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Monday, 30 October 2000
Page: 21576

Ms O'BYRNE (1:44 PM) —Like most members in regional seats, I am most concerned at the decision of the ABC board to reduce the budget for news and current affairs by $3.7 million. When cuts are made to any organisation, those cuts inevitably occur at the edges. In the case of ABC news and current affairs, the edges are in rural and regional Australia. Regional people have a right to expect locally produced and locally focused news, not news from Sydney or Melbourne. Any reduction in the quality or scope of locally produced programming would increase the information gap between those in large capital cities and those in regional areas.

This concern is also clearly shared by the more than 60 Tasmanian ABC staff who attended a stop-work meeting last Friday. That these dedicated staff are concerned enough to take industrial action should ring very loud alarm bells for all members. Their future and the future of regional programming are at risk. The ABC, and particularly ABC news and current affairs, needs support to overcome the impact of the government's cuts to the budget, cuts which were the genesis of the current difficulties. It is essential that the ABC strive for continued improvement, but this cannot happen when local services are under threat. It is essential that the ABC's local and rural and regional news and current affairs programming is not only preserved but strengthened for the benefit of rural and regional listeners. The only way this can occur is through a commitment by the government to properly resource quality public broadcasting. This has been an issue that the National Party members have taken up over the last week or so. I am pleased to see that they have seen the error of their ways in previously supporting the reduction in the ABC's budget, and I can only hope that the Prime Minister pays more attention to them now than he has in the past.