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Transcript 16298

Launch of A-Span - Australian Public Affairs TV Parliament House, Canberra

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 08/12/2008

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 16298

I was concerned by what John Hartigan just said. He said that this A-Span was about live coverage as it happens of the internal machinations of government. Conroy, you told me none of that before I accepted the brief to be here this morning - you're in deep trouble.

Also, the thought that Steve just suggested that this is going to be the subject of, shall we say, broadcast to the United States and other parts of the world - I'm looking forward to the subtitling service which will now become a boutique industry. Rendered in American English ‘you scumbag', underneath it being registered ‘this is not deemed in Australia to be a desirable person'.

‘You sleazebag on wheels' - this is deemed in Australia to being an even less desirable person. I think there's a whole boutique business which will be spawned out of this in terms of the subtitling of Australian English.

I acknowledge the First Australians on whose land we meet and whose cultures we celebrate as the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

It's great to be among such a distinguished gathering of Australian journalists and therefore, given that we're here to launch A-Span, I can't let the chance go by without saying something about the story of the day and that's the economic security strategy - $10.4 billion.

I've urged pensioners and families to spend this money responsibly, to use this money to make ends meet, to help out their kids, to help out their grandkids and they're going to be doing that in the time ahead. And I know the government will inevitably face some criticism about how some of this money will be spent.

Tthe government understood this reality when it embraced this stimulus package but we decided then and we believe now that one-off cash payments to pensioners, carers and young families were the best way to stimulate the economy.

If the government doesn't empower consumers at a time like this in the midst of global financial crisis, then in fact, we'll have even greater challenges ahead.

So the government understands that we'll be criticised for how some of this money is spent, but the alternative is for government to do nothing to stimulate the economy, for government not to invest in jobs, in growth, in families and this government, by contrast, has resolved to act.

To the business of the day - A-Span. It's almost 30 years to the day that a young Congressman named Al Gore stood to speak in the United States House of Representatives and made history with the first broadcast on C-Span.

From that moment, C-Span promised that Americans would have gavel-to-gavel television coverage of every session of Congress.

Since that day, March of '79, a generation of Australians visiting the United States have had the experience of stumbling across C-Span while sitting in a hotel room recovering from insomnia, unable to sleep at all, flicking through 50 to 60 cable television stations and chancing upon a US Congressional Committee on a subject unknown to any other people on the planet, dealing with deliberations, obscure only to that particular group of Americans concerned with it, but a half an hour later, you find yourself totally engrossed in the deliberations of said committee.

And with firm views about the intelligence levels of various members of the committee - in other words, those who rely exclusively on notes to participate and those that can actually run with an argument.

It's good stuff and I've always enjoyed it.

Consistently, C-Span educates and informs its viewers, giving them a fly-on-the-wall view of what's happening on Capitol Hill.

Australians returning from the United States have often asked a simple question - why don't we have our own C-Span?

This same question as John has just indicated was asked this year at the Australia 2020 Summit here in Parliament House.

As the final report of the Summit concluded, participants felt that there was a need for first-hand, unedited access to the records of public policy debates.

A program along the lines of C-Span in the United States or Canada could be established.

An Australian version of C-Span, what they called AuSpan - this is in the 2020 Summit - will make a big difference to the public policy debate.

It was hoped that a public affairs digital network would be established by 2020.

Well, you've got cracking - I'm impressed by that. As John Hartigan said 11 years ahead of time.

The name's almost the same - AuSpan's become A-Span and it's a very good thing.

Today's announcement on behalf of A-Span is I think a good thing for our democracy. It's a superb initiative, it's 100 per cent industry funded.

A-Span will be available to 2.2 million subscribers and 7 million Australians who pay to subscribe to Pay TV.

Importantly, it will also be available to Australians to watch online.

The launch of A-Span is therefore good news for all.

Political junkies will of course love it - they'll now have one more way to drive their family and friends absolutely mad.

But A-Span will also be valuable for the wider public - students, for educators, for people following a particular policy debate, and for all Australians who want to understand more about how democracy works and how they could become more involved in it.

A-Span is therefore good for Australian democracy. I think one of the charges we all face as those who participate in the workings and life of this great democratic institution is thinking of the generation ahead - how do you breathe life into it again? How do you actually sustain the arteries and the life force of a democracy?

The debate about right to know, which John has been so intimately involved in, the debate about how we bring more meaningfully the deliberations of this place and the other legislatures of Australia, into the lives of Australians. I think each generation of politicians has a responsibility to make sure that the institutions are kept not just alive and well but reformed, reshaped, transmitted to those who come after us.

You know this great kernel of an idea called democracy is actually quite young in the history of nations, of modern nations. The experiments in Athens we know about, but in the rise of modern nation states, this is effectively a 20th Century phenomenon.

And therefore, each of us has this charge to transmute again and I believe this is a way in which it can be helped and helped done effectively.

Think also of what could have happened in times past had we had A-Span in operation.

It could have caught live on film for all to see, and entertained everyone, Gough Whitlam throwing a glass of water over Paul Hasluck, imagine what that would have been like as a captured piece of footage. The great speeches of Fred Daley and Jim Killen.

Or in more recent times, Tony Abbott squaring up to Her Majesty's loyal opposition at the time, ready to knock their lights out on the floor of the House of Representatives. Paul Keating's great exultation to John Hewson that he was about to ‘do him slowly'.

If this was done resplendently across live television across the country, I am sure it would have had a palpable impact on the body politic, for good or for ill I am not sure. But it would have been for real, live and unplugged.

We would have had full and dynamic displays of all of our best parliamentarians from both sides of the chamber. And I think that does well also for the life of our democracy.

Think also of bringing live to people around the country, the deliberations of Robert Ray and John Faulkner in earlier lives, as part of that team of grand inquisitors engaged in the Senate Estimates process, good cop, bad cop, or as they like to say, ‘bad cop and worse cop', in the Estimates process.

And I think that, the Estimates process when properly conducted is a great exercise again in the way in which the Australian lifeblood of democracy is continued into the future.

A-Span will be a valuable addition to existing news offerings. It will complement the coverage already provided by the ABC, Sky News and by the Parliament's own website. It will show the substantive debates and processes that represent democracy at work.

Australians will be able to see and understand our parliamentary processes more easily than ever before. A-Span will not just be a one-way process between Government and the Australian people, it will also give voice to many others in the public debate through its coverage of significant meetings held by major private institutions.

That means a better educated public, a more informed public debate and stronger democracy.

The Australian Government strongly supports new steps to strengthen our way of governing and to constantly reinvent the way in which the country is governed. One small contribution by those of us in the political process is what we did yesterday again in Geelong, taking cabinet to the community.

This is the eighth or ninth occasion we have done this, this year. And for those who are here as members of the parliamentary press gallery, it is, I have got to say, a live and raw experience dealing with communities upfront, personal, all ministers present, or most of them, with a gathering of people from that local community. From members of the La Rouche Society at one end of the spectrum, through to others at another end of the spectrum and all points in between.

But you know something? And I think Sky from time to time has covered our community cabinets, the playback we have had from the community at large, about cabinets engaging people at the local level, has been very good.

It is not that we expect to be patted on the head by the community when we go to each place, in fact that is rarely the case. You often cop it between the eyeballs and that is as it should be.

But it is a good thing. It is part of reinvigorating a democracy and maybe that flows in to the coverage which will come from A-Span as well.

Community cabinet, is as I said, a part of the Government remaining engaged with the local community and rejuvenating our democracy. And A-Span will give Australia a new window into the parliament and the workings of Government.

A-Span will also give Australians a window on to other English speaking democracies including the United States Congress, the House of Commons in the United Kingdom and other major parliaments and this is a good thing as well.

I would also like to congratulate A-Span on the relationship it has established with C-Span which will allow program content from the Australian parliament and from around Australia to be sent to the US for broadcast on C-Span.

I am not still entirely sure what our American friends will make of it and 12 months into your return to the United States Robert, you could give us a first-hand analysis of how it is going down. My experience of America though is we will probably develop a thoroughly boutique and well informed audience of those who find Australian politics as their unique province of political connoisseurship.

And it will be fun to see. Six weeks from now, on January 20 2009, Barack Obama will be sworn in as America's 44th President and that will be a profoundly historic day, not just for the United States, the great democracy, but also an historic day for the world.

And the launch of A-Span on that day will take on an added significance therefore for Australia.

Congratulations to subscription television and Foxtel, Austar and Sky News for their work on this great initiative. An important initiative because I believe, as I have said already, the strength of democracy depends on well informed and an engaged citizenry.

I look forward to watching it. I hope many Australians become regular viewers. And on behalf of the Australian Government I welcome the official announcement of the launch of A-Span and so too today, as Prime Minister of Australia and current leader of this great democracy, I launch A-Span and all those who sail within her.

Transcript 16298