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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1905


Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (19:40): I am a devotee of the ABC. I have grown up with the likes of Richard Carleton, Mike Carlton, Bill Peach, Paul Lyneham, Andrew Olle, Margaret Throsby, Caroline Jones and, more recently, Andrew Probyn and Chris Uhlmann. Their insights into political life have informed my life and educated me over many, many years.

You can usually tell when a week has ended badly for this government. It's when the member for Warringah gets more press than the member for Wentworth and when the National Party appears to be running the country. Another sure sign is an ex-minister heading to the back bench, looking for a job abroad or announcing plans to publish a tell-all memoir. You can generally tell pretty well, too, when the PM has had a bad one. He turns a tad waspish or starts waxing lyrical about 'worlds of woe'. Who, for instance, could forget his remarkable performance on election night? This government was once a lazy and opportunistic opposition, and it still shows.

Another sure sign that a government—any government—is having a particularly bad time of it is when it decides to give a bit of a gratuitous slap to the public broadcaster or one of its journals. I am old enough to remember, too, when leading lights in some previous Labor governments were getting a little bit more than ticked off with the ABC. Neville Wran, the ex New South Wales Premier, is No. 1 on that list.

Over the last couple of weeks the ABC has been at it again with three blatant instances of unintentional government baiting. Sin No. 1, for which the government can have no comeback, had the ABC allowing the former deputy minister to appear on national television and radio to plead his case for staying on. Predictably, this became probably the most eloquent exercise in grave digging since Hamlet or, rather, a very long, self-proclaimed version of Arthur Miller's Deathof aSalesman, a textbook case of more is less.

The ABC's likely second offence was showing a highly watchable two-part documentary on the former great Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Making matters worse, it featured some really insightful and, at times, generous commentary from John Howard. Not only were viewers reminded what a competent government looked like but, making matters worse, the presence of John Winston Howard would have served to remind the Liberals that their leaders once came with a healthy dose of political acumen and something approaching the common touch.

But it was the third leg of this trifecta, an online article written by economics editor Emma Alberici, that really sent the Prime Minister into orbit. Amongst an outpouring of prime ministerial sarcasm heaped on the ABC and Ms Alberici was a claim that both are confused and know little of business. I think that Ms Alberici is perfectly capable of defending herself, but I would point out that I have in my office a copy of her solid and still very useful guide on small business she wrote for Penguin and Channel 9 back in the 1990s. Like any other experienced and lucid commentator, I'm sure she has views which rational people can sift through on their merits without overbalancing personal rancour.

As for the ABC's business acumen, one of the complaints made about the public broadcaster's role is that it is actually rather too good at what it does, and I agree, particularly if we are talking about digital platforms. ABC Online leaves most other coverage for dead, and the whole enterprise is at a bargain. I understand now that it is just 4c a day. As David Attenborough recounts in his memoirs, public broadcasters have often made better use of taxpayer money than commercial broadcasters have of the funds they've siphoned off the consumer by way of the advertising industry.

The Alberici article deals with government's proposed multibillion tax cuts to big business. It's a contentious proposal, because it remains unfunded. That's one reason why government is finding it hard to sell, even to parts of business. It's an idea that ignores the uniquely favourable tax treatment received by companies here through the dividend imputation system, as well as through the ability of companies to carry forward tax losses. Alberici's article is now back online and that's a good thing. It's on a private site and also on the ABC in an amended and less wounding form for the politically sensitive. It brings together what most others have said before. Even some conservative Republicans think that the Trump tax cuts, which are also unfunded, are tantamount to looting the federal Treasury and are right up there in the realms of nuttiness with arming school teachers. (Time expired)