SBS’ ad-averaging bill has failed to pass the Senate, after Glenn Lazarus joined with Labor and the Greens to vote in opposition. Several other crossbench senators were absent for the vote, meaning the final count was 28 in favour, 31 opposed.

The bill would have allowed SBS to spread its ad allowance throughout the day, enabling it to capitalise on prime-time viewers with more ads during that time (up to 10 minutes an hour) and air fewer during off-peak times. Going into today’s vote, the bill stood on a knife-edge. Four of the eight crossbenchers had indicated their position on the bill (Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm were in favour, while Ricky Muir and Nick Xenophon stood opposed), but none in the former Palmer United Party bloc had indicated their position. Given the opposition of Labor and the Greens, the government needed six of the eight crossbenchers for the legislation to pass, meaning all those elected on Clive Palmer’s ticket had to vote in support.

Crossbenchers Jacquie Lambie, Nick Xenophon and Leyonhjelm are speaking at the Press Club today, and so were absent for the vote. John Madigan voted against it.

The bill’s failure marks the end of an intense lobbying effort by both sides. SBS has repeatedly said a failure to pass the bill would force it to cut content — it expected ad-averaging to bring in another $28 million over four years in revenue. The government removed $54 million over five years from SBS’ budget last November, and the broadcaster has said the Lewis Review had identified few extra efficiency gains it was not currently in the process of implementing.

For opponents of the bill, it became a line-in-the-sand issue, with them arguing that increasing SBS’ reliance on advertising was likely to lead to further government budget cuts. “This is scope creep,” Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said last week. “The communications minister of tomorrow will be back here pushing for further commercialisation of SBS. The first step was taken 25 years ago when SBS first opened up to advertising. And it’s been sliding faster and faster since.”

Free TV chairman Harold Mitchell said the failure of the bill was “a win for good public policy”. Free TV, which represents the commercial free-to-air TV broadcasters, has argued the ad increase would have created “a fourth commercial broadcaster by stealth”.

*Additional reporting by Crikey intern Aron Lewin

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