The deadline was firm, said Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. There was no room for negotiation. Either they would pass, or they would be scrapped.
They have been scrapped.
The government needed the support of five of the seven members sitting on the cross benches in parliament. Four either expressly said they would support the bill, or were known to be leading that way: the Greens’ Adam Bandt and Tony Windsor, and the terrible twins Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson. But the remaining three said they would not support the bills :Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie and Rob Oakeshott.
There were six pieces of legislation in all. Two uncontroversial bills passed the lower house Tuesday evening. They concerned the expansion of Australian content, a reduction in licensing fees and the updating of the ABC and SBS charters.
A key aspect of the Government’s proposed legislation was the setting up of a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA - the ‘media tsar’ so reviled by many opponents of the legislation). At the last minute the Government proposed that the PIMA be replaced by an independent commission chosen by a panel of eminent Australians, but even this has failed to gain support.
The whole thing has been an utter schemozzle. This is not so much a victory for the bill’s opponents as a defeat for good process, clear thinking and common sense. We have seen previous little of any of these.
Despite the hysteria about the bills being draconian, they were nothing of the kind. The most controversial aspect of the reforms, the establishment of the PIMA, was quite a reasonable proposal, given the demonstrable lack of any sense of ethics in many parts of the media.
It has all come to nothing. Like so much this government has done, it was poorly handled, right from the start. Senator Conroy’s attempt to ram it through looked like a sign of desperation. Given the current atmosphere in Canberra, that’s exactly what it was.
The Government certainly didn’t need the distraction. The whole issue has been totally overshadowed in recent days by increased leadership speculation in the Labor Party. Until that is resolved, nothing will happen.