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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18801

Ms GRIERSON (9:19 PM) —Like the member for Gilmore, I rise to add my voice to those of the 250 students, teachers and parents in my electorate of Newcastle who have already protested about the proposed axing by the ABC of the educational program Behind the News. In this year's budget the Howard government rejected the ABC's funding bid, instead further slashing funding and forcing the ABC to make massive cuts. This funding was needed to avoid cutting programs, to maintain digital services and new initiatives, and to fund the roll-out of regional radio and TV services. But the ABC received not one cent of extra funding in the 2003 budget. So much for the information age.

This time, the ABC management have said loudly and clearly that they can no longer keep absorbing the government's funding cuts by asking staff to keep giving more for less or by further reducing administration and resources that are usually hidden or far removed from the owners of the ABC, the Australian public. This time they have actually demonstrated what continuing underspending and underfunding by the Howard government actually means to ordinary citizens—and you cannot get much more representative examples of ordinary Australians than the children and teachers of our schools.

Students and teachers are not happy, particularly about the loss of their program Behind the News. What is so special about that weekly program? Having spent decades using this program as a teaching resource, I do understand why they are upset, but I would like to use the words of year 5 students from the Junction Public School in my electorate to assist me. These students sent me copies of the letters they had already sent to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Richard Alston, and to the Chairman of the ABC. Harry is `flabbergasted, appalled and disgusted' because BTN teaches him `at least 10 facts each week'. Georgia explains that she watches it `because it explains the news and gives information about the world'. Georgia claims that `even parents watch it, because the news is hard to understand'. Gordon tells the minister that he was horrified at the budget cuts to ABC. He said, `I watch BTN every week with my school mates and we learn lots. We do a mind map and it is very interesting and fun.' He says that when he watches other news shows he does not understand what they are about, but when he watches BTN he understands every word. Perhaps the producers of BTN could have an expanded role here in parliament!

Hannah explains that her class takes notes on basically every story and they enjoy it so much. Madeleine says that she was very disappointed about BTN being cut, because she does not really understand the news for adults. Kieran says that BTN helps him understand what happens when there is war, what `free trade' means, and teaches him about lots of other issues like water shortages and tobacco advertising. Showna said that she was wondering why Iraq was fighting with America. She said: `I watched the news, but they were too fast for me to pick up the words they were saying. When I watched BTN I understood what had happened. They were fighting because America suspected Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.'

From the teacher's perspective, BTN epitomises everything that is good about learning theory. BTN is relevant and current. It is about real people and about real incidents affecting the lives of real people in real places. It provides a multisensory approach to learning, training auditory and visual receptivity and recall. It provides a resource for teachers to teach research skills—the skills of note taking, organising and synthesising information through mind and concept maps and text. It provides the motivation and vehicle for presentation and publishing skills. BTN is used by teachers to stimulate class discussions and debate, to allow children to practise the skills used in developing and justifying their own opinions. In fact, it is an excellent one-stop shop for inquiry learning.

But it seems that Minister Alston may be opposed to opinion forming, particularly if it does not conform to his opinion. After all, the minister does think the ABC is biased and has become a serial complainant. But I can attest that the producers and presenters of BTN are absolutely bipartisan in their presentation of difficult issues, always canvassing fairly and equally the many different views to each story where facts are open to interpretation. It is just that type of inquiry learning that builds a clever country of informed and concerned citizens.

I would like to thank the students, staff and parents of the Junction Public School, the Margaret Jurd Learning Centre, St Francis Xavier College, Heaton Public School, and Kotara Public School for the petitions they have returned to me, championing their ABC and the education program Behind the News.

But there is only one solution, and that is to return funding to the ABC so that this program can continue. Allowing the ABC to advertise, as suggested by the member for Sturt, is no solution. I think that blaming the management is also one thing that the Australian public will not accept. In the words of James from the Junction school, `I really hope you reconsider the cuts so I will be able to watch BTN again.' I hope the minister and perhaps the mean-spirited government he is part of will return much-needed funding to everyone's ABC.