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Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




18 DECEMBER 2023


KIERAN GILBERT: Let's bring in the shadow communications minister, also the manager of opposition business in the House of Representatives, Paul Fletcher. Paul Fletcher, before we get to the other news of the day, just your reaction there to Stephen Jones. Do you welcome the strong stance he's taken when it comes to the news media bargaining laws and the prospect of renegotiating those deals with big Tech

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, Kieran, good to be with you and I'm happy to comment on that because I was communications minister and Josh Frydenberg was treasurer. When we put the world leading news media bargaining code in place, I should just clarify that. The shadow communications minister is David Coleman, who's working hard and doing an excellent job. But look, we've really heard nothing particularly new from Stephen Jones there. The fact is that we put the legislation in place in 2021, and the effect of that legislation is to give Google and Facebook a very strong incentive to come to the table and do commercial deals with Australian news media businesses, because if they don't, under the legislation, there is the power to appoint an arbitrator who can then compulsorily arbitrate and determine the commercial terms that Google and Facebook will, by law, have to meet. Now, that worked very effectively. Google and Facebook have entered into deals, which are the former chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims. Estimates collectively are worth about $200 million, with a whole range of Australian news media businesses. Now, those deals were typically for either five years or three years, so some of them will be coming up for renewal soon. We'll wait and see whether the current government has got the capacity to effectively make sure that those platforms do new deals, but we certainly left them with very strong legislation. So they've got the tools. We'll see whether they've got the capacity to use the tools.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yep. We'll be watching it closely. On to the crisis in North Queensland, far north Queensland with the floods. Do you welcome the fact the government's moved quickly and got the ADF moving as well in support?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, look, this is obviously a very serious situation and a lot of people in far north Queensland are facing these very challenging floods. Now. People in Queensland and Far north Queensland are used to climatic extremes. Cyclones, of course, are a regular part of what happens in that part of the world. But it doesn't make it easy. And our thoughts are certainly with everybody who is facing difficult times today. What we need to see, of course, is, first of all, the emergency assistance where people are facing direct threats to life, but also getting essential services restored as quickly as possible. We heard the Queensland minister earlier, the new Queensland minister saying there are roads washed out, but also things like getting electricity back on telecommunications and other utilities. That's very important. It's also very important that the Commonwealth Government, through Services Australia is there to provide emergency payments. We welcome the fact that they've indicated that those payments will be available. I see Bill shorten, the Minister has said that some Services Australia outlets are closed today and that is, I guess, understandable because of the extreme conditions. But we obviously want to see those open as quickly as possible and see Services Australia and all of the relevant Commonwealth agencies, as well as Queensland government agencies, providing all the practical assistance that people in Far North Queensland need as they deal with these very challenging floods.

KIERAN GILBERT: On to the polling that we've seen around the last few days. There have been several polls to finish 2023, while some have the coalition neck and neck or maybe slightly behind, there's no doubt the trend has been an improvement. Are you and your colleagues buoyed by that? Is there a sense of confidence that you're back in the game heading into 2024?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, the focus for the entire coalition team from Peter Dutton down is how we best hold the government to account and how we best serve the people of Australia and demonstrate to them that we have clear plans for our nation should we have the privilege of being returned to government at the next election. Clearly, Australians have seen with the present government a lot of things that were promised are not being delivered They were promised $275 cuts in energy prices. Instead, the average energy bill is up $1,000. They were promised that mortgages would be more affordable under Mr. Albanese. Instead, we've seen 12 increases in interest rates in a row under this government. So and of course, we've seen this government dealing in a very clumsy and flat footed way with the challenges that come along from time to time, including the High Court decision in relation to immigration detention. For several days, we were being told there was no legislative fix. On our insistence, finally, the government realised there was something they could do. We were able to help them improve that legislation. But Australians are wondering is this crew really up to the challenge? And we've seen, you know, over 140 hardcore criminals released into the community. So whether it's immigration detention, whether it's the price of energy, whether it's the cost of living more generally, whether it's interest rates, I think Australians are seeing a government that is proving not to be up to the challenge. And what we're seeking to do as the alternative government to Australia is demonstrate to the Australian people that we're keeping the government to account and that we stand ready to put ourselves forward at the next election.

KIERAN GILBERT: Two thirds of people surveyed in a recent resolve poll in the nine papers had the people saying they're going to spend less this Christmas. Less presents. Obviously it's a difficult time in terms of cost of living for many Australians towards the end of next year, though, as we head towards the next election, we could well be facing rate cuts potentially. So the timing could work in the government's favour. Do you accept that?

PAUL FLETCHER: I will leave it to the commentators to speculate and prognosticate about what the future may hold. What we are focused on is highlighting where this government is letting down Australians by failing to do the things they promised, such as reducing energy prices by $275, or by cutting a whole series of infrastructure commitments around the country. Things that had been planned and announced under our government are now being chopped under this government. So Australians are being let down all around the country, and it's our job as an opposition to hold this government to account. We'll continue to do that. We'll continue to roll out responsible alternative policy ideas, as we have, for example, in relation to restricting the advertising of gambling services on television and many other constructive ideas we've brought forward over our time in opposition so far. We'll continue to do that, and we'll let the commentators engage in the analysis and the gazing at the entrails.

KIERAN GILBERT: Manager of opposition business Paul Fletcher. Thanks. We appreciate your time right throughout the year. Wish you all the best for Christmas.

PAUL FLETCHER: To you too, Kieran, and to all your viewers.