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Monday, 24 March 2014
Page: 2744

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (10:23): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) since 1 July 1932 when ABC Radio first came on air, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), created by the Australian Parliament, has played an integral and essential role in serving communities from all corners of the Australian Federation;

(b) the ABC and more recently, the Special Broadcasting Corporation (SBS), have played a key role in facilitating the evolution of a diverse but cohesive Australian polity, contributed significantly to the creation of a distinctive Australian identity, and been a critical guarantor of the quality and strength of Australian democracy;

(c) the ABC's Charter states the broadcaster shall 'contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the diversity of the Australian community';

(d) public broadcasting plays an irreplaceable role in delivering a range of services that have not been provided and are not likely to be provided by private media organisations, including high quality educational children's television, comprehensive emergency services broadcasts, non English language and multicultural programming, and comprehensive coverage of major civic and sporting events, and democratic processes;

(e) the news, information, entertainment, and emergency service announcements provided by the ABC are of particular importance in regional and remote communities across Australia;

(f) the ABC has a longstanding and established reputation, based on public opinion data and independent analysis, as the most trusted and trustworthy source of television and radio news in Australia;

(g) the conservative think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, has called for the breakup and/or privatisation of the ABC and SBS; and

(h) on the day before the election, on 6 September 2013, speaking live to SBS from Penrith football stadium, the Prime Minister said, 'No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS'; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) confirm the Prime Minister's clear and unequivocal commitment that there will be no cuts to the ABC or SBS;

(b) cease its unwarranted, politically motivated vilification of the ABC as a news organisation, and its baseless criticism of the ABC's organisational independence and integrity;

(c) respect the ABC's mandate to provide innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services, which in this digital age includes many platforms and cannot be confined to radio and television; and

(d) uphold the ABC and SBS Acts in respect of the arms length, merit based, and consultative protocols used for the appointment of ABC and SBS Board members.

I am very pleased to bring this motion forward for debate and discussion, because the ABC and SBS are such a critical part of our national life and identity and because, since the election of the Abbott government, we have seen a concerted assault on our public broadcasters in the form of a campaign of veiled and not so veiled threats in relation to funding and in the form of intimidation towards news organisations that dare hold politicians to account.

The ABC and SBS are each in their own way cornerstones of Australian life. They are not just two of a range of media options. Instead, they have a fundamentally different and distinctive character and purpose from other community based and commercial media platforms. They inform and education, question and analyse, celebrate and entertain, and they do so without fear or favour and without compromising quality or content as a result of any undue market pressure or the influence of ownership.

The focus of our national and multicultural broadcasters is squarely on the needs and interests of the Australian community. As a migrant nation where fully one-quarter of our population was born outside Australia and some 43 per cent of Australians have at least one parent born overseas, the importance and value of multicultural and foreign language broadcasting is plain. But, perhaps most importantly of all, in recognition that a healthy democracy depends on an informed public and on high-quality, independent journalism, public broadcasting is essential for its proven capacity to be the most reliable source of news and current affairs. When you look at Essential Media's survey on media trustworthiness in news and current affairs from 2013, 73 per cent of Australians trusted ABC TV and 70 per cent trusted ABC radio, whereas only 46 per cent trusted commercial TV and 44 per cent trusted commercial radio—the gap is stark. And for those who suggest the internet's range of media options is fast making traditional news sources like the ABC and SBS less relevant and less important, it is salient to note that only 40 per cent trusted news and opinion websites and 23 per cent trusted blogs.

I grew up in rural Western Australia and I can tell you that in the country and in the regions the ABC is part of your household in the same way that water pipes and taps are part of your household: it is a lifeline—precious and essential. The ABC is there on the kitchen radio in the morning and through the television news after dinner at night; kids watch high-quality children's programming uninterrupted by advertising; farmers, like my parents in Donnybrook, and workers alike tune in for weather and emergency warnings; people tune in for local, national and international sport; and they tune in for news about their part of Australia—for their stories and voices. The maintenance of news bureaus and journalists with a capacity to cover and give voice to stories from right across this massive and sparsely populated continent is a task that only the ABC is equipped and prepared to do.

One thing I would like to specifically mention is the appetite that both the ABC and SBS have for commissioning and screening programs that tackle difficult, complex, controversial and even confronting subject matter. I have in mind programs like SBS's Go Back to Where You Came From and the ABC's Four Corners investigations into the live export industry. These kinds of programs hold up the mirror in which we can look at ourselves, and sometimes struggle with what we see. That can make life difficult for government, and it did at times for the Labor government, but that is what a free and fearless media must do, and I celebrate the fact that our ABC and our SBS deliver that kind of courage.

So it worries me, it worries my constituents in Fremantle and it worries Australians in rural and regional areas a great deal to hear the Prime Minister of the country, and others in the coalition, taking every opportunity to make partisan attacks on the ABC whilst calling its very purpose into question. I am pleased that Minister Turnbull stated in this place last week that the ABC is more important than ever. I have no reason to think that the current efficiency review into the ABC and SBS, if conducted fairly, will produce results any different than the other two previous coalition initiated inquiries into the ABC. I note that KPMG's 2006 ABC funding adequacy and efficiency review concluded that the ABC was 'operating efficiently but suffered from a structural funding deficiency and bore costs that were not faced by commercial operators'. Strangely, the Howard government chose not to release the KPMG report. I trust that Minister Turnbull will apply the principle of transparency, which is cited as a reason for this current review, to ensure that the results of the review are made public.

On the very eve of the election last year, the then opposition leader said, 'No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS'. It really does not come any clearer than this unequivocal commitment to Australian voters as they contemplated the ballot box. The now Prime Minister will be judged by that promise and we will hold him to it. All of those millions of Australians who depend on public broadcasting, who rely on the ABC and SBS for trusted news and quality programming, will fight to protect those cornerstones of our civic and community life.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Clare: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak until after the member for Corangamite.