SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Labor Party, through their internal wrangling, seems to be doing their best to destroy the old political adage that your worst day in government is always better than your best day in opposition. This Government is managing to tear itself apart from the inside and demonstrating to the rest of the country just how divided and dysfunctional they are and divided and dysfunctional governments do desperate things and their media laws are a classic example of a desperate thing from this Government.
We should start at first principles here and ask the question: are these media laws necessary? – do we need to, for the first time in Australia’s peacetime history, regulate the print media? – and the answer to that is clearly ‘no’. The case has not been made for these reforms and so, no matter what changes are made in the House of Representatives, there is no justification for the passage of these highly interventionist laws* that would establish a Government regulator of the print media and elements of the electronic media for the first time in this nation’s peacetime history. These are bad laws. They are laws that will impinge upon the freedom of speech and the freedom of the operation of the media and, in doing so, get us to a point where the right of the press to expose, and potentially expose, the type of problems plaguing a government like this one, the type of problems plaguing… things like the Labor Party in New South Wales may not potentially be exposed in future. This Government’s reached such new lows that they are negotiating the regulation of the nation’s media with the likes of Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper. Heaven help us! What next? Will they bring in Eddie Obeid to help with the negotiations? We really have a situation where these laws should be rejected, rejected outright and rejected today.
Can I also, in Senator Conroy’s space, just reflect on one other matter and that is the increasing shambles that is the National Broadband Network? Three times yesterday Senator Conroy was given the opportunity in Senate Question Time to commit to his often stated target of the NBN reaching 286,000 homes with fibre by June 30 this year. Three times he refused to stand by that commitment. He said he was getting updated information from NBN Co. Well, amongst his media reform chaos, Senator Conroy should march into the Senate today and update the Senate as to just where it is at – where the NBN is at, how far behind schedule it is, how far over budget, just how many homes will actually be reached by 30 June this year? – because it’s clear from his obfuscation it won’t be 286,000.
JOURNALIST: The Government, though, does seem to be making some progress with the Independents, so it is likely these laws may pass the House. Isn’t that proving again that the Government is better at negotiating than the Opposition?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I don’t think there’s any pride to be taken in getting these laws through. It will be a sad and sorry day if the Government succeeds in passing these laws. These are bad laws. These are unnecessary laws. It is unfortunate that the Government has had to stoop so low, to negotiating with the likes of Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper over how the media is regulated. These are the last people who should be having a say over media regulation in Australia.
JOURNALIST: So, are you admitting defeat on this reform, on these laws going through?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Coalition will put up a fight at every single step of the way and we still hold out hope that we will be able to defeat these laws, defeat them in the House of Representatives. I hope that is the case. I hope that some of the Independents see sense in defeating these laws. I hope they recognise that they should stand up for a free and robust media. Much as we all in this place might not like what is sometimes said or written or reported about us, that doesn’t mean we should start regulating to impose possible restrictions on that.
Thanks, everyone. Cheers.
*News Media (Self-regulation) Bill 2013, News Media (Self-regulation) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2013, Public Interest Media Advocate Bill 2013 and Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (News Media Diversity) Bill 2013