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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3100

Senator BILYK (Tasmania) (16:34): This MPI debate is a chance to expose the duplicity of those opposite, because, as we know, they speak with a forked tongue. While several Liberal frontbenchers have stated publicly that they will not sell the ABC, we on this side of the chamber know that attacking independent public media is actually in their DNA. We know that the resolution of the Liberal Party's federal council to sell the ABC reflects what those opposite would really like to do but just won't admit. They won't admit it because they know how much the public love their ABC.

The other thing we know is that at their federal council not one member or senator stood up to speak against the resolution—not one. We know that although they say one thing on that side they often do another. Just looking at the record of what has happened with the ABC over time, I strongly remember the words that the then opposition leader, Tony Abbott, spoke before the 2013 federal election: 'No cuts to the ABC or SBS.' That was the promise delivered by the then opposition leader, Tony Abbott, on the eve of the 2013 election. There were no 'if's, there were no 'but's and there were no caveats. What did he say? He said that there would be no cuts to the ABC or the SBS. But we know that what they say before an election and what they do after the election are two completely different issues.

What did we get after the last election? Up until this year's budget this government has overseen $282 million in cuts to the ABC. And what's that resulted in? It's resulted in 800 jobs being lost. All of these cuts, we have to remember, have been overseen by Mr Turnbull, first as communications minister and later as the Prime Minister. These cuts have obviously forced the ABC to take drastic action. They've led to the loss of transcription services for the deaf and hearing impaired, an end to short-wave radio transmission in the Northern Territory, and programming cuts such as changes to Catalyst and cuts to music programs on Radio National. In my home state of Tasmania they've led to the loss of the local edition of the current affairs program 7.30. Not being satisfied with these assaults on the ABC, the government has delivered a further $83.7 million cut in this year's budget. We all know what'll happen then: more regional services will be lost as a result.

Year after year, Newspoll's ABC appreciation surveys show really high levels of satisfaction. In fact, more than 80 per cent of Australians, year after year, are saying that the ABC performs a valuable role. Given the important services the ABC provides to regional Australia, we've got to wonder why the Nationals continue to betray their constituents in the bush, failing to stand up to their coalition partner's relentless assault against the ABC. In fact, in question time today, when there were questions about the ABC to that side of the chamber, it was very noticeable that the Nationals were very, very quiet. Some of them were hanging their heads, and I presume it was in shame—as they should be.

In addition to their savage cuts, the government has also made two announcements, and we mustn't forget this. These two announcements could have a chilling effect on our nation's flagship public broadcaster, and they're both part of the dirty deal done with One Nation to secure their support for the abolition of the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule. One announcement was of a competitive neutrality inquiry into the ABC and SBS, which is really obviously aimed at attacking and gutting public broadcasting in Australia. There's no doubt that this concession was secured by One Nation, with the aim of setting the stage for the end of public broadcasting. After all, it was One Nation who threatened to hold the government's legislation to ransom unless they cut ABC funding by $600 million over the forward estimates. The other element of this grubby deal which attacks the ABC is the proposed change to the ABC's charter to require the broadcaster to be 'fair and balanced'. We do want fair and balanced media reporting, but we don't want a misrepresentation of what is fair and balanced by giving antivaxxers, climate change sceptics and Holocaust deniers equal time, and that's what you guys want to happen.

Senator Williams: Has your time expired?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): Sorry, your time has expired, Senator Bilyk. I was being distracted by all the interjections.