Greens reserve right to vote against Conroy media bills
The Australian Greens are reserving the right to vote against the federal government's controversial media reforms this week, according to communications spokesman Scott Ludlam, who says his party in unhappy about having a gun held to its head.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy wants his package of six bills passed by both houses of parliament by Thursday, but had announced that will not be open for "barter" - a move that has angered independents and the Greens.
The government needs four of the six remaining crossbenchers, including lower house Greens MP Adam Bandt, to support the bill, after former Labor MP Craig Thomson declared he would vote against it.
So far, while issues have been raised, none of the other crossbenchers - Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter, Peter Slipper and Andrew Wilkie - have stated their final opinions.
On Saturday, Senator Ludlam said he was yet to reach a firm position on the package - given there are two inquiries into the reforms set for early this week - but said he had serious concerns about three elements of the reforms.
Senator Ludlam told Fairfax Media that after examining the "huge" pile of bills, his main concern was that the reforms left open the possibility of multiple press councils forming to enforce their own press standards, which would undermine the capacity of the existing Australian Press Council.
"For us the issue of having multiple press councils competing in a self-regulatory race to the bottom ... would end up effectively, I think fragmenting the Press Council as it is," he said.
The West Australian senator also said he was concerned that a proposal that would see broadcasters reduce their licence fees in exchange for boosting Australian content, may actually water down home grown productions. He explained that there were ways of "gaming" where Australian content was shown across TV networks.
If there was no specific quota for Australian content to be shown on a main TV channel, it would be possible for networks to run Australian shows on their multichannels, where there were low audience numbers, he said.
He also said he was worried that the proposed Public Interest Media Advocate, which would use a public interest test to allow or prevent significant media mergers, would be vulnerable to too many "commercial distress" arguments - thereby hampering media diversity.
"The way that the public interest test is drafted at the moment, opens the door to that," he said.
Noting it was possible that the bills would not even be brought to a vote if there was not enough support, Senator Ludlam said there was no policy imperative for a quick decision.
He said the Greens would be weighing up whether something would be better than nothing in the proposed reforms.
" [The] government is only just holding itself together and it may be that if the package isn't passed this week then we won't ever see it again," he said.
"We still will exercise our right and our obligation to vote against the package if its seen to be not in the public interest."
Two committees will examine the bills in parliament this week. A Senate committee looking at the whole package will take evidence from media companies, academics, peak industry bodies and the Australian Press Council in Canberra on Monday and Tuesday.
A separate joint select committee will look at other possible media reforms, including the axing of the 75 per cent broadcasting audience reach rule, and will also take evidence in Canberra on Monday.
The reports of both inquiries are due by June 17, but interim reports could be released on Wednesday.
- with AAP