Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has described as "entirely appropriate" his decision to meet with Channel Seven chief Kerry Stokes at a Colorado ski resort shortly before handing to the networks fee rebates worth one quarter of a billion dollars.
The Minister yesterday confirmed reports that he had met Mr Stokes in Veil, Colorado while on a personal holiday in January "fully paid for by me including all airfares from Australia to Colorado".
While not directly addressing a claim by a spokesman for Mr Stokes that the two had "enjoyed a couple of ski runs" together the Communications Minister said he "met regularly with all senior communication stakeholders".
"All of my conduct with Mr Stokes and his associates, and all other stakeholders in my portfolio, has been entirely appropriate," he added.
Within weeks the Minister announced what amounted to a gift to the commercial networks of $250 million... in the form of a 33 per cent rebate on their licence fees in 2009 and a 50 per cent rebate in 2010.
Although headed "Government to protect Australian content on commercial television" the announcement detailed no requirement for the networks to protect or extend Australian content and merely restated existing rules.
Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne called for an explanation.
"The actual visit and the skiing with Kerry Stokes is not nearly as important as exactly what is going on with the communications portfolio," Mr Pyne told the ABC's Insiders.
"He has given the networks $250 million. He hasn't yet said how he arrived at the figure, what exactly the money is to be used for, and what guaranntees he's received from the networks that it will be used for something that will benefit the public."
"Was there a rationale, or did he pull the figures out of his ear?"
A spokesman for the Minister said the rebate was "an interim measure to support current Australian content at a time of structural change".
"Treasury were involved in developing the costings," she said.
Published in today's SMH
Graphic: Vail Hotel, Colorado
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