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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19913

Mr MURPHY (4:23 PM) —I would like to start by reassuring the minister, the member for Gippsland, that the Labor Party takes the ABC extremely seriously because the role of the ABC is vital to our democracy. I invite you, Minister, to look at the many questions—and you are aware of them because you are the minister responsible in this chamber for replying—that I have put on the Notice Paper in relation to things that the government has done about the ABC and in relation to its funding. I can assure you that this matter of public importance is a matter of public importance; it is not is a filler.

Yes, we have been known to criticise the ABC, and I will give you a current criticism. Last week I was in China, and on ABC Asia Pacific I could not get an Australian news bulletin for at least five minutes between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., when I had an opportunity to view ABC Asia Pacific, but I saw business programs and exercise programs. Perhaps the minister could take the message back to the ABC that it might do something for Australian expatriates and tourists to Asia so that they at least get some news bulletin from Australia when they are overseas.

Our side of politics has been known to criticise the ABC too. In response to your comments, Minister, I invite you to have a look at what Prime Minister Hawke, Prime Minister Keating and former New South Wales Premier Neville Wran had to say about the ABC, because at various times they were scathing in their criticism of the public broadcaster. I would say that that would be the best evidence that the ABC is actually doing its job. If the ABC takes it upon itself to criticise a government policy, whether it be state or federal, through one of their editorials, I would support the ABC and say that it is doing its job.

The minister mentioned the formidable intellect of Senator Alston. If Senator Alston has such a formidable intellect, why is he allowing the ABC funding to slide? When he was elected to government back in 1986 he gave an undertaking to maintain the ABC's funding. As the member for Melbourne has said, there have been cuts of $55 million per year from the ABC's base funding—that represents 12 per year—and that funding has never been restored. I will put the total budget for the ABC into perspective. The funding for the ABC for the current 2003-04 financial year represents a mere 0.4 per cent of the overall funding. That is just a drop in the ocean.

I will get back to the minister's so-called intellect in a minute. I want to go through a few points. I was here on Monday night, sticking up for the kids and the parents and teachers of the kids in my electorate because of the ABC's axing of Behind the News. Bearing in mind that in the recent triennial funding round Mr Russell Balding, the general manager, tried to get $250 million out of the government to fund his agenda, how much do you think he got out of the government? He got absolutely nothing. I think that says a lot about this government and about its commitment to the public broadcaster. It is a bit like its commitment to Medicare: it is just allowing it to wind down.

We are going to see, as the member for Melbourne so honestly put to the House today, the ABC forced to raise its own revenue. Even last week the minister was in the media calling on the public to become subscribers to the ABC. That is a backhanded way of taxing Australians to fund the public broadcaster. The member for Melbourne was quite right when he pointed out that the member for Parramatta, the member for Sturt, the member for Casey and the member for Corangamite have suggested that the ABC should be allowed to raise funding revenue through advertising.

I also make the point that there is complicity with News Ltd. If you have a look at the editorial in the Australian on 22 May, you will see that a gratuitous observation was made by the editor that the ABC should look at some limited funding to support its budget. I ask this House: how flawed is the minister? How flawed are some of his government colleagues who suggest that the ABC should be in the game of competing with our big media moguls to raise revenue through advertising? How flawed is News Ltd to cheekily suggest that the ABC should be competing with them in regard to raising revenue through advertising? That would have disastrous consequences for the ABC because it would be chasing advertising dollars. What would that do to the independence of the ABC? What would that do to the public broadcaster? You could believe that the ABC would be carved up by the big media players, because the big media players are relying on advertising revenue and the big media players are not bound by the ABC charter, which is outlined in section 6 of the ABC Act. I will take a little time to point out what the two functions of the ABC are and why they are so vital to our democracy and the public interest. The act states:

The functions of the Corporation are:

(a) to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard as part of the Australian broad-casting system consistent of national, comm-ercial and public sectors ... to provide:

(i) broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and

(ii) broadcasting programs of an educational nature;

(b) to transmit to countries outside Australia ...

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