Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:21): My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. In light of your comments in the last 24 hours and noting also the comments of shadow communications spokesperson Mr Malcolm Turnbull this morning, will you move or support legislation to enshrine the principle of editorial independence to ensure that media owners and board members do not obstruct objective and independent journalism?
Senator CONROY (Victoria-Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:21): I thank Senator Ludlam for his question. The announcement made by Fairfax Media yesterday reflects the significant changes that have occurred and are continuing to take place in the communications and media landscape, domestically and internationally. The loss of 1,900 jobs makes it an extremely difficult time for the employees and their families. It is an anxious time for many Fairfax workers. What we are not going to do is start legislating to interfere in any way with editorial independence.
At the moment people should be focused on wanting to ensure maximum support for Fairfax workers and their families. My colleague Mr Shorten's department has been in touch with Fairfax to talk to the company about how the government can assist. But in terms of legislating and the editorial position, the answer is, no.
Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:23): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer and in particular the information that the government is seeking to look after the workforce that has been so badly impacted by this announcement. My question is simply that the minister enshrine in legislation the principle that he spoke so eloquently of over the last 24 hours. If the government does not intend to do this, will the minister explain why not?
Senator CONROY (Victoria-Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:23): Fairfax Media is grappling with the challenges and opportunities brought about by technological change.
Senator Brandis: Not to mention the carbon tax.
Senator Conroy: Not to mention the carbon tax! Yes, it is on the internet, idiot. You might have met it. Possibly not, given the knuckle-draggers on the other side. What is crucial in this process is that the board and management of Australia's oldest newspaper company must not lose sight of its core objective-that is, its values. One of the strengths of Fairfax Media is the importance the company has placed on editorial independence.
The Gillard government has long been aware of the changes resulting from the emergence of the digital economy. We have recognised these challenges. That is why we set up the convergence review. That is why we specifically set up, as the terms of reference, our supplementary media inquiry- (Time expired)
Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:25): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for his rant. Does the minister agree that strengthening media diversity in this country is greatly enhanced by the national broadcasters and also by independent and community broadcasting, and will he therefore commit to greatly increasing their funding to fully utilise the NBN and counter the 'Ginafax', Murdoch, Stokes dominance of our airwaves, broadsheets and TV screens?
Senator CONROY (Victoria-Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:25): Australia's national and community broadcasters play a vital role in the health of our democracy and in the diversity of our media landscape. The government recognises both the ABC and SBS as being amongst Australia's most important and trusted cultural institutions. In the last triennial funding round, in 2009, the Labor government provided the ABC with the largest increase in its operational base funding since 1983, consisting of an additional $165 million between 2009 and 2012. In this year's budget, ahead of next year's triennial funding for the national broadcasters, the government provided an additional $158 million over five years to the SBS to ensure that it remains a vibrant and dynamic broadcaster. Again, this was the largest increase in SBS's history.