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Senator Mitch Fifield: Communications & Arts Minister

Liberal Senator for Victoria, Senator Mitch Fifield is the new Minister for Communications & the Arts.  He replaces former Communications Minister – now Prime Minister – Malcolm Turnbull, and Senator George Brandis who was Arts Minister; communications and arts have been merged into one portfolio.

Before Tony Abbott lost the prime ministership last week in a vote of 54 votes to Turnbull and 44 to Abbott, Senator Fifield was the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate.

One of the issues potentially facing Senator Fifield will be how to deal with the $28.5m shortfall in SBS funding – a component of $53.7m of cuts to SBS. However this will depend on the attitude of Mr Turnbull as the former PM, Mr Abbott, referred the matter to the Expenditure Review Committee (ERC). But Mr Turnbull is now Chair of the Committee – a position he assumed on becoming Prime Minister. It is usual for a PM to chair the ERC.

SBS asked the former PM to honour the agreed funding arrangement in which SBS opted for $28.5m of cuts in exchange for more advertising in primetime. However, the government made the cuts but failed to deliver on the Bill to increase the hourly ad limit.

Fundamentally the Bill was flawed amidst very strong evidence that increasing advertising would compromise SBS in their Charter obligations and the government’s own Efficiency Review said "there will be greater pressure on SBS management to consider the trade-off of delivering on commercial expectations, against delivering those functions described in the SBS Charter". 62,000 people signed a petition organised by Save Our SBS opposing the Bill.

Senator Fifield enters a portfolio in which $53.7m was wiped from SBS’s budget despite an election promise from the former PM that there would be no cuts to SBS.

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