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Monday, 16 September 1996
Page: 3490

Senator McKIERNAN(3.12 p.m.) —This is a matter of enormous concern to Australia as a whole, particularly those listeners who depend on a daily basis on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation services to bring them news and entertainment, and to focus on what is happening in the world and happening in other parts of Australia, and also what is happening at a local level for them.

The government has embarked on an ideological war to gut the ABC. It said it in the opening comments of the terms of reference of an inquiry into the ABC. The terms of reference state: `The government seeks a more focused role for the ABC.' Perhaps that more focused role for the ABC is part of the continuing attack by the Prime Minister and other ministers on the ABC. Those attacks continued as late as last week in the other place where the Prime Minister accused the ABC again of misrepresenting him and quoting him out of context. That is something that he has done consistently over quite a period of time. Politicians from time to time make those assertions but none of them have gone to the extent that the current Prime Minister has in his battle, his private war, with the ABC.

It was announced earlier in the year, long before the budget came out, that the ABC would receive cuts to the tune of $11 million and further cuts this financial year to the tune of $55 million—a gutting of the ABC. Over four years, that is going to amount to a total of $209 million, which no organisation, no matter how well it is run, can sustain in the short term without some dramatic changes to the services it is providing to the public. We are seeing already those services being cut back. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. It is going to happen more and more. Possibly even those services that are near and dear to the Deputy Prime Minister, the services that he was so underwhelmed with in yesterday's television program, might too be the target, the victim, of the cutbacks.

Also, very importantly, once these cuts that have been announced are in place and are hurting and depriving Australians of many services that the ABC was previously offering, there is a very comprehensive inquiry into the ABC, chaired by Mr Mansfield. That inquiry has so far attracted about 11,000 submissions. It was open for people to put forward their views only for a short period of time. As we all know in this place, people are very reluctant to put paint to paper, to put their views forward—

Senator Alston —You have 11,000, but the shadow minister could not.

Senator McKIERNAN —What was that?

Senator Alston —Eleven thousand managed to get their submissions in, but poor old Senator Schacht could not.

Senator McKIERNAN —Senator Schacht will get his submission in. Eleven thousand members of the community have got their submission in.

Senator Panizza —Have you put yours in?

Senator McKIERNAN —I will be interested to see what you have got to say, Senator Panizza, on behalf of our constituents back in Western Australia.

Senator Panizza —I have. I am next on his list, mate.

Senator McKIERNAN —Our constituents back in Western Australia are already suffering because of the cuts that your government has imposed on them. I will tell them that you ought to give me the opportunity of putting my views to the parliament.

Even the new chairman of the ABC—although, as we have been told in the weekend press, he is a very dear friend of the Prime Minister—has gone to the length of expressing his personal concerns about the fact that the cuts happened before the inquiry was announced. The cuts were imposed before the inquiry was established, before the chairman of the inquiry had an opportunity of taking evidence from people right around Australia on what the ABC ought to be about. Mr Donald Macdonald went on record in a public seminar last week—a seminar, incidentally, about free speech. Can you have free speech if your funding arrangements are going to be so tied up in the way this present government, on its ideological binge against the ABC, is tying them up and is attempting to decimate the organisation? The remote states, which Senator Panizza, Senator Knowles, my colleague Senator Bishop and I represent, are already suffering as a result of this.