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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7872


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (16:45): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) in the 2013 federal election, the then Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Tony Abbott MP, promised no funding cuts to the ABC;

(b) since 2014 the Government has announced cuts of $338 million in funding from the ABC, comprised of:

(i) $254 million since 2014; and

(ii) $84 million over three years as announced in the 2018 budget;

(c) these funding cuts are privatising the ABC by stealth;

(d) many members of the Government are former staffers and/or members of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA);

(e) the IPA has advised the Government to privatise the ABC and has published Against Public Broadcasting: Why We Should Privatise the ABC and How to Do It;

(f) on 7 October 2008 Senator Fifield, now Minister for Communications, gave a speech entitled Fiscal Contraception:Erecting Barriers to Impulsive Spending in which he stated that 'Conservatives have often floated the prospect of privatising the ABC and Australia Post and there is merit in such proposals.';

(g) strong and independent Australian public broadcasting is important to Australian culture and the quality of our country's democracy;

(h) the Liberal Party of Australia's 2018 Federal Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the 'full privatisation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, except for services into regional areas'; and

(i) no Government ministers present at that Federal Council spoke against the motion during the debate; and

(2) calls on the Government to reverse the funding cuts it has imposed upon the ABC since 2014.

We are not talking about an idle rumour here. We are talking about a systemic campaign to slash the budget of the ABC, combined with sustained attacks from various sections of the political right to question the integrity of the ABC and to sell it off. Following a pledge at the 2013 election that there would be no cuts to the ABC and SBS, the 2014 budget saw $254 million in cuts, and now in 2018, under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the ABC faces a further cut of $84 million over the next three years.

We heard in Senate estimates that the ABC has shed more than a thousand jobs since 2014. That figure equates to nearly a quarter of the ABC's full-time equivalent workforce of over 4,100 employees, so the impact of these cuts is already quite apparent.

We also heard from the ABC that it has experienced a 28 per cent fall in funding in real terms since the mid-1980s. In addition to dealing with less income, management of the ABC have also had to face inquiries into its charter, the disclosure of salaries, its competitive neutrality and its delivery on rural services.

Even the commercial media is pointing the finger at the ABC as being a significant contributor to their falling bottom lines despite the arrival of Google, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon and their blindingly oblivious impact. They just don't see that it's got nothing to do with the ABC; it's actually about them. Blaming our national broadcaster for being true to its charter to serve its public interest by reaching audiences in new and innovative ways that the commercial media have been too risk-averse to attempt is the height of hypocrisy.

Then there was the Liberal Party's 2018 Federal Council—how could we forget that? They overwhelmingly voted for a full privatisation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, except for services in regional Australia, and not one—not one—government minister even stood up and spoke against their motion.

Then, we have the Institute of Public Affairs' book: Against Public Broadcasting: Why We Should Privatise the ABC and How to Do It. As if the government doesn't already know! Who did the IPA think would read their book? I can only assume that it was made deliberately for the minister for communications who, back in 2008, gave a speech entitled, Physical Contraception: Erecting Barriers to Impulsive Spending. In that speech the senator stated:

Conservatives have often floated the prospect of privatising the ABC and Australia Post. There is merit in such proposals.

When you have a communications minister who sees merit in privatising the ABC, when you see a political think tank that has such close ties and calls for privatisation and you see the Liberal Party Federal Council calling for privatisation, I do not think it's unreasonable for the ABC, and for those who defend the ABC, to be alarmed.

The government could allay the fears by showing the country that it values the work of our public broadcaster and wants to fund them adequately. Australians who value the ABC are on notice. We believe that we must act, and I know that I, and my Centre Alliance colleagues, will do all we can to pressure government to restore funding to the pre-2014 levels. Last month, I received my ABC defender's badge in recognition of my support of our national broadcaster. I believe in a well-funded, independent ABC, and I believe it's crucial for our democracy.

The ABC has an annual budget of around $1 billion, of which $200 million is spent just in transmission costs. The ABC uses its $800 million to create high-quality innovative content—stuff that you can't find in the commercial sector. It's a training ground for young people—local talent, local productions—and ensures that it consistently exceeds quotas on Australian content. Australians trust the ABC. It tells our stories. And that trust is extended to public interest journalism in which the ABC has a long and proud history.

I would like to present at the end of my speech a non-conforming petition signed by 694 people in my electorate supporting my motion calling for the ABC's funding to be restored. Their names are just a snapshot of the deep concern in the Australian community that the Australian public broadcaster is being privatised by stealth. We must keep the ABC. We must fund the ABC. It is our national treasure. I seek leave to present the petition.

Leave granted.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): The document will be forwarded to the Standing Committee on Petitions for its consideration. It will be accepted subject to confirmation by the committee that it conforms to the standing orders. Is the motion seconded?

Mr Wilkie: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.