Introduction and background
On 16 November 2017, the Senate, on the recommendation of the Selection
of Bills Committee, referred the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment
(Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2017 (the bill) to the Senate Environment
and Communications Legislation Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report
by 16 February 2018.
Purpose of the bill
The bill proposes to amend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Act 1983 (ABC Act) to facilitate the provision of broadcasting
services by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that meet and reflect
the needs of rural and regional Australia.
The intention of these proposed amendments to the ABC Act is to ensure
that rural and regional communities are provided for in the functions of the
Corporation, and through representation on the ABC Board.
Inclusion of regional and
The bill proposes to amend the ABC Charter to ensure that the ABC
broadcasts programs that contribute to a sense of regional and national
identity, and inform and entertain, and reflect the geographic and cultural
diversity of, the Australian community.
This proposed amendment is intended to reflect the unique purpose of the
ABC, that is, to have regard to providing broadcasting services that encompass
Australia as a whole. The proposed amendment will also ensure that the ABC
contributes to and promotes rural and regional Australia, and provides
information and services that meet the needs of audiences in these areas.
Regional Advisory Council
The bill proposes to require the ABC Board to establish a Regional
Advisory Council, made up of members who have a substantial connection to, or
substantial experience in, a regional area through business, industry or
community involvement. These members must not be a member of another advisory
council or committee.
Proposed subsection 11(3A) establishes that the Regional Advisory
Council would, either on its own initiative or at the request of the ABC Board,
advise the ABC Board on matters relating to the provision of broadcasting
services in rural areas by the ABC.
The bill proposes to require the ABC Board to consult with the Regional
Advisory Council before making any change to a broadcasting service in regional
areas which will have a significant impact on regional audiences.
The ABC Board would also be required to report on all consultations with
the Regional Advisory Council through its Annual Report.
If the ABC Board determines that members of the Regional Advisory Council
should be remunerated, then such remuneration will be determined by the
ABC Board connection to regional
The ABC Board is appointed by the Governor-General following a
merit-based selection process. The bill proposes to require the Australian
Government to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the ABC Board includes
at least two appointed non-executive directors who have a substantial
connection to, or substantial experience in, a regional area through business,
industry or community involvement.
This proposed amendment is intended to ensure that the perspectives,
views and needs of regional areas are appropriately considered by the ABC
Annual reporting obligations
Section 80 of the ABC Act currently provides for matters which must be
included in the organisation's Annual Report. The bill expands on these
reporting requirements to include an obligation to provide statistics on the
number of employees in regional areas and metropolitan areas separately. These
statistics will include both individuals employed as journalists and those
employed as support staff.
The proposed reporting requirements will also include an obligation to
report on the total number of hours of local and regional news bulletins
broadcast during the reporting period.
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee advertised the inquiry on its website and wrote to
relevant organisations inviting written submissions. The date of receipt of
submissions was 12 January 2018.
The committee received 12 submissions which are listed at Appendix 1 of
this report. The public submissions are available on the committee's website
The committee thanks all of the individuals and organisations that
contributed to the inquiry.
Reports of other committees
When examining a bill or draft bill, the committee takes into account
any relevant comments published by the Senate Standing Committee for the
Scrutiny of Bills. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee assesses legislative
proposals against a set of accountability standards that focus on the effect of
proposed legislation on individual rights, liberties and obligations, and on
In its Scrutiny Digest No. 13 of 2017, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee
stated that it had no comment on the bill.
This bill follows the introduction of the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Advocacy) Bill 2015 by Senator
Bridget McKenzie in 2015.
Senator McKenzie's bill proposed to amend the ABC Charter in relation to
the delivery of services in rural and regional Australia. In addition, the bill
sought to define the ABC's mandate for its public service function for
journalism in rural and regional Australia. The bill proposed to:
require the ABC to broadcast programs that not only contribute to
a sense of national identity or cultural diversity, but also a sense of regional
identity and geographic diversity;
require the ABC to foster the space within which its journalists
operate to the benefit of communities and the viability of regional journalism
through the provision of the resources necessary to enable the ABC to satisfy
its functions and duties in regional communities;
require the ABC to maintain an effective presence in regional
communities and to provide regular transmissions of local content across a
variety of platforms;
mandate that the ABC approach its obligations to providing
services in regional Australia from a social service and community perspective
rather than a commercial position; and
require the ABC to have regard to community expectations in
regional areas as to the frequency and nature of broadcasts.
The bill also proposed to establish a rural and regional advisory
council which would advise the ABC Board on rural and regional issues, and
conduct a biennial survey of regional audiences regarding their satisfaction
with services. The ABC Board in appointing members to the council would also
have to have regard to the desirability of the members being residents in rural
and regional Australia.
The bill also proposed that there be a requirement for at least two
directors of the Board to reside in regional areas.
On 13 April 2017, the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation
Committee tabled its report on the bill.
The majority of submitters to the inquiry expressed support for the proposed
amendments to the ABC Charter in relation to the delivery of services to rural
and regional Australia. Many submitters pointed to the termination of shortwave
services in the Northern Territory in late January 2017 as evidence that the
needs of rural and regional Australia have been ignored by the ABC.
The committee recommended that the bill be passed subject to a number of
amendments including omitting the proposed residency requirements for members
of the ABC Board and the rural and regional advisory council and instead inserting
broader requirements such as having a 'regional interest'.
Scope of report
The committee notes that many of the issues raised in evidence during its
inquiry into Senator McKenzie's bill are also relevant to this inquiry. The
committee does not intend to re-examine this evidence but acknowledges the
context that it provides for both the development and examination of this bill.
The committee also notes the recommendations made in relation to Senator
McKenzie's bill, and acknowledges the views presented by the committee in its
report on that bill.
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