world, all over Australia. So these are seeking to bring our media laws into the 21st century and I think it’s really important so that we can maintain Australian content, so that our local media proprietors can continue to compete.
BOURCHIER: Andrew Leigh, where do you sit on this one?
LEIGH: Dan, one of the starting points is to recognise how concentrated our media landscape is. Let’s look at newspapers. If you go back to the start of the 20th century at the time of Federation, we had 21 daily newspapers and 17 different owners. That’s been steadily narrowing down to just ten newspapers just owned by a handful of owners. The priority for Labor is making sure that we’ve got a diversity of voices in the media landscape. Zed’s absolutely right to point to some of these technological changes, but we’ve also got a fairly concentrated sector. So Labor supports removing the reach rule, which allows regional and metropolitan networks to merge, but not the two out of three rule. If you repealed that, one person could control radio, newspaper and TV in a single market. It’s about getting the balance right in a very fast moving environment. Of course, it’s also about maintaining support for the ABC and SBS. We had that infamous promise from Tony Abbott back in 2013 that there wouldn’t be cuts to the ABC or SBS, but of course, we’ve seen that broken like so many other promises from the Government. There were significant cuts.
SESELJA: Can I respond, Dan, particularly in that issue around concentration. Um, there’s no doubt that if you look at it in the way in Andrew described that there is greater concentration than there was 100 years ago, but that’s if you ignore all of the voices that we have online and the various media outlets that are online. So, the Canberra Times, our local newspaper of course is now mainly an online publication and gets a lot of traffic on its online, but it’s competing not just – uh, well, obviously the Canberra Times is the only one in Canberra, but it’s not just competing in Canberra, it’s competing ah – if you’re a Canberran, you can access media from all over the world and Canberrans do. So we can’t look at it just in the, in the old paradigm where you know you’re the local newspaper and you dominate or here’s a couple of newspapers in town – you’re competing with media proprietors and media entities from all over the world.
BOURCHIER: On that point exactly, where does the significance of local news sit?
LEIGH: It’s absolutely critical and Zed’s right to speak about the potential for competition, but if you look at actually what people are consuming, we’re surprisingly concentrated. Michelle Rowland, our terrific Shadow Communications spokesperson’s been saying that Australia’s media landscape is among the most concentrated in the world and a recent Conversation Fact Check found that to be correct. So we do need to make sure that we have that diversity of local voices. I think there are also initiatives with public interest journalism. One of the things you see out of the United States is this rise in university journalism departments partnering with media outlets in order to produce good pattern journalism, investigative stories – Pro Publica has been very important in this. So there’s a lot of innovation going on, it’s not entirely about government, but I’d be worried about an environment in which government makes things worse by allowing a whole lot of aggregation and mergers.
BOURCHIER: So no chance of bipartisanship then, on the way forward with these media reforms?
LEIGH: We’ve got it on the reach rule, but not on the two out of three rule.
BOURCHIER: I want to move on now to the discussion about a new seat for the ACT as a result of the shift in the latest Census data. Senator Seselja, what’s your view on this?
SESELJA: Well obviously it’s a good thing for Canberra to have more representation in the federal parliament. I mean, there is no doubt that one of the historical realities of being a territory versus a founding state is the ACT gets less representation in the federal parliament than other similar sized jurisdictions, so Tasmania being the most significant example, being one of the federating states. Of course Tasmania has 12 senators, we have two and Tasmania is also guaranteed a minimum of I think five House of Representatives seats. Obviously their population is not a whole lot larger than the ACT, so to have an extra seat is I think really good. I think we’ll wait and see how the redistribution takes place, but I would anticipate that almost inevitably there will be one seat that takes in much of the centre of the ACT, the centre of Canberra, and a northern seat and a southern seat and I think that will perhaps give a better mix where you get some of those outer suburban constituencies perhaps, ah, better represented in the split, and of course if local members don’t have quite as many constituents to look after, it does make it somewhat easier for better representation.
BOURCHIER: And are you eyeing a lower house tilt, Senator?
BOURCHIER: No, not on the cards?
BOURCHIER: Andrew Leigh, what do you make about this discussion about another seat?
LEIGH: I think it’s great to have more representation for the ACT. I’m in furious agreement with Zed on that one and all the more so if that third representative is somebody who’s standing up for Medicare, for the fair go, for egalitarianism, for marriage equality – things that are supported by a broad majority of Canberrans. One of the important things to note too, Dan, is the extraordinary factor that the ACT Government has managed to sustain the economy through this period of savage Commonwealth cuts, so that we’ve actually grown our population. That’s very different from what happened in the mid-1990s where significant public service cuts by the Howard Government resulted in a decline in population and us losing that third seat-
SESELJA: Talk about a rewriting of history, my goodness-
LEIGH: The Barr Government-
SESELJA: So when it’s, when um, when things are bad it’s all of the Commonwealth’s fault and when things are good, it’s the ACT Government’s. If you look at the share of the economy , the fact is that what was said by Andrew Leigh and by Gai Brodtmann and others before the 2013 election – that house prices would crash, that there’d be a disaster for the ACT economy – of course didn’t occur and I’d remind Andrew that the vast bulk of those public service cuts that you talk about were instituted under your Government, when you were still in Government, but this idea that somehow when the economy’s doing well in Canberra, it’s all because of Andrew Barr – well let’s look at Commonwealth spend here in Canberra and I think some of the analysis from people like Markus Mannheim in the Canberra Times has borne that out.
LEIGH: It’s very easy to look at public service numbers. You can look at them and see them rising year on year under Labor, except in the final year where they fell by a couple of hundred. Then you have the Coalition coming in, promising no more than 12,000 public service job cuts and now we’re up to around I think around 16,000 public service job cuts-
SESELJA: Fourteen and a half thousand for the last couple of budgets, as confirmed by the head of the Department of Finance.
LEIGH: If you look at what happened under Labor, rather than made up figures by the Coalition-
SESELJA: By the Head of the Department of Finance-
LEIGH: Made up figure by the Coalition after they got into office, then you can see that under Labor, public service numbers grew in line with population. You can’t-
SESELJA: There’s the, there’s the-
SESELJA: There’s the public service bashing from Andrew Leigh. The head of the Department of Finance before a Senate Committee on two separate occasions confirmed that it was fourteen and a half thousand job cuts as a result of Labor decisions in their last term of Government. Are you saying that he was lying, or-
LEIGH: I am saying, Zed, that you need to look at real numbers rather than made up numbers.
LEIGH: The number of public servants under Labor-
SESELJA: Appointed by the ALP-
LEIGH: Under Labor continued to rise every year except in our final year where it fell by a couple of hundred. Now, they are real numbers – not numbers made up by Matthias Cormann. Real numbers-
SESELJA: The head of the Department of Finance-
LEIGH: I know you’ve been working on-
BOURCHIER: I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere on that one. I might just jump in there, if I can get a word in as well. Senator Seselja, tell me about the move of your office to Gungahlin and when are we going to find out about these federal government department or agency that’s slated for move?
SESELJA: Yes, um, thank you, Dan, Um, a couple of things – the move of the electorate office has occurred. So um it is there near, next to McDonalds, there in Gungahlin, and it is ah it is open for business. So I’d encourage people to be there. It’s the first time there’s been a presence of a federal or state member or territory member in Gunghalin, which it’s good and me being a Tuggeranong resident, its great having an office presence there in the north of Canberra. So I’d encourage people to drop in and raise any issues that they might have. In terms of the um public service office that we’ve ah we’re undertaking to move, we’ve, we are making progress. I presented to the Gungahlin community council on this some time ago. We’re not yet in a position to name that agency, but we will be soon. But obviously there’s a process to take place internally and I’ve made it clear that that will be a small to medium agency somewhere in the vicinity of 300 to 500 staff moving to Gungahlin, which of course is important. It’s important for town centres to have strong presence – we’ve seen that in Belconnen, we’ve seen that in Tuggeranong to a slightly lesser extent, but a very important public service presence, and in Woden and of course Gungahlin needs that in order for it to grow and prosper so people in the north of Canberra and Gungahlin will have some of those job opportunities close to home.
BOURCHIER: And Andrew Leigh, I understand that you’ve been focussing or least will be in part this week on philanthropy as well.
LEIGH: That’s right. I’ve been given the portfolio of Charities and Not-for-Profits after the last election, reflecting Bill Shorten’s enthusiasm for this sector and our desire to – for the first time – have a portfolio for it. We’ve been working to save the charities commission against an attempt to get rid of it, from 2012 all the way until this year. We’ve been working to fix fundraising because our fundraising laws are frankly a bit of a dog’s breakfast, Dan – a patchwork of all state and territory rules. And across Australia, I’ve been holding forums with local charities and not-for-profits on what we call the Reconnected Project, which is bringing them together to talk on innovative ways in which organisations might seek to get us volunteering and donating again. There’s a plethora of interesting ideas – one of my favourites from the ACT is Greening Australia’s tree planting events for singles, which allow you to not only to help the environment, build social capital but maybe even meet the love of our life. So, sowing the seeds of success there and those sorts of interesting ideas are ways in which I think we’ll be able to build up a stronger sense of civic culture in Australia.
BOURCHIER: Certainly an interesting one. Thank you both so much for your time, we’ll have to leave it there.
LEIGH: Thanks, Dan, Thanks, Zed.
SESELJA: Thanks very much.