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Thursday, 31 May 2018
Page: 5186


Mr CHESTER (GippslandMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Personnel, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Deputy Leader of the House) (15:24): I feel I've just been caught in a bad episode of Seinfeld where the opposition leader has become the George Costanza of parliament—that episode of Seinfeld where George says to Jerry: 'Jerry, just remember. It's not a lie if you believe it.' I really think the Leader of the Opposition is starting to believe his own lies. Seriously, the opposition leader is really starting to believe Labor's lies. If they say it enough, if Labor lie enough, they think that actually people start believing them. He thinks if he keeps repeating this claim of a cut when there is no cut whatsoever—

Ms Plibersek interjecting

Mr CHESTER: I welcome the deputy opposition leader's interjection as well, because the ABC will receive more than $1 billion per year in this budget. There is no cut in this budget. She knows it, and the Leader of the Opposition knows it as well. The only thing that lets down Labor's lies in relation to the ABC, Labor's lies in relation to Medicare, Labor's lies in relation to health funding and Labor's lies in relation to education funding is the facts. The facts are very difficult for Labor to dispute, because education funding goes up year on year and health funding goes up year on year.

The ABC has not had a funding cut—that's a fact. The ABC has greater funding certainty than any other media organisation in the nation, and that's a fact. The ABC will receive $3.2 billion in base funding from taxpayers—remember, it's taxpayers' money. So the ABC will receive $3.2 billion in taxpayers' money for its base funding from 2019-20 to 2021-22. That's a fact as well. The ABC will have a pause in indexation—that's a fact—and that pause doesn't apply until 2019, which gives the ABC executive more than 12 months to plan for that circumstance. This government has taken a responsible approach to fixing the mess left behind by the Labor Party. We have an economic plan which is focused on delivering jobs, on record infrastructure expenditure right around the nation and on making sure we can guarantee the critical services that Australians want.

There are a couple of points that the Leader of the Opposition made that I agree with. The ABC does play a very important role in our nation: in our cities, in our regional centres, and in our small rural country towns and remote areas. I notice some regional members here, including the member for Dawson. The ABC is a critical part of our regional communities in times of emergency. In the member for Dawson's own electorate, they rely very heavily in times of cyclones or floods on the emergency broadcaster, on the ABC. In my own electorate of Gippsland during times of fires and floods, we've received emergency warnings through the ABC, which is a critical part of keeping my community safe.

I'm pleased to see that there have been increases in regional services in recent times. As a member based in a regional electorate, I've been critical of the ABC in the past for being too metro-centric. Too much of its focus has been on Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane when there are great stories and great personalities in our regional areas which deserve to be heard. The voices of regional areas deserve to be heard. The ABC, as recently as March last year, announced its biggest ever single investment in regional and remote Australia, during this government's term in office. This is the press release from the ABC itself on 7 March 2017, 'Building the ABC’s services in regional and remote Australia':

Up to 80 new jobs, delivering regional news and information, will be recruited within 18 months as part of a broader content fund announced by the ABC's Managing Director … "We want to ensure that the stories, issues and interests of the one-third of Australians who live outside the capital cities are well-represented across the gamut of ABC services and have a stronger voice in national conversations," she said.

'Hear, hear,' I say to the ABC. Investing in regional services in the member for Dawson's electorate, the member for Durack's electorate and the member for Page's electorate is what the ABC should be doing, making sure more regional voices can be heard. That's occurred under this government. Those opposite might want to reinvent their stories, but that's happened under this government. The ABC itself, according to its own press release, is investing in regional communities. More than a billion dollars a year of taxpayers' money is going to the ABC. So the facts simply don't match the rhetoric of the Leader of the Opposition. We're seeing greater investment in video and digital recording and increased coverage of local events and breaking news on weekends, and the ABC itself says:

The new jobs will … enable reporters and program makers to spend more time in remote areas of the country.

Surely the member for Lingiari would appreciate that.

Under this government and investment by the ABC:

The new jobs will boost video and digital reporting, increase coverage of local events and breaking news on weekends and enable reporters and program makers to spend more time in remote areas of the country.

Surely, the member for Lingiari supports that, under this government? Surely you support that, member for Lingiari?

The ABC's commitment to regional Australia is something that we all respect on this side of the House. I'm surprised that the member for Lingiari isn't cheering me on in that regard. There are great stories, there are great personalities and there are regional voices which need to be heard, and under that investment by the ABC announced during this term of government we're seeing more investment in our regional communities.

The ABC does have obligations; it has obligations to all Australians. And I think that all members on this side of the House would agree with those obligations. There are obligations to be fair and balanced, and to be accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism.

Mr Champion: I tuned out!

Mr CHESTER: Oh, yes, member for Wakefield—I'm here for a bit longer! We'll talk about our new arrangements later on. I'm glad the member for Wakefield has woken up again! It's important, though, that he listens a little bit and perhaps learns a fraction more about the importance of the ABC in our regional communities and the extra investment we've seen by the ABC—perhaps the fact that his own leader would like to claim that there have been cuts when there have been no cuts may come to his attention. More than a billion dollars a year is going to the ABC under the current funding agreement.

I would have to say that in terms of accurate and impartial reporting according to recognised standards of objective journalism, the ABC largely meets those standards in our regional communities. I would say that in our regional communities they do meet that standard. I have the opportunity to spend a lot of time being interviewed by members of the ABC, whether it be in their current affairs programs or in their news programs, and I have to say that the journalists I've dealt with in those regional communities largely meet that standard. I would have to say as well that in this place, within the gallery, the vast majority of ABC journalists meet that standard as well.

The ABC's content extends beyond news and current affairs. During the term of the coalition government we have seen the investment in important regional programs like Back Roads. I'm sure the member for Wakefield is a fan of Back Roads. Probably not quite as big a fan of Back Roads as I am—

Mr Champion: You were in cabinet once, weren't you?

Mr CHESTER: I'm glad the member for Wakefield is endorsing me in that regard! We all like Back Roads. The investment in Back Roads actually occurred during this coalition government. If the ABC has been so badly impacted by the coalition government it's hard to believe that they have the money to invest in great programs like Back Roads. It's a program that is beautifully shot and shows many aspects of regional life, but it also provides a more positive view of regional Australia.

It's something that I think the media and regional Australia deserve—some more positive stories about our communities. The vast majority of metropolitan journalists seem only to come to regional areas when there are issues of fire, flood and pestilence, but there are actually so many great stories to be told about regional Australia, and the ABC tells them. It tells them on a weekly basis through programs like Back Roads. And, with more than a billion dollars of taxpayers' funding, I'm glad they're spending some of that in telling those stories in regional areas.

So we're proud of some of the improvements we've seen in the ABC under the Turnbull-McCormack government. The Turnbull-McCormack government has seen significant improvements to the ABC.

Mr Champion: That's a mouthful!

Mr CHESTER: I'm appreciating the free advice from those opposite! The encouragement is something that I greatly appreciate!

In the context of today's debate, let's just simply reflect on the facts. There is $3.2 billion of base funding for the ABC. The ABC has 12 months to plan for the pause of indexation. There is no cut to ABC funding and there's no reason for any cuts in ABC services. It is actually insulting for those opposite—and for some within the ABC—to be out there scaring viewers and scaring listeners, suggesting that there is going to be a reduction in content. The ABC can continue to provide quality journalism, quality current affairs and quality programs like Back Roads for all Australians, because it's receiving more than $1 billion a year of Australian taxpayers' money.

The Australian government is providing an economic plan for the future where we have to secure the jobs for our nation's future, invest in critical infrastructure and make sure that essential services are still provided. The ABC will receive more than a billion dollars per year to continue its service to the Australian people.