14 August 2017

I rise to note yet another display of incompetence in the Communications portfolio from this government, with the removal of this SBS Advertising Bill that sought only to weaken the SBS.

It's important to note that the SBS advertising bill should never have made it to the floor in the first place. We shouldn't be here at its withdrawal. We on this side of the House understand the important role that SBS has played and continues to play in Australian broadcasting. We understand it has a vitally important role in the Australian media landscape as a voice for all Australians. It is one of the foremost outlets for the multicultural programming, news and content that showcases Australia's diversity.

Now there's been a lot of talk this week from the Prime Minister, lecturing us all about how 'strong leaders keep their promises'. Well might this government look at its own record on the SBS, because on the night before the 2013 election the member for Warringah categorically promised that there would be no cuts to the SBS. But at the earliest opportunity he cut SBS funding by $53.7 million over five years in the 2014-15 budget, of which $22.5 million were direct cuts.

The minister is quiet now, Mr Deputy Speaker! He is quiet now! That was $28.5 million of a hole left in the SBS budget, to be made up by permitting the SBS to show more advertising during prime time. We opposed these cuts and blocked the hourly-advertising limit on the SBS in 2015. Without a doubt this was a broken promise, and since then we have only seen this government attempt to undermine the SBS even further.

In March, this government resurrected its plan to increase the amount of advertising on the SBS by introducing a bill to double the amount of advertising it runs in prime time—up from five minutes to 10 minutes per hour, within the daily limit of 120 minutes each day. It also wanted them to be able to pursue product placement in its programs. Labor is opposed to any attempt by this government to turn the SBS into another commercial broadcaster by stealth. SBS viewers should not have to watch more ads during their favourite shows to make up for the failures of this Prime Minister and his predecessor to honour their promises.

At Senate estimates in May, under Labor questioning, the Minister for Communications and the Arts confirmed that the government would be taking steps to withdraw this bill. What an admission of failure from this government and what a vindication of the long-standing Labor commitment to our national broadcasters! We were vindicated in May when the government restored $8.8 million of funding to the SBS as part of the budget, and today we are vindicated by the removal of this bill.

The SBS has earned the respect of the Australian people; it deserves the respect and support of the government to continue its path of innovation and comprehensive broadcasting, and to fulfil its crucial role in Australian society. The SBS's very existence is a reflection of Australia's multicultural society. Only this week we noted with the passing of Les Murray how SBS has been such an important vehicle for individuals in Australia to make a difference and to change us all for the better.

Labor knows the SBS needs a strong commitment from government, and not greater commercialisation. We stand strong in our long-standing opposition to this government's repeated attempts to undermine the special purpose and nature of the SBS. We understand the risks—that increasing the amount of advertising in prime-time viewing could encourage the SBS to prioritise commercial revenue at the expense of its charter obligations and its unique role as our nation's ethnic broadcaster. We on this side will always stand up for our national broadcasters.

The good news is that according to the SBS annual report the organisation is performing well, with increases in audience reach, share and engagement across its platforms. The broadcaster reports this growth was marked by an emphasis on new and more engaging ways of telling stories across all platforms which deliver on the SBS charter to positively influence Australia's internationally-envied reputation as a largely unified multicultural society.

Since 1975 the SBS has served Australia well, and we in this place have a responsibility to support our public broadcasters. It is essential that the SBS is properly funded. As the chair and managing director noted in the SBS annual report, it is becoming even clearer than it was 41 years ago when the SBS was established that the SBS purpose brings Australian audiences a meaningful point of difference. We on this side are pleased to see the government admit its failure with this legislation, which would only have weakened the SBS to the detriment of us all.