Tim Fischer predicts another Tony Abbott back flip on regional media laws

The Age | James Massola, Matthew Knott | 9 September 2015

Tony Abbott may backflip over a stalled plan to reform media ownership laws in the same way he has over a push to take more Syrian refugees fleeing danger, former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer says.

The former Nationals Party leader called for a "full scale" cabinet discussion over the issue of media reform, in comments that suggest cabinet processes have broken down in the Abbott government. Mr Fisher also reminded the Coalition it was supposed to back less regulation.

Mr Fischer made the comments while in Canberra as the face of the "Save our Voices" campaign launched by regional TV broadcasters Prime, WIN, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja.

"In the last 72 hours we have seen this government move from a position of absolute reluctance, with regard to Syria, to there will be an announcement within a couple of days [about taking more refugees]," he said.

"That was not the position when the PM was in Wodonga on Friday when he launched the Spirit of Anzac Centenary experience.

"I'm not sure there has ever been a full-scale cabinet discussion, a full-scale cabinet minute, ever presented on the matter. Should there not be? That is generally party of the process, and if there was, every department would be invited to give their comments under the 10-day rule."

Mr Fischer said deregulation of media ownership, which could trigger a series of mergers and acquisitions, would "align with the core principles of the Liberal and National government, which is less regulation".

He compared the current regulatory environment to a farmer only being able to farm 75 per cent of the landscape and use two out of three essential implements to do it.

The "Save our Voices" campaign aims to over turn Mr Abbott's decision to put on hold reforms proposed by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The changes would have abolished the so-called "reach rule", which prohibits TV licence holders from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population, and the two-out-of-three rule, which stops a media company from controlling more than two of a radio station, free-to-air TV station and newspaper.

The regional TV network chiefs, including Prime's John Hartigan and WIN's Andrew Lancaster, warn that without reform jobs will be lost in regional newsrooms and that Kerry Stokes' Seven West Media - and which opposes any change to the law – has circumvented the law.

Both men are in Canberra too and will hold a series of meetings in the coming days with receptive Nationals and regional Liberal MPs.

Read the article on The Age.