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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20540

Mr DUTTON (4:45 PM) —I rise tonight to speak out against the misplaced priorities of the ABC when it comes to allocating taxpayer funds to television programming. The ABC has decided to do away with one of the longest running and most effective Australian educational programs ever developed. At a relatively low cost of $800,000 per annum, Behind the News has educated children for years, providing a valuable and interesting supplement to the daily studies of young students. It is shameful and disappointing that the board of the ABC has chosen to axe this great program.

In keeping with their cheapjack, opportunistic nature, many Labor MPs have tried to blame the axing of BTN on the government. Members, like the member for Ballarat, have used parliamentary speeches to try to score cheap political points and mislead Australians about the true nature of the decision to cut BTN. Funding allocation decisions in the ABC are made by an independent board. Labor know this and would be the first to cry foul if the government interfered in any way, shape or form with the independence of that board.

Let us set the record straight. BTN was cut by the ABC board in one of the most shameful misdirections of taxpayer funds in recent times. This shame is compounded when you look at some of the programs the ABC continues to fund. A prominent journalist reported in Melbourne's Herald Sun today that the ABC directs $1.4 million of taxpayer funds a year to David Marr's Media Watch. According to the Herald Sun column, Mr Marr and a team of around 24 full-time and part-time employees produce just 15 minutes of television a week, much of which is dedicated to getting square with Mr Marr's personal and ideological enemies. Is that good value for the ABC? Let us assume that the program airs for 50 weeks of the year—and thank goodness it does not. That works out to about $2,000 a minute of on-air time—almost $28,000 per program.

I remember when Media Watch was a useful program for highlighting poor journalistic standards, from foolish mistakes through to the blatant fudging of the facts behind a story. As the column in the Herald Sun reports, under David Marr, Media Watch has become a pale shadow of what it was meant to be. To quote the report, David Marr:

... rushes through a few trivial criticisms of spelling mistakes in some country paper, or a silly caption on some music show. And then ... gets stuck into—


real agenda—attacking the Right.

According to the Herald Sun, Mr Marr's show has attacked conservative, or right wing, media figures around 72 times but only criticised his fellow left wing media comrades on 17 occasions. This is an incredible feat when you consider that in Australia today there is only one conservative journalist for every 17 left wing journalists. Thus, $1.4 million a year is spent to fund the left wing soapbox of a man who attacked the censorship of Ken Park, a movie that boasts depraved sexual violence.

It is not surprising that we have not heard one member of the Labor Party criticise this blatant misallocation of funds by the ABC—not one! I challenge any member of the Labor Party to call on the ABC to stop funnelling taxpayer funds into David Marr's weekly whinge against his opponents. I challenge any member of the Labor Party to stand up for the interests of young schoolchildren. We know that, under the weak leadership of Simon Crean, the left need any mouthpiece they can get, but I call on the ABC to get its priorities right, to recommit funding to BTN, to stop propping up David Marr's weekly left wing digest and to put the savings of $600,000 to proper use.