Interview with Keiran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time. Yesterday Labor launched its arts policy Revive, but a big chunk of it was this quota, or proposed quota, for streaming services. Can you explain the rationale behind that?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Certainly. Well, firstly, it was a great privilege to be at the launch of the National Cultural Policy yesterday with Minister Burke and the Prime Minister, and to see the creative industry at its very finest, wanting to have a sector that is able to grow. But with that it requires a strong, robust and a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose.

To take one step back, Kieran, I think many of your viewers wouldn’t be aware that we currently have a law that governs this area that is 30 years old that doesn’t recognise that there are different ways that content is now consumed, including by streaming services. The point here, which will be ably informed now by the National Cultural Policy, is to bring those content regulations into line and to ensure that all of the sector is recognised for the important contribution it brings to Australian identity.

I want to make it very clear, what we are doing now and what Minister Burke announced yesterday on behalf of the Government, is that we will now consult on what form that regulation will take. This will necessarily involve the industry, the entire screen production sector, the creative industries, because we know that there’s a lot of balancing that needs to be done here. But, in the end, this is about the Australian consumer who wants to see Australian stories being told. And we also, as a government, need to ensure the sustainability of the sector for broadcasters right across the spectrum – subscription broadcasters, as well as free-to-air broadcasters, but also to give Australian consumers that choice that they obviously have taken up in the last decade or so.

GILBERT: It’s a huge shift, isn’t it, in terms of the popularity of the streaming services. But to explain to our viewers, basically broadcasters – traditional, free-to-air, subscription – are required to have local content, and the streaming services essentially will be brought in to level the playing field so that they are also required to have local content at a certain level.

ROWLAND: That is the objective. And I think it is very clear that Australians like Australian content. We know that the streamers themselves have been producing more Australian content. But what we want here is a guarantee, and the streamers themselves have long been calling for regulatory certainty in this area.

Kieran, Labor took to the last two elections a policy to ‘Make it Australian’ With the announcement of the National Cultural Policy yesterday, we have now kick-started the process. We are going to bring this to a conclusion and give regulatory certainty to the whole sector. And, again, this is about ensuring that Australian consumers are always the beneficiaries.

GILBERT: Will it be applicable to parties that already have to abide by quotas? Say, for example, the free-to-air channels have their own streaming services, Foxtel has its streaming service. How does that work in terms of those?

ROWLAND: It’s a very pertinent question. It’s the one that we are going to be looking at in the context of these consultations. Because, again, you have some streaming services that are uniquely Australian in their market and others – very popular ones – that are obviously overseas based.

So we will be looking at this in its totality and examining all these issues, taking feedback with a very targeted consultation with the industry, and coming up with a balance that is, again, about ensuring levelling the playing field, giving that guarantee of Australian content irrespective of how it’s consumed.

GILBERT: Have you been encouraged by your talks with some of the services? Because from, you know, just from a viewer’s perspective, we’ve seen various popular programmes made locally already, haven’t we?

ROWLAND: And that is very welcome. At the same time, we know that this sector wants to grow even more. It was certainly a focus of the Jobs and Skills Summit to note that the creative sector contributes so much to the economy. This isn’t only some siloed cultural imperative; it’s an economic dividend for the country as well.

Right across the creative sector you’ve got producers, you’ve got people right across the ecosystem whose jobs are less resistant to automation, they’re higher paying jobs, they’re valued, they are long-term. And certainly the Albanese Government wants to encourage this. We know that there are some production constraints, but the sector wants to grow. So this is about balancing all of those interests. But, again, ultimately giving a future guarantee of Australian content.

GILBERT: When you gave an address just – well, November last year, so you were a few months into the job, you spoke about the immediate-term focus being in a couple of areas. One of them was this streaming service discussion that we’ve been having. Another is the review of the anti-syphoning scheme and list. It’s always one that certainly subscription TV is very interested in, because basically the anti‑syphoning list requires that major events also are available free-to-air. There’s an argument that’s been made this list is too long and it should be just for events of national significance. What’s your view?

ROWLAND: Well, we’re in the process of the consultation at the moment, and the current anti-syphoning list expires in April. So it was very opportune, again, it being an election commitment, we wasted no time in encouraging the sector and encouraging Australian consumers to have their say. That consultation period is now one in which we are considering all the views that were known. But I think one important point to note here, Kieran – very similar to the content issue – is that, again, the Broadcasting Services Act, this piece of law did not recognise that we would have these global streaming giants with deep pockets in what all your viewers know is a very lucrative sports rights market. This is about enabling people irrespective of their means or where they live to have the opportunity to view sport live and free.

The role of subscription broadcasters here is well-known and they have been well-heard, and we are very grateful for their participation in this consultation. That will conclude shortly. But we are very mindful, in particular, about the changes in viewing consumption habits, but the principle remains the same – this is about Australian consumers and sustainability of the Australian media sector.

GILBERT: And also the sporting bodies, too, I guess, they would have been big players in that because they want to extract as much value as well for their rights as possible. And you would think that they would want as many eyeballs on their sporting product as possible as well.

ROWLAND: Certainly. And we heard all these points of view. But, again, I think there’s two points that would be well made here. The first, that this is about encouraging all Australians, irrespective of where they live, to be able to view these events of national significance, and primarily – obviously - these are sporting codes. But also we have subscription broadcasting in this mix but not a recognition of those global streaming giants who are increasingly moving into different markets. So I think, again, this is about Australian consumers being able to have that choice but also being able to have that opportunity to have that viewing right.

GILBERT: And with the choice does it mean – because you rightly point out it’s based on some pretty old legislation – is it also about updating the underlying technology upon which those sports are broadcast, that it not necessarily be just free-to-air TV, but you can have a free broadcast via other means?

ROWLAND: Well, certainly, not wanting to pre-empt the outcomes of the review which are still underway, but they were points that were very well made, that the content may be exactly the same but people are consuming it differently. So, again, all of these will come to a conclusion in the next couple of months. But all of your viewers can be very mindful of two points we have in mind – firstly, to ensure that we have that equity for all Australians, but also recognising that when this law was devised 30 years ago it didn’t take into account the developments of new technology and hasn’t been updated since.

GILBERT: No, it hasn’t. And the other thing that you’re looking at – and I know from this speech that you gave – is that the government is consulting on the ACCC’s recommendations when it comes to digital advertising and the regime around that. Recently the Justice Department in the United States took action against Google Ad Tech essentially dominating the ads via its platform. Did you take note of that intervention? What’s your thinking on that?

ROWLAND: No, certainly. And this is an ongoing area of investigation for the ACCC. The Ad Tech market is one that – and these are some of the conclusions of the regulator – is one that is very opaque, one in which there is very little understanding of those money transfers. They’re subject to private agreements in many cases that aren’t made known to government. But I think the key thing here is about understanding what is going on in this Ad Tech space where there is market failure and the need to intervene. These are areas that the government takes very seriously. But it is certainly a watching brief that is being maintained, particularly by our competition regulator in this area. Because, exactly as you allude, there are lessons to be learnt there.

GILBERT: Okay. Well, we’ll keep on eye on that one as well. A few other quick ones before you go: Jim Chalmers’ essay this week, it’s caused a bit of a stir. The values-based capitalism that he’s arguing. Is it at odds with the Hawke-Keating legacy?

ROWLAND: To the contrary – I think it’s completely aligned. The fact is that we had a period of stable economics but a reformist government in the Hawke and Keating years. And certainly that is the one where the Prime Minister has indicated and is certainly living out those values of ensuring that we are a consultative government, that we are one that governs for everyone irrespective of where you live or your means. I think the Treasurer is making a very clear statement here that our role as a Labor government is to be fiscally responsible, with good financial management, and, in the end, this is about governing for all Australians and ensuring that that wealth is shared and that everyone has those opportunities but no-one’s being left behind, just as the platform that the Prime Minister and this government was elected.

GILBERT: And, finally, you’ll be joining us for the New South Wales election night coverage, which I’m very much looking forward to. But in the middle of the campaign right now is this debate about gambling reform. A big story with ClubsNSW boss Josh Landis. He said about the Premier on his cashless gambling card approach, he says he’s acted from his conservative Catholic gut rather than based on evidence. Mr Landis has issued an unreserved apology. He’s spoken to the Premier to apologise. But that sort of language is unacceptable, isn’t it?

ROWLAND: It is unacceptable. And in any context, these public policy decisions should be made based on evidence but not based on people’s faith. I think it’s appropriate that Mr Landis apologise unreservedly.

GILBERT: Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time today. Thanks.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.