Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Television and Radio Licence Fees) Bill 2016


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (12:07): Labor supports the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Television and Radio Licence Fees) Bill 2016. Let us go through some of the context regarding the current state of Australia's media industry. Broadcasting, through radio or television, is regulated to some degree. The spectrum that broadcasting uses is a public resource, and it is sought after for a lot of purposes. The spectrum used to broadcast television and radio programs, if auctioned off today, would yield an enormous financial gain for the people of Australia.

Following the switch from analog to digital television in 2012-13, the ACMA was able to reallocate spectrum and conduct an auction of some of the newly available spectrum, which gives us a sense of the value of the spectrum that this bill contends with today. The resulting auction back in 2012 saw the spectrum yield $1.96 billion to the coffers of the Australian people.

Government's role is to ensure that regulation achieves a public interest within the operations of commercial and media market dynamics. It is important to strike the right balance and to take action where necessary. There is no doubt that there is a fundamental shift in our media landscape. The member for Fairfax has just spoken about it, and the shadow minister spoke about it in her address-in-reply. The challenges faced by Australia's media companies here and around the world are well known. The availability of news and information through online media has changed the structures of the industry and is creating significant disruption to existing business models.

It is often the case with disruption to industry—in this case, our traditional television broadcasters—that they do not see the changes coming or the consequences for their industries. Our media industry is in the midst of this disruption with the expansion of subscription, video on demand and over-the-top streaming services like Netflix, to name just one. Our media viewing and consumption habits are also changing. While TV remains the dominant source of news in Australian households, the number of consumers watching free to air commercial TV has fallen a massive 15 per cent since 2008 alone. This is due partly to the growth of subscription and on-demand services, such as Quickflix, Presto, Stan and Netflix, according to a recent ACMA report, Digital Australians: expectations about media content in a converging media environment. It said that from 2011 watching free to air TV still represents the largest share of our TV consumption at around 59 per cent of average time spent watching TV or video content. Watching online content, such as catch-up TV or other free online video content, via a subscription service or a pay per view content now accounts for 16 per cent of time spent viewing TV.

In February 2016 Roy Morgan research reported that more than one in seven Australians now watch no commercial television or normal weekday television at all. That is twice the number in 2008. Seven years ago only 6.9 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 did not watch any commercial television on a normal weekday, and there was very little difference between age groups. Since then the proportion of Australians who do not watch any commercial television has doubled.

We can see from these statistics that consumption patterns are changing, and they are changing rapidly. While we may still sit down together to watch the evening news as a family, it is also increasingly the case that we access these news services via our mobile phones, a tablet or some other online device. With 11 million Facebook users and nine million YouTube users, over half of all Australians have reported using online and social media as a news source. We can see that we cannot stand still as regulators blind to the fact that as the environment is changing very rapidly around us so must the regulatory environment. It is worth noting that there are new streaming and audio providers, such as Apple Music, which was launched in 2015 to join audio apps such as Spotify and Pandora, which have also rapidly changed the way we consume audio media.

The tax avoidance practices of many of these multimedia broadcasting services do need to be investigated. Google, for example, makes around $2 billion in advertising revenue in Australia but avoids paying tax in Australia by shifting this revenue to an offshore entity through Singapore to Google Asia Pacific. Labor would like to see some more action from the Turnbull government to address this issue of multinational tax avoidance. The so-called digital information revolution is creating some winners and some losers, and many are focused merely on surviving. Our traditional media companies are in this category. The maelstrom is the only reason this House should consider the bill today, which implements a 25 per cent reduction in the annual licence fees payable by the commercial radio and television free to air broadcasters. This change in the environment is the only reason we should be considering this bill today. Television broadcasting licensing fees are levied on gross revenue, and this measure in the bill will reduce the levy from 4.5 per cent to 3.375 per cent. I understand that many within the industry would like to see the licensing fees go altogether, but I remind the House that these are the fees that the industry pays for access to valuable spectrum.

We should continue to engage with the industry over what reforms are necessary. There have been a number of proposals put by the industry, quite forcefully, about the need for changes in the regulatory environment, regulations that were set up in an entirely different environment. These matters are not before the House but they are a part of the context which the Labor opposition is considering when offering its support for the legislation before the House.