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Monday, 2 March 2020
Page: 2286


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (16:45): I move:

That this House:

(1) thanks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for its service in delivering vital emergency broadcasts and comprehensive coverage during the catastrophic fires;

(2) acknowledges the dramatic rise in emergency broadcasts—from 256 in 2017 to 371 in 2018-19 and 673 so far this year, which have been delivered without additional funding to cover the resources which have been poured into the emergency broadcast effort;

(3) recognises that since Boxing Day, as bushfires raged across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, the ABC handled more than 100 emergency broadcasts in a single week, receiving widespread praise for the practical, life-saving information and the professionalism on display;

(4) notes the heavy damage sustained to ABC radio and television network infrastructure during the bushfires, particularly at Bateman's Bay in New South Wales and East Gippsland in Victoria;

(5) commends the ABC for mobilising to restore local radio stations as a priority because of their critical role in providing information to communities during disasters;

(6) acknowledges that the ABC should not be put into a position of having to economise on its emergency broadcasting due to Government funding cuts; and

(7) calls on the Government to reverse the $83.7 million paused in indexation funding as a matter of urgency.

This motion mirrors a recent motion put forward by my Senate colleague Stirling Griff demonstrating, once again, that Centre Alliance have been long-time defenders of the ABC. It is a source of frustration that we have to continue defending our national broadcaster as successive coalition governments have slashed the budget. Two years ago, I became Australia's first politician to receive the Defenders Badge from the Friends of the ABC National. I wear it with pride today because I want to remind the House just how much Australia values the ABC, particularly in times of crisis. I acknowledge that we have ACT Friends of the ABC in the chamber here today, with the chair, Peter Lindenmayer. They are a very passionate group that needs to be here, because they are supporting the ABC against cuts. They know the value of the ABC.

My community experienced crisis in the fire season, with deadly bushfires in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island. During these events, all warnings were heeded. We lost power. Our telecommunications networks failed. Key infrastructure was burnt for critical periods of time. We had no internet, no mobile coverage and no landlines, but we did have the ABC on battery operated radios and on car radios, and it was the trusted voice of the ABC, delivering emergency broadcasts and sharing important local information, that assisted my community greatly.

In the weeks following Boxing Day, as bushfires raged across our nation, the ABC handled more than 100 emergency broadcasts in a single week, taking the financial year tally to 673 broadcasts as of 4 January this year. As of last Friday, I'm advised that that figure is now 933 emergency broadcasts. This compares to 375 in the previous financial year and 256 the year before. In South Australia, the ABC covered all fire events across the state, including the major blazes on Kangaroo Island, in the Adelaide Hills and in the south-east. During these major incidents, the local ABC provided 14 hours of rolling emergency coverage across the fire season. The ABC has provided continual information on bushfire activity.

Christmas holidays are normally when organisations operate on skeleton staff, and the ABC is no exception, particularly given its budget constraints. However, at the height of the bushfires in my electorate, ABC Radio presenters, producers, journalists, managers and technicians returned from leave to provide special emergency broadcasts. Some other ABC staff who were on leave reported while they were on holidays in fire affected regions. Many staff worked through the night to ensure communities continued to receive up-to-date information.

In times of crisis, the ABC is a trusted friend, and we shouldn't short-change our friends. The ABC should not be put in a position of having to economise on its emergency broadcasting due to government funding cuts. It should not be put in a position of having to economise to restore fire damaged radio and television network infrastructure in New South Wales and Victoria. The ABC should not be put in a position of having to economise core programming because it's trying to juggle savage funding cuts. The federal government has slashed $338 million from the ABC budget since 2014, including approximately $84 million in paused indexation from the 2018 budget. I'd just like to bring back to everyone's attention: I remember Tony Abbott, the then Leader of the Opposition, saying there would be no cuts to the ABC. He said that in September 2013. Well, that has proven not to be true. These future potential redundancies, on top of a thousand jobs shed in 2014—we're now looking at another 200 redundancies—are plainly unacceptable. A strong and independent Australian broadcaster is important to our nation's culture, and to the quality of our democracy.

As demonstrated in the bushfire crisis, having a well-resourced ABC is also essential for the safety of our community. The ABC broadcasts from 46 regional and peri-urban areas. We support its vision to expand regional services. At the very least, I call on the government to reverse the $84 million paused indexation funding as a matter of urgency. The ongoing funding cuts to our national treasure, our national broadcaster, are savage and they are hurting regional Australia. I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon, I do not know what my community would have done if it wasn't for the ABC over the Christmas period, when we experienced the worst bushfires that we've had in living memory.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is there a seconder for the motion? I believe the member for Indi jumped in.

Dr Haines: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.