House Of Representatives
19 Marc 2013
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (14:30): My question is to the Prime Minister. If this week she is unable to persuade the parliament to establish a public interest media advocate to regulate the content of newspapers for the first time in our peacetime history, will she have the courage of her convictions and commit today to take that policy to the next election and pledge to legislate it if she were to win government again?
The SPEAKER: The difficulty with the question is that it is slightly hypothetical.
Opposition members interjecting—
The SPEAKER: And I am not referring to the last part of the question. It also presumes the outcome of a vote in this parliament, and that is a very dangerous precedent to set.
Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (14:30): In answer to the question from the member for Wentworth, the government does not have before this parliament and does not have as its policy a proposal to have a public interest media advocate that regulates newspaper coverage. That is not the case. That is a distortion of the reform proposition. I said it last week and I will say it again: I understand why the
member for Wentworth is seeking to curry a bit of favour with those who run media outlets in the hope of some good publicity—presumably for himself; maybe for the opposition—in the future. I understand that craven attempt at political advantage. But on more than one occasion—
Mrs Mirabella: That is the pot calling the kettle black.
The SPEAKER: The member for Indi will leave the chamber under 94(a). She was warned just moments ago.
The member for Indi then left the chamber.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The imputation from the Prime Minister concerning the member for Wentworth was unparliamentary and I ask that she withdraw it. It was absolutely outrageous.
The SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has the call and will refer to the question before the chair.
Ms GILLARD: I was referring to the question before the chair and the distortion that appeared in the question of what the government’s intentions are. There is legislation before the parliament this week. The government will continue—
Mr Pyne: Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Madam Speaker, I am wondering whether you heard exactly what the Prime Minister said. She accused the member for Wentworth of improper motives for the position that the coalition has taken on the media reforms. We have asked her to withdraw that accusation.
The SPEAKER: I probably did not hear, actually, given the level of noise that continues to flow around the chamber. I did not think that the issue warranted a withdrawal. But I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw in order to assist the parliament.
Ms GILLARD: I withdraw. In answer to the question from the member for Wentworth, firstly, his question misconstrues the proposition that is before the parliament. Secondly, the parliament is yet to have a debate on these various pieces of legislation and the government obviously in that debate will be putting forward what is in the public interest in our nation. I am not going to speculate on the outcome in this parliament. We will work, as we always do, in good faith with those parliamentary members who are prepared to deal with reform propositions on their merits and on their facts.
When it comes to reform propositions on their merits and on their facts, the member for Wentworth has characterised this reform proposition one way in his question. I would refer him to the following: According to the international and well-respected organisation Reporters Without Borders, Australia currently sits 26th in the world when it comes to a free press. The country in first place, Finland, has specific laws that dictate to media organisations that they must provide a right of reply and correct factual errors. We are not proposing to do that. In Finland, the press council gets 30 per cent of its funding from the government. We are not proposing to do that. Denmark, which is sixth on the list, has a press council that was established by legislation in 1991. We are not proposing to do that. What the government has put forward are some propositions clearly in the public interest. They are propositions about freedom of the press, about diversity of voices and about self-regulation by our media. We believe that they are propositions of merit to be pursued this week in parliament. We will join in that debate well and truly.
Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Leader of the Opposition) (14:39): I have a question to the Prime Minister. I remind her that she has presided over the live cattle export fiasco, announced and abandoned the East Timor solution, promised a surplus and then delivered deficits, introduced a carbon tax she promised not to introduce, created a mining tax that collects no revenue, praised and then demonised foreign workers, and now she proposes the most draconian regulation of the media, ever. How can people ever expect better judgement from this Prime Minister?
Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (14:39): Once again, the Leader of the Opposition finds himself absolutely incapable of dealing with the facts, even when they have been provided in the answer to the question before from the opposition. So, let’s go through it again for the Leader of the Opposition, who most clearly was not listening to what I said before.
Dr Southcott: Why would he? Your word is not your bond.
Ms GILLARD: I refer him to the respected international organisation Reporters Without Borders.
The SPEAKER: The member for Boothby will leave the chamber under standing order 94(a)
The member for Boothby then left the chamber.
Ms GILLARD: I am dealing with a Leader of the Opposition who, of course, dismisses the work of climate change scientists, who brushes aside the work of senior public servants, and who never listens to an expert because he might be confronted with the facts. But I refer him to Reporters Without Borders and I presume that the Leader of the Opposition is not going to describe that international organisation as anything but genuinely dedicated to freedom of the press around the world.
I refer him to the fact that the country in first place in their list as best on freedom of the press is Finland, which has specific laws which dictate to media organisations that they must provide a right of reply and correct factual errors. What the government is proposing is far, far, far less interventionist than that. Finland, has a press council which is 30 per cent funded. We are not proposing that the Press Council be anything other than funded by media organisations themselves.
Mr Pyne: I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister was asked about her own judgement, or her failure of judgement over 2½ years. She should try and answer that question.
The SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Mr Hawke: She is demonstrating it!
The SPEAKER: The member for Mitchell will leave the chamber under standing order 94(a). I am quite happy to have many friends follow him.
Ms GILLARD: I am addressing the question because the Leader of the Opposition made an assertion about the government’s proposed changes for media reform. If he did not want me to respond to that then he ought not to have asked it. His having asked it, I am going to respond to it. The Leader of the Opposition is deliberately—perhaps I will withdraw ‘deliberately’ and say ‘misleading’—this parliament on the nature of these laws. I direct the Leader of the Opposition to international comparisons so he no longer goes around making absurd, false claims about these laws.
What these laws are about is more Australian content on Australian TV. I think that is a good thing. What these laws are about is enabling our great public broadcasters like the ABC and the SBS to be out there providing news and information in more ways in the modern age. I think that is a good thing. What these laws are about is, in one of the most concentrated media markets in the world, if there are further consolidations in media organisations—
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: I rise on a point of order.
The SPEAKER: A point of order, which I assume was on relevance, from the Manager of Opposition Business, has already been made. The member for Mackellar has risen on a different point of order.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Madam Speaker, you said that the Manager of Opposition Business had no point of order, so I presumed that the question of relevance had—
The SPEAKER: He had attempted to make a point of order, I assumed on relevance. I was being kind; otherwise he would not be with us still. The member for Mackellar has the call.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: I interpreted your answer as being that we had not a question on point of order—
The SPEAKER: You have interpreted it wrongly. The member for Mackellar can resume her seat. The Prime Minister has the call.
Ms GILLARD: In one of the most concentrated media markets in the world, we are ensuring, if there is further consolidation, that there is an independent view taken about diversity of voices in our democracy. Finally, we are ensuring that Australians who have a legitimate claim have a press council to go to. (Time expired)
Senator ABETZ (Tasmania—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:03): I think the safest place for ALP caucus members this week is to be overseas. My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Given that the minister’s proposed legislation clearly gives the public interest media advocate a role in determining what is and what is not in the public interest and given that this unelected official to be appointed by the minister will also oversee privacy standards, fairness and accuracy, how can the minister claim that this will not impose new restrictions on the media? And does the minister agree that what constitutes the public interest can be a matter about which different people can have genuinely different views?
Senator CONROY (Victoria—Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:04): Unfortunately, the premise of Senator Abetz’s question is deeply flawed in its description of the role of the advocate as an overseer. Let me be clear. Those opposite have the view of: ‘Don’t worry, the Press Council’s been working fine now and over the last few years—nothing to look at over here. The Press Council is working fine.’ But if you look at the evidence given at the Finkelstein inquiry by two former chairs of the Australian Press Council and the current Chair of the Australian Press Council, a different story emerges.
For those opposite who claim that the advocate’s job is to oversee the Press Council, let us listen to some people who have chaired the Australian Press Council. This is what Professor Ken McKinnon, a former Chair of the Australian Press Council, had to say: ‘I had an editor say to me: “If you promise not to uphold any complaints from my paper we will double our subscription. Is that a deal?”‘ This is evidence given to an inquiry chaired by Mr Finkelstein. This is public evidence. No-one tried to suggest it was a joke. Everyone heard the evidence.
Senator Abetz: Not relevant.
Senator CONROY: It is very relevant, Senator, because when you want to assert that there is an overseer function this is the sort of evidence which exposes the ‘no problem over here, Mr President’ line. What does Professor Dennis Pearce, a chair— (Time expired)
Senator ABETZ (Tasmania—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:06): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am not sure what that answer actually meant, but if the public interest media advocate has no role in determining what is in the public interest, as the minister has sought to imply in that answer and, especially, on the Insiders program yesterday, why did the minister specifically include the words ‘public interest’ in the job title?
Senator CONROY (Victoria—Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:07): Despite Senator Abetz trying to twist and turn his way through that question because he did not get the answer he claimed to be quoting, and was even reduced to saying ‘implied in that answer’, what did the current Australian Press Council Chair, Mr Julian Disney, say in his submission? He said: ‘The possibility of reduced funding remains a significant concern fuelled on occasion by the comments of publishers who dislike adverse adjudications or other council decisions. And the council’s almost total reliance on funding from publishers, and especially from a few major publishers, is widely criticised as a crucial detraction from its real and apparent independence.’ So when those opposite say, ‘No problems here with the Press Council, it’s working fine— (Time expired)
Senator ABETZ (Tasmania—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:08): Mr President, I ask a second supplementary question. I refer to the announcement yesterday by the CFMEU that it is establishing a weekly news bulletin that will be synced direct to CFMEU members via an app on their smart phones. Given the government’s renewed interest in censoring the media, does the minister intend to ensure that the CFMEU’s new app is not used to communicate CFMEU rorts, extortion, thuggery and intimidation tactics in real time?
Senator CONROY (Victoria—Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:09): That question probably reached a new low in trying to abuse trade unions and somehow tie it to freedom of the press. That question was a nonsense, an absolute nonsense. Let me be
very clear: the criteria are set out very clearly. You need around 60,000 viewers—readers or viewers of the show—or you need 60,000 subscribers.
Now, I do not know the membership base of the CFMEU, but if they were to be included then their publications would be just as covered and included as all the other proprietors’ would be. This is a test across all of the sector. (Time expired)