2SM WITH MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 10 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Australia’s largest ever e-petition for a strong and diverse news media; Four Corners allegations; JobKeeper.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Dr Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury is with us on the program. Andrew, good morning, mate.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Marcus. Great to be with you.
PAUL: Alright. So at least it's now official, if you like, this e-petition calling for media diversity, and we played your piece just a moment ago of the tabling. I don't know, I might be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure I heard a very audible sigh from the Speaker and I thought that was a little rude.
LEIGH: I think it might have been just a reflection the sheer size of the petition. I know it’s an e-petition, but when you bring these things into parliament, you have to have them physically with you. It was about the size of two reams of paper, so he might have been looking at the weight I was lifting. And given I’m a runner rather than weightlifter, it probably looked like a fairly heroic feat.
PAUL: Nicely dodged, Andrew, nicely dodged.
LEIGH: It's just amazing, right? Half a million people, to take the time to sign an e-petition. It really did feel like a privilege, Marcus, to be carrying their views onto the floor of the Parliament.
PAUL: Well, what's going to happen with it, mate? That's the question, Andrew. Will they take it seriously? Will the federal government take it seriously considering that, you know, I mean, the Murdoch press is basically their protection racket anyway?
LEIGH: I think the federal government should take seriously the views of two former Prime Ministers, Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd, and half a million Australians who are calling for greater media diversity. People are concerned when they see hundreds of local newspapers closing across the country. They're aware that we have a pretty concentrated media market, and they know the important role of the media plays in our democracy. Now, we've seen in the United States recently the strong campaigning that Fox News has done for Donald Trump, some of the misinformation around climate change and coronavirus, which is downright dangerous. So the role that Fox has played in that environment is not the role that you want a diverse, accurate, independent free press to be playing.
PAUL: What about those that say, ‘well, you know, you've got the ABC and there are others that perhaps lean toward the left or a Labor viewpoint if you like or ideology’. What do you say to those that say, ‘oh, well, you know, they're a private company, they can do and say whatever they want, they can run whatever editorial line they want’ - because that's what they do – and that, you know, ‘it’s balanced out by the ABC’ and maybe, you know, programs like this.
LEIGH: Australia's media is much more concentrated when you look at newspapers than if you look at radio. So if you look at the newspaper market, that's quite narrow and various experts have looked at it and said newspapers play a particular role - an agenda-setting role. They tend to be the outlets that do a lot of the investigatory work. That's where a lot of the careful considered opinion is. If you're looking at finance journalism, for example, that's largely still newspapers or their online equivalents. So I think it is important that we have strong, healthy, diverse newspaper outlets. And at a local level, we know that local wrongdoing is much more likely to run unchecked if there's no local newspaper. There are now 20 ‘news deserts’ in Australia - 20 regions that just aren't doing any local reporting-
PAUL: What’s a news desert? Just explain to my listeners, what is a news desert?
LEIGH: This is a term that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission came up with when they were looking at the industry a couple of years back. It's a part of Australia that is not served by any local journalists. Where you don't have people reporting on the ground, going into the local council meetings, looking at mismanagement and waste, but also just telling the local stories. If you've got a fabulous story of a kid who's made it from rough circumstances into the national team, there's no one there to tell that story and make the community's hearts swell up with pride. That's a real loss as those local newspapers - some of them have been going for more than 100 years and have hit the wall in the last couple of years.
PAUL: Before we get on to JobKeeper, because I know there are still issues there when it comes to the payment of bonuses to people on big salaries and you know, we know - we've talked about this before, we shouldn't be using JobKeeper to prop this up. But I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask for your opinion on this. Questions have been raised about federal Attorney General Christian Porter's attitude toward women. I don't know whether you saw it last night, this Four Corners expose, revealing a history of inappropriate behaviour – allegedly - including public drunkenness, making unwanted advances to women, etc. We know the former prime minister made it very clear to senior ministers that there would be no tolerance if you like for this sort of behaviour. Call it a bonk ban, call whatever you want. Is there endemic sexism inside the Canberra bubble, Andrew?
LEIGH: My wife and I sat on the couch last night watching the Four Corners episode, just agog at some of the behaviour. It was completely inappropriate for the federal parliament, completely inappropriate for any professional workplace. Women have the right to feel safe and respected in any workplace, and the federal parliament needs to be no different. And so I do think that there's serious work to be done, in all political parties. But as the program noted, the number of women in the House of Representatives for the Liberal Party has gone backwards over the last two decades, and that's I think been part of leading to a culture of insufficient respect for the women who work in the Liberal side.
PAUL: Alright, I won't press on that. Let's move on to JobKeeper. We know if you're getting JobKeeper as a corporation, you shouldn't be paying executive bonuses with it. I mean, that's not what taxpayer dollars are for surely?
LEIGH: Absolutely, Marcus. This isn't just our view. This is also the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Tax Office - Jeremy Hirschhorn has come out and said very clearly that it's not appropriate to be taking those taxpayer dollars and then churning them out as executive bonuses. And yet firm after firm keeps on doing it. Every time we open these annual reports, we see yet another firm saying that they’ve paid significant bonuses. Capitol Hill, Domain Holdings, CarSales, IDP, Accent Group, Premier Investments. So many of these firms seem to think it's okay to get a taxpayer handout and then to give it to CEOs who are sometimes on seven figure incomes.
PAUL: What can we do about it? That's the thing. You can shout black and blue, I guess, inside the halls of Parliament. Is anybody listening, Andrew?
LEIGH: I think we need to put our foot down and say it's not appropriate to be getting JobKeeper and paying out bonuses. We know that 160,000 people are going to join the unemployment lines before Christmas. We know that many people are doing it tough right now. It's a critical environment, particularly for people who are in the arts sector, the university sector, people in regional Australia, older workers who are missing out on those wage subsidies announced in the in the recent budget for younger workers. So when so many people are missing out, worried about their future, concerned about how their kids are going to be faring, we just can't be using taxpayer subsidies to fund executive bonuses. It's got to stop.
PAUL: Yes. Good to chat to you, Andrew. We'll catch up soon. Thank you.
LEIGH: Thank you, Marcus.
PAUL: Alright, there he is – Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.