ADJOURNMENT DEBATE - MEDIA INQUIRY


Tonight I want to pursue further a matter that I have questioned during recent question times, and that is the so-called independent inquiry into the media. Senators will recall that that inquiry is currently being conducted at the behest of the Greens political party, primarily as a payback to News Ltd for its scrutiny of Senator Brown and his political party.

Another aspect of this inquiry which came to light recently was its examination of whether there should be support for independent journalism and how this should be provided. The issue of support for independent journalism certainly was not explicit in the inquiry's terms of reference issued by Senator Conroy on 14 September this year. But two weeks later the independent media inquiry released a discussion paper which, under the heading 'Support', asked these questions:

Is there need for additional support to:

(a) assist independent journalism

(b) assist the media to cater for minority audiences

(c) remove obstacles that may hinder small-scale publications

(d) promote ease of entry to the media market

(e) foster other aspects of the medias operations

What are the best methods for providing that support

So I ask this question: where did these propositions come from According to the minister, Senator Conroyin answer to a questionhe first saw the issues paper when the inquiry supplied it to him 'very shortly before they publicly released it'.

Interestingly, on 17 August 2011 six journalism academics wrote to the leader of the Greens political party, Senator Brown, and also to Senator Conroy, and possibly others, proposing that not-for-profit journalism enterprises be given tax deductible status. These academics included Dr Matthew Ricketson, Professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra. As has been reported, in something of a coincidence no doubt, several weeks afterwards Dr Ricketson was appointed to assist the independent media inquirytwo weeks after this the inquiry's discussion paper was released, canvassing the issue of support for independent journalism. Then, some weeks after this, Senator Brown forwarded on to the inquiry the suggestion by Dr Ricketson and other academics of tax deductibility for not-for-profit journalism. That is, he sent on to Dr Ricketson and the inquiry the letter that had come to him from Dr Ricketson and others. This all looks a bit too incestuous to me. Senator Brown's submission to the independent media inquiry says:

The Australian Greens support the proposal for tax deductible status for not-for-profit journalism enterprises.

Surprisingly, this proposal is not in the Greens' media and communications policy on the Greens website. Perhaps this was decided just of late.

More interestingly, five weeks before the six academics wrote to Senator Brown with their proposal for tax deductibility of not-for-profit journalism enterprises, Crikey broke the story that Wotif multimillionaire Graeme Wood was backing former ABC reporter, Monica Attard, in a new independent journalism enterpriseThe Global Mailestimated to cost $2 million to $3 million a year. So, Senator Brown's submission to the independent inquiry into the media would benefit the interests of the person who donated $1.6 million in advertising to the Greens political party at the last federal election. According to Crikey, Mr Graeme Wood said 'he's happy to cop ongoing losses' and that he also said, 'I think eventually there will be a financial business model for this sort of thing, but it ain't there yet.'

When this issue was raised in the Senate last week Senator Brown could have provided a straight rebuttal; instead, he chose to impute motives of envy to the coalition. Might I say that it does not trouble me that the Greens might receive a large donation; what disturbs me, though, is the Greens' hypocrisy in accepting Mr Wood's donation after years and years of railing about the evils of accepting corporate donations. And what continues to disturb me even morein relation to Gunns' sale of the Triabunna woodchip millis that Senator Brown and the Greens sought to push Mr Wood's commercial interests and damage those of Mr Wood's competitor.

I believe that, rather than resorting to furphies, Senator Brown needs to explain his advocacy of tax deductibility for not-for-profit journalism enterprises, which would benefit the Greens' major donorall very, very interesting. Senator Brown should say whether or not he has had any discussions with Mr Graeme Wood, or anyone else connected to his venture, about the need for such a journalism venture and/or the need for such ventures to receive tax deductibility status. And, importantly, he should say what, if anything, he knows of the genesis of the letter to him from the six academics, and whether it was just something out of the blue and whether he had any discussions about it before or after its receipt and, if so, with whom. It may be that this letter to Senator Brown was serendipitous, but an understanding of how and why it came into existence would clear the air. This whole issue of the so-called independent inquiry into the media, Senator Brown's part in the issues surrounding it, and the involvement of Mr Graeme Wood, does seem murky. I suggest to Senator Brown that it might be time for him to make a statement, clear the air, and explain exactly what his part in this whole, what seems to be, increasingly murky mess is all about.

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