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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2825

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:38): I have a question for the minister on the same type of subject. We're dealing with the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017. Is there any prospect of ABC rural and regional—which is mainly radio but some TV—having anything to do with the regional innovation fund? That's one question.

The other question is related to that but also related to what my colleague opposite has been asking about. As I often point out, the ABC operates across a range of areas—triple j for the young people, and classical music, which is something I really enjoy; they have a range of different radio stations and television outlets. But a lot of them, of course, are concentrated in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide—the capital cities—where there are an enormous number of other opportunities for the listeners or the viewers to hook into other news, information and entertainment outlets. Where I am, in Townsville and Ayr, we do have some opportunities for commercial operations but, when you get a bit further out into the country, as far as radio is concerned the ABC is the principal source of information, and it does a wonderful job. It does a wonderful job with weather, with market reports, with information about what's happening around particular communities. So it's a very, very valuable service. But often it's the only one. Whilst I approve the efficiency—and, as you say, it's a 2c-in-a-dollar saving, which I think even I could save in my own household, and I'm sure the ABC will be able to do it, particularly under the new management—I am concerned that very often when there are cuts to the ABC, or very often when there aren't cuts to the ABC, you'll find that some of those in Ultimo who really don't know Australia, apart from three blocks from the Ultimo headquarters, don't quite understand the importance of the regional services of the ABC. I'm just after some sort of assurance—and I appreciate the ABC is an independent body—on that. That's my second question.

The third question: has any thought ever been given by the government to setting up, with independent budgets, not just ABC and SBS but ABC, SBS and, for want of a better term, 'ABC Regional', as a separate entity with a separate budget and separate management, which will concentrate on this vital service to many people who live outside the capital cities and ensure that it is always there? That's the third question. Has any thought ever been given to that? Is it something that the minister or his department might sometime have a look at, without diminishing services anywhere and leaving the ABC in its current form to continue doing the work it does—some of it good, most of it, I think, questionable, but let's not get into that; that's a matter of opinion. But the certainty of an ongoing service for regional Australia is something that exercises the minds of many people outside the capital cities.