Questions without notice (NBN, media)

I too rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Conroy in relation to questions asked today in the area of his portfolio. Before I get to the communications and broadband portfolio I would like to comment on some things that Senator Gallacher said: 'The BER is a resoundingly good use of public money.' I find that quite an interesting comment. Maybe he would like to tell the people of Berry Bay in South Australia that it was a resoundingly good use of public money when they built their school shelter in a school that they moved out of about three months after it had been completed. The other thing Senator Gallaher said is he cannot wait to get the NBN 'past my house'. He referred to the electorate of Grey, which I assume he is a paired senator for, and that is fine for Senator Gallaher, who probably lives in the country. But what about the many people in Grey who will not be getting the NBN going past their houses?

I also draw attention to Senator Gallaher in relation to this constant suggestion that it is this side of the chamber, and only this side of the chamber, that is making any complaints in relation to the suite of media bills currently being debated. I have been sitting in the inquiries for the last two days and, apart from Mr Finkelstein, so far there has not been one person before us who has made any comment to suggest that they believe that this suite of bills is satisfactory. It seems odd that only the opposition is being castigated by the other side in relation to this.

The Australian media space is a highly regulated environment, and to a large extent that is a necessary thing. But it can only be regulated as long as it is regulated in a way that is beyond repute, is impartial, is transparent and so that it serves some benefit to society by being regulated. I would question the purpose of the increased regulation that is being proposed by this suite of bills and whether it is delivering much in the way of public benefit. This is probably not because there are no public benefits in there, but more because we do not seem to have terribly much information about the detail of what is being proposed. We have been given absolutely no time whatsoever in which to consider this suite of bills. I am afraid this does not give me a great deal of confidence.

Senator Pratt today alleged that the question about these bills showed that we support the misrepresentation of Australian citizens. I contest that by drawing this chamber's attention to the report published this morning on the website of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. This committee published some findings on its investigation into these bills. Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right of citizens to participate in government through their elected representatives. This committee has suggested that this suite of bills has been pushed through with such extraordinary haste that we are breaching our human rights obligations to give the citizens of Australia the opportunity, through their elected representatives, to participate in this process.

The news media diversity reforms create a number of offences and civil penalty provisions. It is proposed that these offences are ones of strict liability. Once again, we talk about the human rights implications of this in that it says that strict liability offences allow for the imposition of criminal liability without the need to prove fault, and so engage and limit the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Once again we have a human right that is being questioned by the method of implementation of this suite of bills.

The Public Interest Media Advocate Bill seeks further to corrupt basic human rights in the right not to incriminate oneself through the public interest media advocate's power to compel somebody to give information. Here we have a situation where a whole series of threats is being imposed on our human rights through threats to freedom of expression, threats to freedom of association, threats to freedom of speech, threats to the fundamental right to be innocent until proven guilty and threats to the freedom not to incriminate oneself. They are all potential threats to human rights encompassed in this suite of bills.

tags:  speech