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ABC News 24 with Greg Jennett, 24 August 2022

Greg Jennett: Now aware that the AFL and broadcasters are close to clinching the next lucrative rights deal for the game, Minister Rowland has issued a reminder that regular free to air television broadcasting must remain a feature in any deal. All Australians should have the chance to enjoy iconic sporting events, live and free, rather than those events being behind paywalls. Michelle Rowland says in the context she goes on of rising cost of living pressures where too many citizens still don’t have reliable broadband access to stable and ubiquitous free to air. Television is important and I encourage the AFL Commission and its broadcast and streaming partners to ensure there is no diminution in the availability of AFL matches on free to air television under the New Deal, says.

Shadow Communications Minister Sarah Henderson is from a footy loving region around Geelong and Bellarine and she joins us in the studio now. Welcome, Sarah. This statement from Michelle Rowland on AFL media rights is to the best of our knowledge, somewhat unprecedented. Do you support the sentiment of it or even the fact of of its being issued?

Sarah Henderson: Well, Greg, great to join you. And firstly, can I say go Cats, am really hoping for a premiership this year. Look, I have to say the minister’s statement is unprecedented because it looks like she’s in opposition. The bottom line is Australians need to know that major sporting and cultural events will be protected, they will be able to see them on free to air.So rather than issue a press release, she should be laying down the law. What is the Albanese Government going to do? So frankly, from my perspective, this is really not good enough. It creates a lot of uncertainty, and we don’t govern by press release.

Greg Jennett: Does it speak to some apprehended fear and do you share that fear that whatever is being cooked up in these private commercial negotiations may seek to diminish the amount of free to air television viewing of AFL that we’re currently used to?

Sarah Henderson: Well, Greg, currently of course the anti-siphoning list prohibits subscription television services like Foxtel, but not the big global streamers and other streaming services as well as online content platforms. So what I was expecting the minister should have said today is we won’t allow these games, these very valuable games, including with the AFL, to sit behind a paywall. And that’s what she should have said. There is an exemption at the moment that does need to be fixed. So as I say, it is very disappointing. We’ve seen so many reviews from Michelle Rowland. It appears she’s had some nine years in opposition to work out what her policies are, and yet she seems to be just rolling out the reviews rather than giving Australians the certainty they deserve.

Greg Jennett: I imagine if she was here or anyone from the government was here at present, they’d be putting it back on you and saying, well, equally you had nine years to bolster or strengthen the anti-siphoning list in anticipation of the next round of rights deals, whether it be in AFL or or NRL or whatever. Is that not a valid question?

Sarah Henderson: Well, that’s exactly what we did, but we’re not in government anymore and we are expecting and Australians do need to know that they will get the AFL coverage on free to air television. We want to make sure that Australian voices on Australian television are protected and Michelle Rowland needs to really do her job and do a lot more than what she’s done today, which is just to issue a media release.

Greg Jennett: Now as we rolled through the pandemic, I think your government, the government and Paul Fletcher in particular had to sort of kick down the road some of the reviews of these things, children’s television quotas and, you know, the involvement of subscription television. Also, you’ve had some some recent thoughts on children’s television, because a lot of these questions are now starting to arise by virtue of the fact we’re coming out of the pandemic. What is the point that you’re making or the concern that you hold about children’s television?

Sarah Henderson: Well, there was a story on Radio National on ABC this morning which talked about this issue, but didn’t actually say that Australian commercial television broadcasters have an obligation to broadcast 55% of Australian content and they’re doing that really well. But what we’ve seen is children’s television really not getting the uptake. Children now are watching streaming services, so there’s been a huge shift in children’s television viewing habits. So we actually changed the code to reflect that. But certainly I’m a great believer in safeguarding children’s television. We also, of course, imposed some content limits on the streaming services. That work was underway. But again, we haven’t seen requisite certainty from the minister in relation to safeguarding children’s TV. I do believe it needs to be safeguarded.

Greg Jennett: And strengthened in the rules that would apply to streaming service?

Sarah Henderson: Absolutely. I do believe that there is work to be done by the Government and by the Minister to ensure that Australian children’s programming is maintained and strengthened. We did a huge amount of work to protect Australian content – investing in children’s programming; of course the producer offset was a huge investment in Australian production, but we would also like to see the ABC be more accountable. Greg so at the moment they’re not actually reporting what they’re producing, so we would like to see those reporting obligations also extended to the SBS and ABC.

Greg Jennett: And do you have a number of hours in mind if you view it as inadequate now? Do you have your own starting position about what the appropriate setting should be?

Sarah Henderson: Oh no. Well, there is a 55% content obligation, but it doesn’t extend to the ABC and the SBS. We set up a whole schedule to impose those reporting obligations on the ABC and the SBS, and we want to see that followed through.

Greg Jennett: Okay. And look, final topic for today. We know that the Albanese Government is running its rule over what it calls rorts and waste. They were government pledged funding programmes under the Morrison Government that they may view as wasteful. I think captured in that basket from your point of view are these regional phone towers as part of telco networks, many of which were slated to be expanded. What is the concern that you’re holding around those now that government is changing?

Sarah Henderson: Greg, I don’t accept the the premise of your question in relation to rorts or waste – investing in regional telecommunications is incredibly important. I called on the Minister to give some clarity in relation to the Regional Connectivity Program. She has now done that, but we saw when Labor was in government they didn’t take this seriously at all. There was no investment in mobile telecommunications. We delivered in spades and I really hope and trust that the Government will continue to invest in regional communications. There’s around $155 million less money that Labor promised at the election. That is very concerning. And again, I call on the Minister not to turn her back on regional Australia.

Greg Jennett: Okay. But on that particular scheme, you actually got the assurances you were seeking.

Sarah Henderson: Well, only after I called on her to give certainty in relation to that program. $140 million of investment has sat dormant for three months. We have not seen the Minister follow through and get that money out into regional communities. We don’t have any timeline on those projects. It’s critical that the Minister gets moving in her job. She has been on her training wheels for the last three months. It is time, Greg, that she got off the training wheels and did her job.

Greg Jennett: All right. Point made, no doubt will extend the right of reply to Michelle Rowland. To Sarah Henderson, thanks so much for joining.

Sarah Henderson: Great to talk to you.

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