ASHLEIGH GILLON: For more on this [News of the World phone hacking scandal] this morning, joining me on our panel of politicians is the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy, Mark Dreyfus, and Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.
We will get to some domestic political matters a little later but firstly, following that News of the World scandal in the UK we know that here in Australia the Greens Leader, Bob Brown, is calling for an inquiry into the ownership and regulation of Australia’s media. Mark Dreyfus, do you believe that is necessary?
MARK DREYFUS: Morning Ashleigh, morning Simon.We’ve got already very strong laws in Australia that prohibit phone tapping with very, very heavy penalties. Those events we’ve just heard about in the United Kingdom from the British arm of News Corporation are of course disgraceful events but, if any such events were to happen in Australia, we’ve already got laws that prohibit it. We’ve had assurances from John Hartigan, the head of News Limited here in Australia, that no such conduct has been committed by the Australian arm of News Corporation.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Simon Birmingham, what’s your take on this? Do you think the focus on Rupert Murdoch in London does have any significant impact here?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Ashleigh, look, I think Australia wants, and indeed enjoys, a free, vibrant, robust, competitive press and media. That’s what we’ve got. That’s what we deserve. It needs to, of course, behave responsibly within the laws of the land and, as Mark has said, we do have strong laws in regards to the types of allegations that have occurred in London. They would already be illegal activities were they to be undertaken in Australia. There are assurances from News that they have not been undertaken in Australia and I haven’t seen a skerrick of evidence from Senator Brown or the Greens as to why such an inquiry is justified in the Australia media landscape and let’s not forget that, of course, even in the UK media landscape, much of these allegations have been brought to light by competing newspapers, so it is, of course, a free media that has exposed the very problems in one part of media in the UK.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: I should point out that here at Sky News [Australian News Channel Pty Ltd] we are one third owned by BSkyB [British Sky Broadcasting Group plc] in London which is in turn one third owned by Rupert Murdoch [through News Corporation]. There has been a lot of commentary recently about bias in the media here in Australia, if not so much of a focus on the ownership aspect. The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, says here in Australia The Daily Telegraph, he says, is the worst example of a biased paper because he says that it’s pushing for an early election. He was complaining about this again yesterday on the Nine Network. Have a listen.
STEPHEN CONROY: … News Limited and The Daily Telegraph say they’ve got journalistic ethics and here are the company ethics on how we’ll report news and what you’ve got with The Daily Telegraph is it’s openly saying ‘we’re running a campaign in a whole range of areas’ and they’re demanding an early election. They know best what’s for this country. Ignore the fact we had an election last year and they have demanded a new poll, so they are targeting the Government with a systematic campaign on a range of issues it’s not just climate change; on a range of issues demanding a new election.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Simon Birmingham, do you think there are problems here in Australia of one-sided coverage coming from any particular news organisation and, if there is, do you think this is a recent phenomenon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Ashleigh, as I said before, I think a robust, free media is absolutely critical and that’s what we have in Australia. Now, I think Stephen Conroy is walking a very fine line indeed. Stephen Conroy is the Communications Minister and if there is one Minister in this Government who should be a champion of a free media it should be the Communications Minister, yet he goes out there and he wants to attack The Australian newspaper one day, The Daily Telegraph newspaper the next day, all because he disagrees with what they write. Well, I’m a firm believer in that old adage that ‘I may disagree with what you say but I will defend til the deathyour right to say it’ and I think Stephen Conroy, if he’s going to be a decent Communications Minister for this country, needs to equally defend the rights of all media outlets to run their political commentary as they see fit, and I’m sitting here in the Sky studio that’s housed by The Advertiser in Adelaide. The Advertiser has editorialised for a vote for the Labor Party at the last few federal elections yet I haven’t been out there campaigning that The Advertiser should somehow be restricted or change its tune. I fight the battles on the issues of the arguments. The Labor Government needs to grow up and do the same.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay. Mark Dreyfus, Simon Birmingham, stay with us. We are going to take a break…
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Mark Dreyfus and Simon Birmingham are still with us this morning. Let’s look at the politics now of the carbon tax and we’ve learnt that Independent Tony Windsor has declared that he doesn’t expect Labor to win the next election. That’s pretty unhelpful, Mark Dreyfus, isn’t it, coming from one of your key allies in this carbon tax debate?
MARK DREYFUS: Well, I think it shows a few things. It shows that Tony Windsor’s really focused on getting policy right for Australia and isn’t worried about short term outcomes. I looked at what John Howard had to say on this subject on Sunday where he made the point that two years is a long time in politics and he was referring to how dismally his Government performed in the polls in the lead up to the introduction of the GST [Goods and Services Tax] where all sorts of ridiculous scare campaigns were run against that and how his Government recovered and, indeed, after the introduction of that GST on the 1st of July, 2000, went on to win the election at the end of 2001. I actually was interested…
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Do you think that scenario is really very likely, Mark Dreyfus? We’re seeing so much heated debate about this. There was one unnamed Labor source in The Daily Telegraph saying yesterday that he’s never seen so much hatred about a policy in Australian politics. Julia Gillard’s struggling in the polls. Labor’s struggling in the polls. The primary vote in the last Neilsen Poll was down to just 26 per cent.
MARK DREYFUS: We’ve had bitter debates before, Ashleigh, in this country and I think anyone that’s saying ‘this is the most bitter’ has got a short term memory. I was actually more struck by something else Tony Windsor said yesterday and that was… and he’s in the United Kingdom at the moment, talking to the British Government and others, and he said the debate’s moved on everywhere else but in Australia. He’s amazed that we’re still having these ridiculous discussions about the science of climate change. The real issue is how to engage with the problem, which is a world problem. Later today I’m going to be talking to the diplomatic corps here in Canberra that’s the ambassadors and heads of mission of the other countries’ embassies here in Canberra and I’m talking to them about our climate change policy, about our carbon price package, because they want to hear about it. We’ve got over 80 missions that are going to be represented because they want to report back to their Governments on how Australia is helping with this world problem.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Simon Birmingham, is that a fair point from Mark Dreyfus? I think the suggestion there probably also that the Coalition is lagging behind the rest of the world on this debate, and also what did you make of Tony Windsor’s comments? I know the Coalition has seized on them saying it shows that Mr Windsor chose the wrong party to back but Mr Windsor is standing by that decision. He says even if Labor doesn’t win the next election he’s still going to stick with Julia Gillard because he says at the least the Government is trying to do something to tackle climate change. He says Mr Abbott’s just trying to wreck everything.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Ashleigh, look, I think firstly, in regards to Mr Windsor’s comments about Labor probably losing the next election, I’d say we won’t take anything for granted and we’re going to fight this every day right through to the next campaign but, of course, what it does show is that Tony Windsor knows he is against public opinion and yet for some strange reason wants to keep going against that public opinion. The Australian people do have a firm view on this and they think it’s a bad idea, and they think it’s a bad idea because they know that it will have costs at home, costs to jobs, costs to the cost of living with no real benefit or outcome for the climate change debate. Now, Mark highlighted another statement of Tony Windsor’s that in much of the rest of the world the debate around climate change has moved on. Well, sadly, to extent I agree it’s moved on in many, many countries to other topics. They’ve moved on and away from climate change. In the US, there’s no chance of a cap and trade scheme, there’s no chance of a unified price on carbon. It is nowhere to be seen on the agenda. The same can be said of Canada a country that is, of course, as John Howard highlighted in his comments on the weekend, the most comparable country to Australia in size, in geography, in population, in economic mix. They have firmly ruled out the type of actions the Gillard Government is taking, so this is a policy that Australians know the rest of the world is not pursuing. The Productivity Commission made that very clear when they said that no other country in the world has this type of price on carbon that the Government is pursuing here in Australia. Australians know that it won’t work in the global sense without comparable global action and all it does is inflict costs on people back here at home.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay, well, we are going to see more debate on this. Mark Dreyfus, I know you could debate this all day if we had the chance. We do need to get off to the news though so Mark Dreyfus, Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time.