SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

TRANSCRIPT

13 September 2017

ABC RADIO ADELAIDE ‘SUPER WEDNESDAY’

TOPICS: MALCOLM TURNBULL'S FAILURE ON ENERGY POLICY, MEDIA, UNIVERSITY FUNDING CUTS

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

DAVID BEVAN: Sarah Hanson-Young, let’s begin with you. Are you worried that Channel Ten in Adelaide could close if Parliament doesn’t get the media laws right?

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG, GREENS SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Look I am, and one of the reasons I’m quite concerned about this is because yesterday in the court in New South Wales the tender documents from Murdoch and Gordon, which was put in as a takeover bid for Channel Ten, outlined very clearly that if they won that bid that they would be moving to close the offices in Adelaide. I think that’s a really big concern for the jobs in Adelaide and the administrator themselves have said that this is a high risk to the operations of Channel Ten; one of the reasons why originally the administrators ruled against that takeover bid from Murdoch of Channel Ten.

We know that at the moment we’re in the midst of a battle here in the Parliament about these media reforms. Murdoch and News Limited want these media reforms to go through so they can buy Channel Ten; hopefully overthrow this winning bid with the CBS US station taking over.

Look, it’s all very finely hinged at the moment and one of the worst things we see is an attack on the ABC from One Nation – the Government signing up to that – and in little old Adelaide we might even lose our Channel Ten offices. It would be a lose-lose for us right now.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister and one of the lead Senators from South Australia for the Liberal Party, is that a possibility that you would consider?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well I’m not sure that “a possibility we would consider” is the question there David. We’re considering media reforms that will make it more viable for free-to-air broadcasters to continue to operate.

BEVAN: When I say considered, is that something you’d countenance? Would you allow that to be a consequence? I don’t know if Sarah Hanson-Young is right, wrong or indifferent, but she’s saying this is a real threat, would you allow that to happen?

BIRMINGHAM: Well David, I don’t think it’s for Government to micromanage every media outlet or entity in the country. What we do want to do is make sure we’ve got a framework that sustains a strong media industry in Australia, one that sustains strong Australian media content, strong news coverage, all of the types of things that we want to ensure are there.

And media reforms we’ve brought forward are about improving the viability of existing broadcasters and responding to the changing landscape where of course they have found themselves competing for a declining advertising market, a declining audience share and so you can’t continue to levy the same rules and conditions and charges and fees upon them as you have in the past. It’s unfortunate that the Labor Party said they support much of what we propose here but stand in the way of having a sensible negotiation.

BEVAN: But if Sarah Hanson-Young is right and Channel Ten in Adelaide was a casualty of that, is that just tough luck?

BIRMINGHAM: Well I don’t know that Sarah’s right at all. But we want to make sure that there are clear requirements about domestic content as there continue to be so people must make local drama series, broadcast Australian-made content, clear requirements about Australian news content and local news content in different markets, which would mean that guaranteeing and continuing to have Adelaide news content for a market like Adelaide is all part of the way in which our media landscape is regulated and that is something we would expect to continue and are ensuring we’ll continue by actually trying to deliver reforms that make free-to-air broadcasters more viable into the future.

ALI CLARKE: So then to Penny Wong as ALP Senator, what are your sticking points?

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Well I think there’s a problem-solution issue here. Simon’s right to identify that the media landscape has changed and that there’s competition in areas and in ways from platforms that weren’t envisaged. But the Government’s solution is to reduce media diversity and that’s the problem. And in fact none of what he just said should give Adelaide listeners any comfort that the Government actually is concerned about the prospect of Adelaide’s media market, which is already one of the least diverse in the country, become even less diverse.

My concern is, and the Labor Party’s concern for some time is, that we don’t agree with repealing the two-out-of-three cross-media rule. We don’t think you should have print, radio, TV owned by the same entities and running the same sort of positons.

BEVAN: That’s at the heart of these reforms isn’t it, that’s the key thing?

WONG: Correct, that is the key. What Simon’s position is saying that we should repeal the current laws, which ensure that you don’t have the same entities owning print, radio and TV. Now there’s a second issue here though which is the ABC. Now we know One Nation, very clearly, wants to gut the ABC. And you don’t have to listen to me just listen to them, they’ve been really clear about it.

HANSON-YOUNG: They said they wanted to whack hundreds of millions of dollars out of the ABC.

WONG: The Government is clearly – they’ve agreed to an inquiry – doing deals with One Nation on the ABC in order to get their votes for this media ownership change. And my question is to Nick Xenophon, what is the deal? Nick can’t sign-up to this package knowing that the Government is a doing a deal, even if it’s hidden in the shadows and being delivered by another mechanism. If he knows that deal is occurring as part of this package, he is morally responsible to ensure it doesn’t proceed. He says he’s a strong supporter of the ABC, certainly we’re strong supporters of the ABC, the ABC particularly in South Australia is such – as much as sometimes it is tough coming on this show – a critical voice in our media market and this Government must rule out doing any deal with One Nation that impinges the ABC. Because you know what the price of their vote is.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, I know you’re a huge fan of the program too, so what do you say?

BIRMINGHAM: I love it. Wednesday mornings are the best morning of the week of course.

BEVAN: Then clearly we’re not doing our job properly so if you could answer the question.

BIRMINGHAM: Look Penny firstly is being quite misleading when she talks about media diversity. The whole problem here is that networks like Channel Ten and other free-to-air broadcasters and traditional media outlets are competing for a declining market. They’ve got fewer eyeballs watching their programs, fewer people, and that is because people are accessing news, entertainment information from an increasing array of different sources. Diversity is absolutely what is driving the need for media reform to ensure the viability of local producers, local content.

WONG: The question the Government never answers – how does repealing two out of three improve diversity?

BIRMINGHAM: Well Penny, diversity has been enhanced greatly, not because of the two-out-of-three rule, but because of course people are driving to new technologies, new media platforms and that that is what is improving enhancing diversity. And that is an unstoppable march; that is going to continue regardless.

WONG: Print, TV, radio all owned by the same entity is fine?

HANSON-YOUNG: And what we’ve learnt is that that’s not even, the argument that media organisations need to merge in order to save jobs is actually the exact opposite. That’s why I brought up this issue in relation to Channel Ten because it’s not saving journalist jobs, actually what they want to do is consolidate and sack people and close offices.

BIRMINGHAM: It’s a completely antiquated rule though David, we have a concept…

BEVAN: I think we’ve got the idea, but Simon Birmingham if we could move on because you are the Federal Education Minister, and there’s another issue here.

WONG: Can we have an answer on the ABC deal?

BIRMINGHAM: David I do just want to make one point here. There’s a completely antiquated rule to pretend nowadays that you can have a newspaper over here, and a television station over there and a radio platform over there, when of course media platforms are converging. Newspapers are producing video content.

HANSON-YOUNG: If Government shouldn’t intervene then why did the Government give $30 million to Foxtel? You pick and choose which media you want to prop up.

BIRMINGHAM: The support we didn’t support, which I thought that you supported as well Sarah…

BEVAN: Now if we could move onto another topic, that is universities. Your university reforms are going to go…

WONG: Can I just say, there’s no answer on the ABC deal?

BEVAN: Yeah well this is the ABC and the ABC’s now deciding to move onto another topic.

WONG: (Laughs) Oh you’re a despot, there goes diversity.

BEVAN: I thought you loved us Penny Wong?

WONG: Well I’m defending you more than you are mate? I think he (Birmingham) should tell us what the deal is on the ABC.

BEVAN: Let’s move onto the topic of universities, Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, I’ve got an email here from the Group of Eight unis saying we have reached a new low when the Minister for Education is now accusing students of gaming the system and racking up debt. How do you respond to the Group of Eight?

BIRMINGHAM: Well I think the idea that students are genuinely accruing three and four hundred thousand dollar debts on student loans is pretty questionable; that those students in those instances are highly unlikely to have accrued those debts out of a genuine desire to genuinely complete degrees, to go on in the workforce and to repay those student loans that taxpayers have provided. The Group of Eight can continue of course to try and find every argument they want to defeat these policy reforms but what they fail to acknowledge is that they’ve had enormous increases in revenue to those universities over the last seven-eight years.

There’s a group who continue, of course, to find every argument they want to defeat these policy’s reforms, but what they fail to acknowledge is that they have had enormous increases in revenue to those universities. Over the last seven, eight years they have gone up around 71 percent in terms of their revenue streams and under our reforms they are still going to see an average revenue growth of 23 percent across all Australian universities. Now that’s something that many small businesses listening would think was a pretty good deal to be offered and all we are asking is for them to do is accept a slightly slower rate of growth so we can continue on our work to repair the Budget deficit..

CLARKE: So where’s the checks and balances though Simon Birmingham? You’re saying that people racking up $300,000 and $400,000 worth of debt is unlikely to be the case, I mean there’s a report in The Advertiser today that a South Australian needs to pay over $220,000 which is equivalent to eight four year nursing or teaching degrees. So where are the checks and balances if you’re talking about money from that basis?

BIRMINGHAM: Well we do have to ask what are universities doing enrolling students in multiple degrees in those circumstances? They have enormous autonomy under the system, they choose to enrol student, they have a clear view of the academic transcripts and records and history of different students and yet of course they seem to be accepting this type of behaviour.

CLARKE: So to Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia but also a spokesperson on education.

HANSON-YOUNG: Look I think really this is one of those issues where the Government has gone, you know, what do the Liberals need to do in order to try and show they are tough on education? Oh well let’s whack students at university and cut university budgets. It is ideology from this Government, and they can’t cry poor when they are spending $65 billion in tax cuts to big business and yet they’re saying yes we have to have these budget cuts to universities.

At a time when we have the highest youth unemployment rate in the country this is going to be a significant disadvantage to young people in South Australia. We know our three universities are worried they are going to lose up to 220 jobs as a result of these changes. $90 million less into our state is a huge whack, not to mention the impact on the rest of the country. I think our South Australian cross bench senators -the Nick Xenophon team, Senator Gichuhi – will need to think very hard whether they want to be backing these types of attacks on universities, cuts to our academic institutions which will have devastating flow on effects on our state.

BEVAN: Penny Wong I think it’s agreed all round that Australia has failed to find a consistent energy policy for ten years. Everybody agrees with that, it’s just been a mess. Would it have been better to keep the carbon tax?

WONG: Malcom Turnbull crossed the floor as you might recall to vote for the legislation and he and I agreed in 2009 which was an ETS but look we are a long way down the track..

BEVAN: But looking back on it, the flaws and the problems with the carbon tax, would that have been better then what have ended up with?

WONG: We are where we are and I think the key issue that we’ve experienced over the last decade, and Tony Abbott really has been a critical player in ensuring this, that there has been chaos, that there is a lack of certainty.

And we have three quarters of our base load generation which is essentially beyond its design life. So it’s getting old. It’s not as reliable, but more importantly it’s not being replaced because the market is quite rightly saying there isn’t certainty so we are not going to invest.

Now there is a lot of discussion we can have about this, but in the timeframe can I just say this, as someone who has negotiated over previous years with Mr Turnbull and Mr Hunt and others the most important thing to..

BEVAN: And Kevin Rudd, you negotiated with him and he let you down.

WONG: Well that’s life. It happens sometimes. But I think the key thing is to actually try to get a solution. And I know the Government thinks it can play politics with this but Labor has said we are prepared to work with the Government on the implementation of the key recommendation of the report they commissioned from the Chief Scientist. We have said that we are prepared to work with them because we actually think the country needs some bipartisanship , some sensible discussion on this.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham there’s the olive branch. What’s the problem?

BIRMINGHAM: Well its Labor’s definition that one out of 50 recommendations is the key recommendation.

WONG: Oh come on.

BIRMINGHAM: And we have acted on 49 and we are working through the design options and the implications of some type of model of the Clean Energy Target. We are going to be very thorough in our analysis and assessment there and about what is going to truly work in terms of ensuring that we have the type of investment landscape that Australia needs in our energy systems, that isn’t based on the ideology of saying it cannot possibly be coal or other base load fuels at any time. It’s actually based on what sensibly works for the long term interest of long term Australia consumers.

WONG: I love a lecture on ideology from people who bring coal into the Parliament. I mean seriously, give us a lecture on ideology mate.

HANSON-YOUNG: Totally. We have reached peak stupid when it’s gotten to a point when the Government, a Liberal Government, is begging and bullying a coal company to get out of coal, and the Government are all over the place with energy policy and that the truth, you don’t know, on one hand they are arguing that we can’t subsidise and support renewable energy.

BIRMINGHAM: Well some people may say that peak stupidity, Sarah Hanson-Young, is when you can’t pay your power bill after years of reform.

HANSON-YOUNG: Well let’s do something about that. Spending a billion of taxpayers’ money propping up an old coal fire power station ain’t going to do it.

BEVAN: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia thank you for your time, Penny Wong ALP from South Australia and Simon Birmingham Education Minister and Liberal Senator from SA thank as well.