Ad regulations, ABC funding, and media ownership: here’s how the parties’ policies stack up this election

As we hurtle towards election day, Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby asked the various political parties and key independent candidates where they stand on issues impacting the media and marketing industries. She had mixed luck in her quest to discover what they would do should they wield power.

It’s the final week of an election campaign that has been filled with eggs, a News Corp vs Bill Shorten battle, and too many billboards featuring Clive Palmer to count. We can count how much his United Australia Party (UAP) will end up spending on advertising though; UAP Senator Brian Burston predicted the total bill will be around the $60m mark, a figure usually reserved for global behemoths like McDonald’s or Apple.

And the ads have been everywhere, from everyone. Shorten is the ‘Bill Australia can’t afford’, according to the Liberal party, a line they’ve repeatedly pulled out to reinforce the official slogan: ‘Building our economy, securing your future’. Labor has promised ‘A fair go for Australia’. And the news outlets have reinforced the importance of accuracy during an election campaign:  ‘The truth builds trust’, said News Corp, while Nine declared that ‘You deserve to know’. Metamucil joked that we should ‘vote for the turd we deserve’. And, according to the unions, we need to change the rules by changing the government.

But where do this election’s candidates stand when it comes to the media and marketing industries? And what are their communications policies?

Finding out was harder than anticipated.

Firstly, the no shows. And there were a lot of them.

The Liberal party failed to provide a comment. Mitch Fifield’s Department of Communications did not respond to emails, and when called, told Mumbrella twice that they would follow up and call back. They did not.

Similarly, the United Australia Party did not respond to emails, and calls went straight to a voicemail message, which instructed me to email the same address I hadn’t received a response from. However, the UAP’s lack of response is not necessarily surprising. Candidates have been told to not speak to media and Clive Palmer has rejected interview requests and refused to take questions at a press conference.

Independents Zali Steggall, Rob Oakeshott, Julia Banks and Kerryn Phelps also did not provide comment.

Therefore, Labor and The Greens’ responses are set out below, along with any publicly-available information about the others’ policies.


Liberal party

The Liberal party did not respond to Mumbrella’s questions. It lists 30 priorities on the ‘policies’ page of its website, none of which are communications-related. The Department of Communications’ ‘policy’ page includes a short video that explains the role of the Department, but doesn’t actually list any policies.

Current communications minister Mitch Fifield

Labor party

  1. NBN
  2. ABC
  3. Australian content

“Labor has announced its responsible plan to deliver meaningful improvements to the NBN, including a Digital Inclusion Drive to get more elderly and low-income households connected to the NBN. Voters understand that there is no quick fix for the NBN, and appreciate Labor’s honesty in saying so,” shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland tells Mumbrella.

“Labor has announced it will reverse Scott Morrison’s unfair cut of $83.7m to the ABC, guarantee funding certainty to the ABC over the next budget cycle and provide the ABC an additional $15m to bolster regional news and emergency broadcasting, help restore shortwave radio in the NT and support a news literacy program to fight disinformation and fake news. Voters across the political spectrum trust the ABC and are genuinely concerned that this trusted institution will struggle to meet this latest cut.”

Rowland adds that Labor congratulates David Anderson on his appointment as ABC managing director, calling him a “well-respected and well-known quantity from within its ranks to lead the ABC going forward”.

“The ABC needs stability after the turmoil of Liberal cuts, attacks and political interference over the last six years,” she says.

Since providing responses, Labor has promised an extra $60m for the ABC and SBS if Bill Shorten is named prime minister.

Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland

Rowland also says that Labor will “ensure we continue to see Australian stories on Australian screens, whether on free-to-air television or streaming services like Netflix, by modernising the settings that support Australian content in the new media environment”.

“If elected, Labor will convene a taskforce to conclude the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review, which stalled under the Liberals.”

The Greens 

  1. ABC and SBS
  2. Productivity Commission inquiry into media concentration
  3. Regulating social media companies and advertisers

Greens spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young cites the media reform package announced in March as a way the party will turn the “blow torch on the big corporate media giants” and place “quality, public interest journalism front and centre”.

“Our beloved public broadcasters have a duty, above all else, to inform the public, hold politicians and governments to account, and assist during natural disasters. We will restore more than $330m in Liberal funding cuts and lock funding into legislation so the ABC is no longer used as a government punching bag, no matter who is in the Lodge,” Hanson-Young says.

Sarah Hanson-Young, far right, on stage at the 2018 Screen Forever conference

She also states that The Greens will push to “expand the responsibilities and reach of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to help it tackle the rise of fake news and hate speech being broadcast into Australians’ homes”.

“These policies will reorient our priorities to allow public interest journalism and the public good to be put ahead of the profits of news media organisations and digital advertisers,” she says.


The UAP did not respond to Mumbrella’s questions. It does not have any published communications policies.

UAP billboards have been defaced throughout the election campaign

Zali Steggall

Zali Steggall, the woman taking on former prime minister Tony Abbott in his seat of Warringah, did not respond to Mumbrella’s questions. The policies listed on her website include a focus on restoring funding cuts to the ABC.

“Despite the importance of the ABC to our community and culture, funding cuts have resulted in hundreds of job losses, axing of programs such as Lateline, Catalyst and statewide 7.30 Reports, a reduction in Australian TV drama production and closure of ABC local radio newsrooms. This cannot continue,” the website states.

Steggall is attempting to beat Tony Abbott for the Warringah seat

Rob Oakeshott

Rob Oakeshott, who is seeking to return to parliament after having a deciding vote in determining the minority government in 2010, did not respond to Mumbrella’s questions. Oakeshott has a series of ‘values’ listed on his website, rather than policies, and therefore does not disclose his communications policies.

Rob Oakeshott, independent candidate for Cowper
Photo by Hydro Photographics

Julia Banks

Julia Banks, who defected from the Liberal Party last year, did not respond to Mumbrella’s questions. Banks’ policy platform, like Steggall’s, forefronts the ABC and states that “ABC independence must not be compromised”.

Independent Julia Banks, running in the seat of Flinders

Dr Kerryn Phelps

Dr Kerryn Phelps is seeking to retain the seat of Wentworth, which she won in a by-election following Malcolm Turnbull’s retirement from parliament. She did not respond to Mumbrella’s questions. Dr Phelps’ policy position on her website also states that she believes in restoring funding to the ABC (to the level it was at in 1985 and 1986) and ensuring it is well-resourced, and therefore, truly independent.

Dr Phelps won in the Wentworth electorate last year

Media ownership laws

Rowland notes that Australia’s media market is one of the most concentrated in the world, and hits back at changes made to media ownership laws in 2017.

“Abolition of the two-out-of-three cross-media rule permits greater consolidation of our media, to the detriment of media diversity,” she says, echoing the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s concerns at the time the reforms were passed.

The Coalition government introduced the changes after securing the support of Nick Xenophon and One Nation. The two-out-of-three rule to which Rowland refers meant media companies previously couldn’t own newspaper, television, and radio stations in the same city. That rule was abolished under the new laws. The ‘reach’ rule was also abolished, which previously restricted a single TV broadcaster from being allowed to reach more than 75% of the population.

When the laws came into effect, communications minister Mitch Fifield told the ABC that the changes would help media companies.

“If you free up a little bit the media control laws that were drafted in the 1980s before the internet existed, you give the opportunity to the Australian media companies to configure themselves in ways to best support their viability,” he said.

In exchange for supporting the bill, One Nation demanded the ABC be investigated, and that key ABC and SBS employees’ salaries be made public.

Minister Fifield said at the time: “We will be talking to the ABC about how they might do this and it could well require legislation but they are things we will be exploring”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young tells Mumbrella that a Productivity Commission review into media ownership is long overdue, and something The Greens will prioritise.

“We have one of the most concentrated media markets in the democratic world. Whether it’s traditional media or new social media, for too long the rules have allowed profits to come before the public interest,” she says.

“A Productivity Commission review into the health of our news media is long overdue, after being recommended by the Finkelstein Review in 2012. It would look into the current state of media ownership, the strength of our regulatory bodies, like the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission], ACMA, the Press Council and the Foreign Investment Review Board, and the role of the Commonwealth in strengthening media diversity.”

Defamation laws

Upfront, Rowland emphasises that the Labor party does not support Australia’s current defamation laws.

“Law reform is an ongoing process and Labor acknowledges that reform of uniform defamation law is overdue,” she says.

“Labor’s Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, has been consulting with the states and Labor respects the cooperative review process that has commenced, as led by the NSW government.”

The Defamation Working Party is the group conducting the review. The group is led by the NSW Department of Justice, and was established by the Council of Attorneys-General to examine whether the current laws are still suitable given the way social media, online publication and technology have accelerated since defamation laws were last updated in 2005, largely pre-dating social media.

The Greens did not provide a direct response to Mumbrella’s question concerning defamation laws.

Regulating social media giants (and adland)

Following the Christchurch terrorist attack in March, the Coalition government announced it would fine social media companies and potentially send their executives to jail over live-streamed crimes. Lawyers said the move was a “knee-jerk emotional reaction” because they weren’t clear, and, depending on the interpretation of the fines, potentially unconstitutional.

Labor’s Michelle Rowland tells Mumbrella that the laws have Labor’s support because social media companies should do more to meet community standards.

“Australia already regulates social media companies on a number of fronts, including in relation to cyberbullying and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images,” she says.

“We anticipate the final report of the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry, which is due next month, and may include recommendations in relation to social media companies.”

However, Rowland also notes that the laws were “rushed” through and therefore may have “unintended and adverse consequences”.

“Labor supported the measures that were rushed through the Parliament in response to the terrorist atrocity committed in New Zealand, because Labor agrees that the social media companies must do more to prevent the dissemination of material produced by terrorists showing off their crimes, and also because Labor seeks to work in a constructive and bipartisan manner on matters of national security,” Rowland says.

“By the same token, Labor acknowledges the new laws may have a number of unintended and adverse consequences for technology companies, media organisations and whistleblowers and, if elected, a Shorten Labor government will, as a priority, refer these laws to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for consultation and comprehensive review so they can be improved.”

Hanson-Young says The Greens want an independent inquiry into social media following the events at Christchurch, “to look at how sites like Facebook and Twitter contribute to public discourse, and how they can be held to account when they fall short of community standards”.

Hanson-Young also hits out at advertising companies, adding that The Greens will ask the ACCC to investigate new online advertising regulations, shaped by the rules that govern transactions in financial markets.

“This kind of two-sided accounting model would allow the publisher, advertiser and the regulator to see all the figures, and shine a light on the dodgy and deliberately opaque practices of digital advertising giants,” she says.

“We know the gap between what advertisers pay and what publishers receive is astronomical. Instead of ad dollars paying for quality journalism they disappear into a black hole.

“The ACCC will be tasked with finding a solution so that ad dollars fund journalism, not the advertising giants.”


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