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Press conference on media reforms.

Media Release
Scott Ludlam 21 Mar 2013

CHRISTINE MILNE: We're on the cusp of securing media reform in Australia. This is something that the Greens have been campaigning for, working for, for a long time, negotiating in good faith. I'm pleased to say that we have reached an agreement with the government on two major areas of concern.
The first was the proliferation of press councils. We absolutely didn't want a scenario where you would find Gina Rinehart would be able to set up her own press council and any number of other press councils around the country. And so we've reached an agreement that not only strengthens the idea of a single press council, we have compromised to enable the grandfathering of the West Australian entity, but it means that we will have that gateway, if you like, closed for the proliferation of press councils.

The other area of interest, and particular concern for the Greens, has been the issue of the further concentration of media ownership in Australia. We have said many, many times it is not in the public interest to see further concentration of media ownership and that is why we've worked so hard in terms of the public interest test to make sure that in consideration of any further mergers that what is taken into account is the protection of local and regional news, current affairs, local media.

So we've reach an agreement with the government on those and I am now hopeful that following on with the agreement we had with the government and of course the House of Representatives now to secure the ABC and SBS with their online platforms and particularly the ABC's overseas service, that we are now seeing really good reforms and I'm hoping that the agreement we've reached with the government will now give a renewed enthusiasm for some of the independent members of the House of Representatives to now get on board. Basically they have said they wanted to secure more local and regional certainty for local news. They've also talked about the public interest, they've also expressed concern about the press council. I'm hoping that now the Greens have reached this agreement with the government that they will look at this with fresh eyes.
And in particular I'm calling on Andrew Wilkie to step up. He's the only one who hasn't engaged in the cross-party discussions, he is the one who has not been there with the independents in the negotiations. And I'm calling on him not to allow Rupert Murdoch to run the Parliament and to run the agenda on media reform. And it's time for Andrew Wilkie to step up and stand up on media reform. But I'm hoping that this will give momentum for reform, that this will enable people to now firm up their support and get this through the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: What about the Katter amendments that have been proposed, getting a panel to choose this public interest media advocate?

CHRISTINE MILNE: The issue for us is to make sure that there is genuine independence from the government of the day in relation to that media advocate. Mr Katter has put forward an idea, the idea of a panel and that is something that's in active discussion with the other independents in the Lower House. We're open to discussing that and coming to an agreement on that, we're not there yet but so long as independence is secured that it's the principle we want to enshrine.

JOURNALIST: Tony Windsor said this morning that there was a 70 per cent chance of a deal being done, this thing going through - what chance do you give it?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I'm hoping now that the Greens have reached this agreement with the government in order to really take up the issue of concentration of media ownership and stop the proliferation of press councils and get this support for local and regional media that the independents will now firm up. So I give it more than 70 per cent chance.

JOURNALIST: The fact that you're singling out Andrew Wilkie suggests to me that you don't have enough numbers here, you need to put pressure on him to fall in behind?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I'm calling on Andrew Wilkie to fall in and to actually stand up to Rupert Murdoch trying to run the Parliament, and bully the Parliament. The question is has Andrew Wilkie is got the backbone to stand up to the bullies in this case. We are singling him out about because he has not engaged in the negotiations across the Parliament and it's time that he actually did. So it's up to the government to negotiate with everybody but from our point of view we're doing everything in our power to make sure that we can consolidate on the agreement that we've reached in actually bringing about media reform. I think that's the outcome the community really wants.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) press council, so that means that you will allow two press councils (inaudible)

CHRISTINE MILNE: That's right, our preferred position is one press council, but in the interest of compromise and working out an agreement we have agreed that that be, will enable that to be grandfathered. There is a time frame in which the West Australia entity, we'll have to meet the new standards that are proposed, that's up to them whether they can do that or not but it is really part of the compromise. It's not our preferred position but we think at least what we've done is to stop further proliferation of a press council.

JOURNALIST: So the press council would have to meet the standards of (inaudible)


JOURNALIST: Can you explain how the panel would work? Would the panel appoint the advocate or would the panel appoint a group of advocates?

CHRISTINE MILNE: There has been no agreement reached in the negotiations at the moment as to how that would look, how many would be on the panel, whether the public interest advocate would be a single person or a panel, that is under active discussion. The Greens are approaching it in terms of the interest we have is in having a public interest advocate, whatever shape that may take and secondly in making sure that that is independent of the government - they are the key principles that we are trying to enshrine and we are in the midst of proactive and good faith negotiations,

JOURNALIST: Is it fair to say that Andrew Wilkie is the last piece of the puzzle on this? If he supports the changes that you've put through, will these media reforms pass in the Lower House?

CHRISTINE MILNE: That remains to be seen. What I'm hoping is that by making it very clear that the Greens have worked hard to get this agreement that the other independents who have expressed some of the same concerns as we have expressed can now have the confidence that those matters have been resolved in a way that strengthens the package in the way they've been calling on. So I can't say whether all of them will come on board, what I'm asking is that they now go and look at it with new eyes and a fresh approach and actually help build momentum to get this through.

JOURNALIST: How much of a victory will it be for the Prime Minister if it does indeed pass?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well the Prime Minister has been active herself in supporting the package in the last 24 hours in particular and of course it will be a victory for the Parliament really if this gets through, but certainly for the government and the Prime Minister, because there has been an hysterical reaction from News in particular in relation to this and this is really a case of the Parliament acting in the public interest against bullying. We've had that in one encounter with the mining industry that ended up in spectacular disaster with the MRRT, I don't want to see bullying result in the Parliament not acting in the public interest.

JOURNALIST: Would we have got here if Senator Conroy had been in charge of negotiations and not the Prime Minister?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Oh look I'm not going to go into the negotiations and the details of that. Suffice to say the Greens have approached this with a view to achieving media reform but we weren't going to be bullied into a take it or leave it approach. Nor were we going to be bullied by some of the media moguls coming to town. Where we've ended up is in a sensible negotiation as indeed parliaments ought to engage in, especially in parliament where there is shared power between all parties across the Parliament.

JOURNALIT: One of the criticisms of the public interest test is that Graeme Samuel said it could become a political interest test. There is a lot of concern about it being broadly defined - what does it mean to you - is it specific?

CHRISTINE MILNE: What I'm wanting to see and hoping to get is of course the independence of the advocate but also in any discussion of mergers to ask the question is it in the public interest, are we going to see the protection of local and regional media and that is exactly what I am hoping to get and that we've got an agreement with the government to get and that's why I want to see it pass the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: When do you expect to see a vote on this? Are we expecting to see a final vote today in the Lower House?

CHRISTINE MILNE: It remains to be seen. Negotiations will go on in the course of the day, I am hoping that as a result of the agreement the Greens and the government have reached that we will now be able to have the other independents look again and hopefully get on board, and we would like to see this get through as quickly as we can, proceed in the next 24 hours.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, what about Rob Oakeshott, you haven't mentioned him but is there any chance of getting him to change his mind to support anything here?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well I'm hoping so because Rob Oakeshott has always said that his interest is in protecting local and regional news, that he wanted to strengthen the package in that regard, I believe that we have done that, I think he will be supportive of the strengthening that we've done in terms of press council and lifting the standards there, so he has said on one occasion that he's out but on another occasion he said that he'd look at sensible amendments, so I think the Greens having secured this agreement I'm confident that because he likes to operate in good faith that he will at least look at it.


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