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Thursday, 31 May 2018
Page: 5193

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (15:49): Apparently today the matter of public importance, the most public issue that this parliament needs to address—

Mr Champion interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hogan ): It's the member for Wakefield's final warning.

Mr Robert: is a pause in the indexation of the ABC's funding, not a movement towards perhaps a peace treaty on the North Korean Peninsula, President Trump and what's happening with Kim Jong-un, a billion jobs being created, what's happening in Italy and the effect on bond markets, or what's happening in Europe.

Ms Swanson interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Paterson is in the wrong seat and will remain quiet.

Mr ROBERT: No. None of those issues seems to have resonance today. What has resonance is a pause in an increase of a billion-dollar budget for a national broadcaster.

Ms Swanson interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Paterson will remove herself under 94(a).

The member for Paterson then left the chamber.

Mr ROBERT: I look at Minister Hawke, who has been here with me for a decade. We were here in the days of real cuts by those opposite. I was here when those opposite cut Defence as a proportion of GDP to 1938 levels. I was here when billions were cut from defence programs, when 40 per cent of all defence acquisitions were scrapped. I was here when those opposite didn't order a single ship for six years—and they want to speak about cuts! Apparently, out of all of that, they could cut our defence force while we were on combat operations in Afghanistan. Those opposite would cut defence spending, but apparently the ABC was sacrosanct. Australians at war were able to have cuts to what they were doing but journalists writing in Australia, out of Ultimo, couldn't. Now, if that's not the height of hypocrisy, I don't know what is.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition would have us believe that this is being done because—and I quote—'We on this side hate democracy.' I am not too sure whether that's hyperbole or stupidity, or both. This is what the matter of public of importance is about: should we pause the indexation of the ABC? Hint to those opposite: I know they have never, ever run a business in their life. They have certainly made large ones small. If you're running a billion-dollar organisation, if you can't find at least five per cent in savings, you aren't even trying. We're talking about a pause of 1.9 per cent, and suddenly it is catastrophic. Suddenly, it is the most important issue which this parliament must devote time to actually debate it. Those opposite would tell us that the ABC is the most trusted media organisation and is beloved like a small child's teddy bear. The problem with the 'beloved' argument peddled by my esteemed colleagues on the opposition benches is that the data does not support you. If I read the latest 2017 annual report, ABC's television metro daytime share has decreased right across the board, except in Perth. ABC's regional daytime share has decreased right across the board and, in some cases, markedly. ABC's metropolitan prime time has decreased right across the board. It's regional prime time share has decreased right across the board. ABC average weekly metropolitan reach has decreased right across the board. ABC television average weekly regional reach has decreased right across the board. In fact, by every single measure in their own report, bar one little bar, which is ABC television metropolitan daytime in Perth, fewer Australians are watching them. Where is the beloved, trusted argument gone? The data calls that hypocrisy.

This government is simply saying to the ABC, as it has said to every other government department and as has been said since time immemorial or at least for the last decade or two, that government can expect an efficiency dividend—that is, a return on investment to the taxpayer—from increased management practice, increased technology and better leadership. That's reasonable. Every corporation on the planet is providing that sort of efficiency dividend—everyone, except the ABC. All the companies in this nation, all of the public sector departments and the public service departments are expected to provide a return to the taxpayer, except, apparently, the ABC. Why don't we just call this out for what it is? It's blatant hypocrisy and it's about time the ABC caught up and acted like every other public organisation.