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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3104


Senator KENEALLY (New South Wales) (16:53): I rise to contribute to this debate and reflect on an address given by the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, in 2008. He spoke to the Australian Adam Smith Club. There was an interesting title to his speech. 'Fiscal contraception: erecting barriers to impulsive spending', he called it. In that, he said:

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

Those are the words of Minister Fifield. Don't take my word for it. Unless the minister has removed it, you could find this speech on his website just a few weeks ago.

Minister Fifield also told us at estimates that he is 'happy to be a member' of the IPA, a membership he says he's held for at least a decade. Of course, the IPA has advocated for the privatisation of the ABC, and IPA members Chris Berg and Sinclair Davidson have just released a book against public broadcasting, on why and how we should privatise the ABC. But Minister Fifield says he doesn't agree with his fellow IPA members. He says his views in 2008 to the Adam Smith Club that the ABC should be privatised were just the views of a 'frisky backbencher' and not what he thinks now that he's a minister in government.

But come on: does Minister Fifield really think the Australian people are that gullible, when the minister and the Liberal Party give Australians reason after reason and example after example of what their real intentions are for the ABC? On the weekend the Liberal federal council voted 39 to 10 to privatise the ABC. Fairfax media reports that four of the party's top federal officials supported the motion to privatise the ABC. Not one Liberal delegate spoke against the motion. Yet Minister Fifield, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have all been out there telling us that these votes of Liberal Party members mean nothing, that they change nothing when it comes to the Liberal government's intentions towards the ABC.

Why is it that the votes of the Liberal Party membership are apparently sacrosanct and must be respected when it comes to matters like the preselection of Liberal minister Jane Prentice but are apparently meaningless when it comes to policy around the privatisation of the ABC? Well, it's because they are not meaningless when it comes to the ABC. The views of the Liberal federal council, expressed in a vote of 39 to 10, are views that run deep through this Turnbull Liberal government. Senators Eric Abetz and Ian Macdonald regularly use this chamber to rail against the ABC. They are champions of the anti-ABC movement in the Liberal Party and in this place.

But Minister Fifield is no slouch when it comes to complaining about the ABC. He's been a vexatious complainer, in fact, to the ABC. By May 2018, he had averaged more than one complaint a month to the ABC. In January it was the date of the Hottest 100. In February it was Emma Alberici's corporate tax article. In March he complained about a Tonightly with Tom Ballardcomedy sketch. In April he complained about a Black Comedy sketch on the ABC Facebook page. In May it was the Emma Alberici story again and, again in May, commentary by political journalists on the TV show Insiders. The minister also referred the Black Comedy sketch on Facebook to ACMA, making him the first communications minister since Richard Alston in 2004 to complain to ACMA about the ABC. Minister Alston complained about the coverage of the Iraq War. Minister Fifield complained about a comedy sketch on Facebook. Why Minister Fifield complained to ACMA about ABC on Facebook is hard to understand, because ACMA has no coverage of Facebook. I don't know what point he was trying to make.

If we just looked at Minister Fifield's vexatious complaints we might be able to dismiss them as silly, irrelevant or annoying. But that is not where it ends. Minister Fifield and this Liberal government have imposed a second round of efficiency cuts—$84 million—on the ABC. This comes on top of the $25 million in cuts imposed by the Abbott Liberal government. We all remember Tony Abbott—Tony 'no cuts to the ABC' Abbott—a promise broken by the Abbott Liberal government and broken again by the Turnbull Liberal government and broken by this Liberal communications minister Fifield. Minister Fifield and this Liberal government have also launched a competitive neutrality review of the ABC, but let's label that for what it is: it is a de facto review of the ABC charter. And why are we having this review? Because the Liberals did a deal with Senator Pauline Hanson and One Nation. In fact, the Liberals have presented three bills before this Senate to satisfy a deal with Senator Hanson. Remember her threat to block the Liberal government's budget unless the government cut $600 million to ABC funding? That was really One Nation saying to the Liberals, 'It's time for you to jump on the ABC.' And what did the Liberals answer? Well, they jumped. They effectively said, 'How high would you like us to go?' They cut the funding. In fact, if we add up Tony Abbott's cuts of $250 million alongside Mitch Fifield and Malcolm Turnbull's cuts of $84 million, we are already halfway to the $600 million that Senator Pauline Hanson wants cut from the ABC.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): A point of order, Senator Williams?

Senator Williams: This is the point of order I raised with Senator Hanson-Young: I will have to make the point of order to Senator Keneally, even though she is pretty new to this place, to refer to those in this place and the other place by their correct titles, not just by their names. Could you please bring that to her attention.

Senator KENEALLY: In short, Minister Fifield and the Turnbull Liberal government have launched a multipronged, large-scale intervention against the ABC, and they want Australians to believe it is just because they want the ABC to be better, stronger and more efficient. Let's look at what these cuts by the Liberal Party will deliver to the ABC. In 2019-20 the ABC will be $14.6 million worse off. That is the full annual operating budget of both NewsRadio and Radio Australia. In 2020-21 the ABC will be $27.8 million worse off. That's the full annual operating budget of ABC Classic FM, Heywire, iview and the school-age and preschool version of the ABC KIDS app. In 2021-22 the ABC will be $41.2 million worse off. That is the full operating budget of ABC KIDS, ABC COMEDY, triple j, Double J and triple j Unearthed. Yet when Minister Fifield was asked at estimates if he could guarantee that none of these programs would be cut as a result of his efficiency review and his $84 million cut to ABC funding, he said that this was just a matter for the ABC—as if this Liberal government's $334 million of cuts to the ABC funding could have no impact on ABC programming.

Make no mistake: these upcoming by-elections and the upcoming general election are is an opportunity for Australians to show their support for the ABC. We've seen some remarkable statistics in recent times: surveys show that 70 per cent of Australians think a strong, independent ABC is critical to a healthy democracy; 60 per cent of Australians think the ABC needs a boost to its long-term funding; and 82 per cent of Australians rate the ABC as trustworthy. The ABC is a trusted institution, one that Australians look to as a place that safeguards their democracy, a place to get their news and entertainment and a place that tells their Australian stories, available to all—not behind some paywall, which is what I think the Liberals would like to see happen. When it comes to that fundamental issue of trust, it is important to remember that 82 per cent of Australians rate the ABC as trustworthy. Australians know—and the Liberal federal council it confirmed this weekend—that you cannot trust the Liberals with the ABC.