Questions without notice (media)

I too rise to take note of answers given by Senator Conroy to questions asked by Senator Abetz and Senator Birmingham, mainly in response to the package of media reform bills. I only wish that I was as confident as Senator Urquhart of the intention of these particular reform bills in their ability to deliver such things as an increased amount of Australian content in our programs. I also wish that I was as confident as she was that it was not an attack on our freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

I notice that in many of the responses on the other side to this particular line of questioning today we keep on being referred to as 'this side'. It is not just this side making an issue of these reforms. It seems to be everybody in the media—the hundreds and hundreds of people who have trekked up here today to sit in front of the many inquiries that are going on—who seem to have a problem. So it is rather unusual that the blame seems to be on this side of the chamber for making any complaint. I would suggest that the complaints about this package of reform bills are much wider than just us.

The control of the press only by these bills is quite odd when you consider the amazing change in the media environment in recent times in social media. We do not appear to be addressing anything to do with social media, only the press. I contend that the social media actually provides a wonderful opportunity to assess what is going on and hold the media accountable. Instead, this particular range of bills seeks to appoint the Public Interest Media Advocate, a single person appointed by a minister who has direct control. It appears to me somewhat anomalous that this is the case.

I would also contend that this appears to be a direct conflict of interest. We have a government that is going to appoint a Public Interest Media Advocate to scrutinise the very media who may possibly want to criticise that government. As we all know, whether we are in government or in opposition, the media often criticise justifiably. So here we have the media that is possibly justifiably criticising the government, and then the government has the Public Interest Media Advocate who can then stand in judgement over that criticism. When it comes to the Public Interest Media Advocate, it appears as if there is no right of appeal against a finding of this advocate. Decisions do not appear to be subject to review. And what are the selection criteria? I heard Senator Birmingham speaking before about this. The person who could end up being the Public Interest Media Advocate could just about be anybody at all because of the wide-ranging selection criteria.

And what of the cost? This is just another person, another burden, another thing that has been put in on top of what is already an overburdened environment out there. Then there is the timing of these bills. I would question why after two years of debate and inquiry and the like that, all of a sudden, we have been given only a week to look at the suite of measures that supposedly have come back as a result of this process. Why? What are we trying to hide? What are we trying to push through? Why are we in such a hurry? The cynical amongst us would suggest that we want to try to shut down the media in the lead-up to the election—but maybe that is not fair. Or is it merely retaliation for some unfavourable media reporting of recent times? Is it a matter of: I do not like what you are saying, so we will shut you down? Maybe the minister should think about fixing some of the problems that are already out there before we start coming up with new ideas.

I would just quickly like to draw the chamber's attention to the 2012 budget decision by the Gillard government and Senator Conroy when they forgot the $1.4 million per annum of funding to keep digital community radio alive. The government allocated $11.2 million in funding to plan, design, implement and operate infrastructure for community digital radio over three years. Community radio was assured that the introduction of this infrastructure would not cause them financial hardship. However it appears, according to some correspondence I have from Fresh FM about their audited accounts, that this is actually not going to be the case. It is going to have a major impact on the transmission expenses and will increase them significantly. How can we be expected to make good and informed decisions and sensible decisions on the issues that we have before us when we have not been given any time to consider these very fundamental and important issues, and with half the information, and very little time whatsoever to consider it?

tags:  speech