Senate votes to push back media reform deadline


The federal opposition says the government's media law changes have been scuttled.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy wants a package of six bills passed by both houses by the end of next week, or he says they won't go ahead at all.

The legislation was introduced to parliament this morning and debate was adjourned until the next sitting.

However, the Senate voted not to meet the government's proposed final reporting date for a committee inquiry into the bills of March 20 and instead pushed the date out to June 17 - well beyond Senator Conroy's deadline.

But there will be an interim report next Wednesday, after hearings on Monday and Tuesday.

Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said Senator Conroy's deadline for the bills to pass had now been "scuttled".

The coalition argues a few days are not enough time to consider major changes to the media industry, including the creation of a new public interest media advocate.

"They're not interested at all in having serious, careful examination of the legislation," Liberal senator Mitch Fifield told parliament.

A select committee of both houses will look at other media-related issues, on which the government has not formed a view - such as the "75 per cent reach rule" for television networks.

So far, lower house independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Craig Thomson have publicly said they won't support the bills.

Other crossbenchers have also been cool on the changes, and Labor requires five extra votes to get the bills through the lower house.

Mr Thomson said on Thursday the fact that Senator Conroy had declined to negotiate on the bills meant they would fail.

"I think we need a much broader discussion to come up with proper reform in relation to this issue," Mr Thomson told Sky News.

"This package doesn't do what a lot of people say it is going to do and it can't be supported."

In the Senate, the government will need the backing of the Greens.

Advisor role up for grabs

Meanwhile, Mr Conroy says he has not sounded anyone out to become the federal government's proposed new public interest media advocate.

During Senate question time, Liberal senator Simon Birmingham asked if Labor had anyone in mind for media advocate role, which will be established under its planned media reforms.

Senator Conroy joked the question was a "shameless" job application by Senator Birmingham.

The minister went on to say MPs or former MPs shouldn't fill the role.

He said to the best of his knowledge no-one had been selected.

Senator Conroy also dismissed claims his reforms were pushed through the cabinet and caucus processes.

Opposition senator Arthur Sinodinos said if his coalition colleagues had been given sufficient time to get across the detail of the media reforms they "would have revolted."

Senator Conroy responded: "My best advice to you, Senator Sinodinos, is don't believe everything you read in the Daily Telegraph."

Senator Conroy said caucus had considered and supported the measures.