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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3101


Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (16:40): Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President Marshall. As much as I was enjoying that—as you clearly were—I was trying to bring your attention to the clock. Anyway, here we are now, and it's a great pleasure to make a contribution to today's MPI discussion, as noted, around future funding for the ABC and SBS, and the need to retain them as strong, well-funded and independent authorities or entities. Like my colleague and good friend, Senator Bilyk, I too appreciate and support the work of our public broadcasting entities and am a regular listener to the ABC in Tasmania. This morning, I was on ABC with Leon Compton, a great—

Senator Bilyk: Were you at federal council?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): Senator Bilyk, you know you shouldn't interject from outside your place.

Senator DUNIAM: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President Marshall, for inviting her back to her chair so she could continue to interject. As a regular contributor to the ABC Mornings program, along with Senator Bilyk's good friend and colleague Senator Lisa Singh, I too am an avid supporter of the ABC and what they do. For many generations now I have benefited from public broadcasting services through both the ABC and SBS.

Senator Bilyk: Were you at federal council? If you were at federal council, why didn't you speak against it?

Senator DUNIAM: In order to satisfy Senator Bilyk: no, I wasn't at federal council; I was with my family in Tasmania. It is a service that is absolutely valued by Tasmanians in regional communities, which Senator Bilyk also represents, and many people in the more densely populated areas as well. The MPI sets out for us to discuss the need for the public broadcasting entities in Australia to be strong. The first point it refers to is the need for them to be well funded. I think it's important to put on record the facts around the funding of the ABC and SBS, and the fact that this financial year $1.3 billion of funding has been allocated to our two public broadcasting entities, taking into account that SBS also attracts some commercial funding through the provision of the ability to sell commercial advertising spots—something that not everyone in the community agreed with but which enabled SBS to make ends meet a little bit better.

Another point that the Minister for Communications made in question time today was around the fact that funding for the ABC in particular is set over a three-year basis, and so the particular funding round we have at the moment is coming to a conclusion. As Senator Bilyk has already noted, funding for the upcoming triennium has been set with a pause on indexation. The fact remains, though, that over the period from 2019-20 to 2021-22 $3.2 billion of funding has been allocated to the ABC. That puts into context this claim of a cut that has been put out there and screamed about by the opposition—the fact that no more than 0.26c in any dollar of funding for that period is being held by way of this indexation pause.

Senator Bilyk: It is a cut.

Senator Keneally: That's right.

Senator DUNIAM: It's not a cut, as suggested by Senator Bilyk. Additionally, I should point out that SBS has received extra funding, which I'm sure we won't hear about today from opposition senators, to the tune of $14 million, something welcomed by its managing director, Mr Ebeid, as Senator Keneally would recall from estimates.

As for the characterisation of this indexation pause, it is something that governments do when it comes to budget management. We make decisions about how funding should be allocated, whether indexation is increased, decreased or paused.

Senator Kim Carr: It's reduced. This is a special hit on the ABC.

Senator DUNIAM: It happens right across government, not just with the ABC, but those listening would be forgiven for thinking that it happens only to the ABC. It's a budget management tool that, as I said, happens right across a number of agencies: the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of the Environment and Energy. Those sorts of agencies are also subject to budget management, like any other government agency. It is not ideologically driven, as those opposite would characterise it. It's about how to actually manage the budget, something we take seriously, which is very important in terms of making the budget balanced.

We also have underway the efficiency review of the ABC. I note that nearly five years ago, or four years ago at least, the Lewis review was undertaken into the ABC and public broadcasting in Australia, noting, as any representatives of the ABC would, that it is a dynamic and fast-changing environment when it comes to media in this country. So, to keep pace with the times it's important to ensure that these entities are as efficient as possible when it comes to the amount of money allocated to them.

When talking about efficiency, it's important also to highlight some comments made by Mr Gaven Morris, one of the senior executives of the ABC. In May this year Mr Morris, in an address to the Press Club in Melbourne, said in regard to funding and, as he referred to them, reductions in funding:

Make no mistake, there is no more fat to cut at the ABC …

He said that from this point on we're cutting 'into the muscle'. Following on from that we learnt that the ABC decided to award its executives $2.6 million in bonuses, to spend $10 million on market research and promotions and to spend another $1.5 million on consultants. So, it's a little odd when we hear there's nothing left to cut—there's nothing there, there's no room, not a cent, to look for further efficiency, but those senior executives at the ABC will be able to award themselves rather large and handsome bonuses. I think it's important to make sure that people listening to this debate understand that in the eyes of the ABC executives there is room to award themselves bonuses—but nothing else in the way of savings!

In regard to preserving the independence of public broadcasters, as we all know there is legislated independence for the public broadcasters in this country when it comes to matters of content and operation. So, how the ABC manage their staff, for instance—how they allocate them and where they allocate them to—is a matter for the ABC, as we have heard the minister say repeatedly in this place and in Senate estimates. And apparently no-one is allowed to complain about the content of the ABC's works, and that includes Mr Shorten, who we all know is a regular correspondent with the ABC, as I have learnt from many of my ABC friends.

The fact that the ABC is in charge of its content, its production and all operational matters is important to put on the record. But at the end of the day what this really comes down to is the integrity of those who make the claims that we're hearing in this place. The fact that before the last federal election we heard this thing about Medicare—that we were going to privatise it, but it never happened. I hear something very similar now. Watch out, Australia: apparently the coalition is going to privatise the ABC. I reckon we may not do that either, somehow. It's a bit like that rolled gold commitment on citizenship we got from all those Labor members and senators, which proved to be not worth the paper it was written on. (Time expired)