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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2828

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (09:53): It's hard to see how 800 people losing their jobs from the national broadcaster is a model of improving access to great news, great journalism and the sort of community representation of ideas heralded and applauded by Senator Macdonald in his contribution. Whether it's in the city or whether it's in the country—and I see we have a delegation of young people here—getting the correct news, and getting people in the profession who have certainty of employment and an opportunity to grow their skills and to serve the nation through our national broadcaster, is a very, very important part of what this country has thrived on. It's an important part of our democracy. It's not like the ABC's a new thing. It has been around for a very, very long period of time and, over that period of time, it has been able to build its reputation to a point where the Australian people hold it in high regard, whether they're from the city or the country.

But I'm sure that the young people here today would be able to understand, Minister, that the loss of 800 jobs from the national broadcaster is a very, very significant loss. And it has happened on your watch. It happened after your first efficiency push in 2014, and here you are proposing another efficiency push, taking $83.7 million out of the budget of the ABC, and that is absolutely going to cause job losses. The minister may dance around it and try to prevent any blame from attaching to him, but the Australian people are too smart to buy that, Minister. They know that the ABC is under attack from this government. Mr Abbott, the member for Warringah, knew this when he was running to become the Prime Minister of this country in 2013, and stood at that stadium in Western Sydney in Penrith and said that there will be no cuts to the ABC or SBS—yet the whole legislative process of this parliament under the Liberal-National government has been cuts to the ABC and cuts to SBS. That's just the historical reality of it. You can't keep cutting the ABC and continue to argue that you're providing sufficient funding for job security, for quality journalism and for the retention of this significant part of the democratic conversation in our country.

In my contribution yesterday at the second reading stage I talked about another matter more specifically related to this particular bill, which I indicated was the result of a deal stitched together with Senator Xenophon. I recall on the evening as the bill was going through, Minister, asking you a number of detailed questions about how this particular bill was going to operate. As I recall, on many occasions you answered the questions with the support of your team in the advisers box, but there were a few where you just didn't know the answers, because Senator Xenophon was still cooking up the scheme. Indeed, in the estimates period that followed, Senator Xenophon tried to get on the record a number of changes, because, after the consideration of a few nights sleep, despite the deal being done, he figured out that there were a few mistakes and was trying to correct them on the run. That's the nature of the bill we're debating today. That's its origin and how it came to be. According to the Bills Digest:

The Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee considered the Bill and noted that 'none of the substantive requirements and criteria for eligibility [for grants of financial assistance] are set out in statute'. It stated:

It therefore appears that neither the criteria for the award of a grant nor the purposes or conditions for which grants may be awarded are included in the bill. Instead, these matters are to be determined by non-statutory policy or included in individual agreements. The practical effect of this approach is to delegate general criteria and conditions for the award of a grant to ACMA. It is also noted that if general non-statutory rules are not developed, then the legislation confers on ACMA an extremely broad discretionary power to allocate a substantial sum of money.

The Scrutiny of Bills Committee sought the Minister's advice as to 'why the criteria for the award of the grants and the standard terms and conditions to be imposed are not included in the bill or subject to any other appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny'.

At the time of writing this Digest, the Minister's response had not been published.

Has the minister supplied a response to the Scrutiny of Bills Committee?