SBS, ABC to hold open board meetings in Senate vote trade


Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm has secured changes to the way the ABC and SBS hold board meetings, in exchange for his support for the government's Building and Construction Commission bill.

The Turnbull Government has confirmed it expects SBS and the ABC to hold open community board meetings after striking a deal with cross bench Senator David Leyonhjelm for his vote on a crucial government bill.

Senator Leyonhjelm, of New South Wales, said he had extracted several "freedom offsets" in exchange for his vote in support of re-establishing the Howard-era Australian Building and Construction commission, the ABCC.

He insisted the idea to hold at least half of the meetings as open forums didn't have to do with coverage, but rather a perception in the community that it don't represent the community, especially regional areas.

Senator Leyonhjelm cited demographer Bernard Salt's description to claim the ABC and SBS live inside the "goat's cheese curtain".

"I hear it all the time that the ABC in particular, and SBS to a lesser extent, are unrepresentative," he told reporters in Canberra.

A spokeswoman for the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield confirmed the deal.

"The Turnbull Government has agreed to a new policy for the ABC and SBS to provide opportunities for greater community engagement with our national broadcasters," the spokeswoman said.

"Under the Government's policy, at least half of the ABC and SBS board meetings held each year will be followed by open community board forums, and at least two of these will be held in regional areas."

The government says the forums will "give the public greater opportunity to provide feedback directly to the boards responsible for running the ABC and SBS, and for the boards to engage directly with their audience."

"The Government is pleased to have worked with Senator Leyonhjelm to reach this policy agreement which it believes is in the public interest."

"We expect the broadcasters will implement this policy as part of their broader approach to community engagement."

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said it was a potshot at public broadcasters.

“It’s a ridiculous suggestion he start playing off the ABC and SBS in order to exchange votes in the Senate,” she told Sky News.

A spokesperson for SBS said: "SBS engages regularly already with the community through a variety of forums, and believes it is important not only for its Board, but for SBS to be meeting with and listening to the communities it serves.

"Members of the SBS Board regularly attend community and industry forums and functions, and Board meetings have been held in Hobart, Alice Springs and Canberra, in addition to major metropolitan cities in recent years.

"In arranging Board meetings in 2017 and beyond, SBS will take any relevant change in government policy into consideration."

Senator Leyonhjelm also won a commitment that the Council of Australian Governments meeting looks into reforming court suppression orders and that the impact of government budget measures are presented on a per capita basis, as well as aggregate terms.

The government had to win the Liberal-Democrat Senator back after he said he felt "dudded" over the Adler shot gun importation ban, which grew into a wider row over 'guns for votes' involving the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and several ministers.

But the Senator says he's happy now that the government understood his want for 'freedom offsets'.

"Once they got their heads around it and I said to them 'I'm open to your suggestions and here's some of mine' we ended up with quite a long page."

Senator Leyonhjelm takes the government to four or possibly five out of eight cross bench senators it needs to pass the ABCC before Parliament rises for the year on Thursday.

While One Nation supports the bill, it's unsure whether Rod Culleton of Western Australia will vote with his party.

The votes of the three Xenophon team senators from South Australia are "50-50" according to leader Nick Xenophon, unless the goverment agrees to their amendments on the legislation and receives assurances on extra water flows for the Murray Darling Basin.

-with AAP

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