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Government to undertake ‘competitive neutrality inquiry’ into ABC in exchange for One Nation’s support of media reforms

One Nation senators are giving ‘conditional’ support to the media reform bill, as it locks in a deal with the Turnbull government which includes a ‘competitive neutrality inquiry’ into the ABC, and $12m in funding for community radio.

The existing government package – which includes licence fee relief for commercial television and radio broadcasters, restrictions on gambling advertising during live sporting events, and the abolishment of the two-out-of-three ownership and 75% reach rules – passed in the House of Representatives in late June, but has stalled in the Senate.

Senators including Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon were understood to be standing in the way of the media reforms passing in the Senate.

A Facebook post this afternoon on Pauline Hanson’s Please Explain page said: “After extensive consultation with industry bodies, Government representatives and regional communities, One Nation Senators have given conditional support to the Government for its Media Reform Bill.”

The party said it had received “assurances” from the government it will ask the ABC to start providing details of the wages and conditions of all staff whose packages amount to more than $200,000.

According to the post, the government has also agreed to undertake “a competitive neutrality inquiry into the ABC” and to legislate a requirement for the ABC to be “fair and balanced”.

The party also confirmed an agreement to enhance the ABC’s provision of services to rural and regional Australians, and $12m in funding for community radio measures, which includes increased funding to support the digital rollout of community radio.

“I have always been a big supporter of community radio, we need to ensure that Australian communities, both regional and city have access to a diverse and independent voice. More often than not community radio is that voice, so it is vitally important that they are supported and well-funded,” Hanson said.

“While I’ve had a hot and cold relationship with what many call ‘fake news’ media, there’s nothing fake about my very real concern for the future of our Australian media”.

The announcement comes after much speculation One Nation may be pushing for funding cuts to the national broadcaster in exchange for supporting the reforms.

Communications minister Mitch Fifield appeared on Fran Kelly’s ABC Radio National Breakfast program last week and was asked: “Are you inclined to agree to a spending review of the public broadcasters in return for One Nation votes?”

Fifield responded at the time: “We haven’t entered any agreements with any parties. We did lay out in the Budget before last the ABC’s triennial funding. That wasn’t altered in the last Budget. That’s the fact. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the work that Michelle Guthrie has done within the ABC where she’s created a new content fund and part of the purpose of that is to employ more regional journalists. And I think that’s great.”

He made similar comments during a press gallery doorstop at Parliament House in May when asked: “It looks like One Nation support might be crucial to passing this, but they’ve announced they won’t support any of the Government’s bills unless there’s a funding cut to the ABC. What’s your response?”

He responded: “We laid out the funding for the ABC in the Budget before last on a triennium funding basis.  So the funding for the ABC is there. We have a range of legislative propositions before the Senate and we ask our crossbench colleagues to look at those on their merits.”

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