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Communications Minister given oversight on copyright and anti-piracy initiatives

New Communications Minister Mitch Fifield is taking on the overview of the controversial anti-piracy program that would see ISPs sending letters to copyright infringers asking them to stop downloading pirate content.

The program was meant to begin on September 1 but has been stalled, amid industry disagreements over who should pay for it.

Mitch FifieldIn his first media interview since being named in the role Fifield confirmed he was taking on overview of the copyright issue from Senator George Brandis, but was reluctant to be drawn on further details arguing he needed more time to get across the portfolio issues.

“Copyright and classification responsibility has transferred from the Attorney General’s office to the Communications Minister’s” Fifield told RN Drive’s Patricia Karvelas. “Part of the rationale has been that you have the communications portfolio looking at issues of content, particularly with the broad issues of intellectual property.

“I will confess I have not sat down to examine closely the copyright issues but it is certainly on the agenda for the next day or two.”

Senator Fifield also signalled a slightly more conciliatory approach to dealing with public broadcaster ABC, which drew significant fire from the Coalition when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, particularly in relation to Q&A.

Asked about his approach to the current triennial funding arrangements and whether the Turnbull government would seek further budget cuts he said: “Negotiations are just that. It is various parties sitting down – each with a starting point – and hopefully reaching a point of agreement.”

Pushed on Tony Abbott’s commitment that there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS Fifield responded: “We did seek to identify some efficiencies in the ABC but I think as a principle any Commonwealth funded agency should look to be the best possible steward of taxpayer funds that it can be.

“I’ve yet to come across a Commonwealth agency that has yet achieved administrative nirvana. But one thing is certain and that is as a government we will ensure that the ABC is well resourced to do the job that Australians want it to do.”

Fifield was also asked about a speech he made as a backbencher were he floated the idea of privatising the ABC.

“I confess I was, seven or eight years ago, a frisky backbencher who sought to give a provocative speech… Really the key point I was making was that although people talk about different ownership arrangements ultimately the Australian public has a settled view on these matters.

“Changing the ownership arrangements of the ABC is not something I am seeking to do.”

Nic Christensen 

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