Bill's Speeches

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE: CUTS TO THE ABC - THURSDAY, 31 MAY 2018

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

A cut in funding to the ABC may not determine the outcome of the next election but it does determine the sort of country we are and the sort of direction this nation is taking. 

This government has neither an agenda, nor any real authority but it does do good vendetta. 

It speaks every day against the unions or against better conditions for workers, it speaks against properly funding our schools and our hospitals, our TAFE and our universities. 

But it also, in the last budget, it has cut the national broadcaster and the capacity of the national broadcaster to fulfil its charter. 

In the Budget, barely two weeks ago, $83.7 million was cut from the ABC in the form of an indexation freeze over the next three years. 

This cut is on top of the $254 million cut in 2014 and another $28 million in 2016.

I think many Australians as they listen to the parliamentary debate have noticed this notorious cut to the ABC but wondered why on earth there is not more debate about it.

So, today, my colleagues and I speak up to defend the ABC and to defend a deeper principle: the fundamental principle of Australia possessing a quality, well-funded, independent public broadcaster. 

Labor stands up for the ABC and the Coalition attack it.

And do they complain about the ABC.

I have the latest example, on the 6th of May this year the ABC news ran a story analysing the Government’s “innovation agenda”.

On the next day, which happened to be the day before the Budget, when you think the Prime Minister might have had something more to do with his time, sent through a list of 11 complaints about the story.

He couldn’t even cut it down to a modest 10.

You could just imagine, the first thing Monday morning, poor old PMO staffer called into his lordship's office and said: “Take a letter to the ABC”.

“Dear Sir/Madam

Here are 11 things wrong with last night’s segment.”

Signed, Bitterly disappointed, Point Piper”

And how many of his complaints prompted a correction?

Was it eleven?  No.

Was it ten? Was it five? 

Just one!

And did the Prime Minister then, having scored a manifest victory to get one correction off the ABC, did he leave it there, flushed with the glow of another success of the Turnbull Government?

Not at all.

He rang up Senator Fifield, and he said: "Lodge a separate complaint!"

And then though, when it comes to the ABC, Senator Fifield is something of a vexatious litigant. 

The sort of chap who’d take you to court for putting your recycling in his bin on bin night.

This year he is averaging one complaint a month:

In January, he complained about Triple J moving the date of the Hottest 100, in response to a voluntary national survey - how dare they?

He then complained about an Emma Alberici article on corporate tax.

He complained about a Tonightly sketch insulting John Batman.

He complained, because nothing escapes his stellar gaze, about a sketch on Black Comedy, on the ABC Indigenous Facebook page

Then of course it was Emma Alberici again and the Prime Minister’s blockbuster:  ‘11 things I hate about the ABC’. 

I have to say, we do question his priorities as Minister for Communications but you can't fault his commitment to letter-writing and keeping Australia Post in business. 

Now, to the best of anyone's knowledge, the last time a Communications Minister referred a complaint about the ABC to the regulator was in 2003 when Senator Richard Alston complained about their coverage of the weapons of mass destruction in the Iraq War.

Now I do say though of Senator Fifield in all seriousness, he wants to talk about complaints: why don't you focus on the 204 percent increase in complaints in the NBN?

These complaints though, as amusing as they are, are not just a harmless obsession, they come with real consequences. 

Cuts to the ABC have become a fact of life under conservative governments. 

The efficiency reviews.

The faux 'competitive neutrality’ inquiries.

The deals with One Nation to change the charter. 

Now the poor old National Party, once upon a time under Minister Nixon, they knew enough about the bush to understand that you had to back the ABC - but that doesn't even happen anymore.

And in the past to be fair, to be fair, the Liberals would at least offer a reason, under Howard or under Fraser, to cut back the ABC. But now they don't even bother, no reasons. 

It has become part of the accepted part of the conservative political landscape in Australia to be into reducing and bashing the ABC. 

There is no doubt that the ABC in the last 20 years has been harmed by the ironically named ‘culture’ wars led by the right wing in Australian politics.

But when you look at any genuinely independent survey, despite all of the attacks, commercial and ideological, the ABC still retains a level of credibility and trust unmatched by any other media organisation and indeed most institutions in Australian life.

And this is what the out of touch Prime Minister always gets wrong. 

He wants to protect the banks from the scrutiny of a Royal Commission

He refuses, stubbornly, to support a National Integrity Commission, a Federal ICAC to restore some faith in our system. 

But he still finds the time to attack the most trusted institution in our country. 

The ABC is part of the fabric of our country.

17 million of our fellow Australians consume some form of ABC content every week. 

It's the cricket and the footy on the radio

It's the brilliant drama made on shoestring budgets.

It's AM, it's Radio National. It's Triple J

It's Playschool, it's Behind the News.

It's the company on the long drives in the bush. 

It's the calm and comfort for older Australians in the late evenings or on iView to catch up on the latest, to revisit an old favourite. 

Our nation has grown up with the ABC. 

The first radio and TV services heard in the bush were courtesy of our ABC. 

In the Second World War Australians learned that we were at war, listening to Prime Minister Menzies on the ABC.  

And for many Australians, the great news of V-J Day being celebrated in Martin Place was broadcast by the ABC.

Our nation has grown up with the ABC, indeed, we all have. 

I remember as a child knowing that when you could hear that majestic fanfare theme song of the news coming on, it's time to start preparing for bed.

And at different times in our lives, even if we don't always listen to the ABC, in the cycle of life patterns we come back and listen to our ABC. 

It has a far greater responsibility to cover in our far-flung nation, urban and regional, than any other media organisation. And it does cost money. 

And I am deeply concerned that this government is perpetuating a malaise and a disillusionment within the ABC about the future of the ABC.

It is fundamental to the health of our democracy.

I acknowledge the importance of commercial media operations, the commercial mastheads of our print and the role of active journalism in our daily lives.

But nothing, nothing can replace the central role in our democracy of an independent, not-for-profit, public broadcaster which is well-funded.

Any politician who says that they've never been frustrated with the ABC, well, you’ve never been in politics then.

But if you can't put the personal aside and put the nation's interests first, then you shouldn't be in politics.

It demands, I believe, in our democracy and the role of the ABC in the words of the first ABC TV news broadcast 71 years ago, it is: 

“News you don’t have to fetch and carry…The view you can get without having to go to your window.”

As Opposition Leader and as the leader of the Labor Party, we will defend the ABC, we will defend the independence of the ABC.

And as Prime Minister, a Labor Government will defend the independence of the ABC. We always ensure that the ABC has the resources and the freedom to do its job.

And we start by saying loud and clear to this government, this $83 million cut should not go ahead.

When it comes to the next election, the Australian people will have a very, very clear choice.

They can vote for the conservatives and the continued diminution of the ABC.

And if the ABC at the next election, for the conservatives is just viewed through the prism of some free market obsession - I promise you, government, you do not understand how Australians think.

The ABC is an 85 year old institution.

It's a friend that Australians can count on through good times and in bad times.

And we say to all of those Australians who hold the ABC as an important and valuable part of their lives and in our society, we say to those people who care about the ABC: the Labor Party will stand alongside the ABC and we will win this argument and stop these cuts.


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