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Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Page: 809

Senator McGRATH (QueenslandDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (13:14): What do you call a quiet Australian at the ABC? Lonely—very lonely. I wanted to open with a joke, because I read one on Monday. The joke went like this: the ABC, funded by taxpayers, runs out of money this year and every year—no matter how much and no matter how little—so they keep asking for more. It isn't particularly funny, is it? That's because it is no laughing matter. The ABC has a spending problem, not a revenue one. Actually, perhaps it has both. After all, it is funded by the taxpayers.

But, before I turn to ways the ABC could reduce spending and increase revenue, I want to briefly reflect on its role during the recent weather events. I acknowledge the role of the ABC over this period. This is what the ABC should do: report and provide factual information about events such as national disasters, with journalistic independence. The ABC exists to broadcast across the nation, including—probably especially—in rural and regional areas. That's why it's called the national broadcaster. But too many people I know no longer see the ABC as the national broadcaster. They see it as the un-Australian broadcaster.

Instead of the ABC continuing its good work, the ABC has already changed its focus from journalism to lobbying. It's a joke, and no-one is laughing. So I have some free advice for the Chair of the ABC, Ms Buttrose, and I won't even charge Ms Buttrose and the ABC for it. I won't even charge them and then try to charge them some more because I didn't think I'd charged them enough already. Ms Buttrose, it's been briefed out that you're going to meet the Prime Minister. Before you meet with the Prime Minister, before you put the cart before the horse, you should look at ways to reduce spending and increase revenue. You could look at the ways the ABC could live within its means and perhaps adopt my three-point plan to save the ABC—to save the ABC from itself.

First, you could tell the Prime Minister you would like a wide-ranging independent review of the ABC, including of its charter and act. The last time there was a serious review of the charter and the act was before the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, like President Reagan standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate saying to the East Germans and the Soviets, 'Tear down this wall,' Ms Buttrose, I would like you to say to the Prime Minister: 'Review this charter. Please have this charter reviewed.' You should tell the Prime Minister you would like to look at new ways of funding the ABC to lessen the burden on taxpayers, because you are funded by the taxpayers of Australia. You already have ABC ads on the ABC. Why can't you have commercial ads on the ABC as a way of funding the national broadcaster?

Secondly, you could look at reducing the ABC's property portfolio, something I have previously spoken about in this chamber. The ABC's headquarters in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are valued at around half a billion dollars. It's half a billion dollars for three offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. They account for 81 per cent of the entire ABC property portfolio. Sell them off. Move the ABC to the suburbs or the regions. Get it out of the inner city. The BBC shifted a lot of its operations from London to Salford, near Manchester, so there is a precedent that has been set. Answers to questions asked by me in estimates confirmed that, funnily enough, the ABC property portfolio is already under review and staff at the ABC were notified of this review back in October 2019. There hasn't been a word or a whisper since. Perhaps the ABC are still coming to terms with the fact that they're a national broadcaster and not a property developer.

Ms Buttrose, the third point of my plan to reform the ABC is that you could advise the Prime Minister that all appointments at the ABC should be open and transparent. If you have time, perhaps you could discuss with the Prime Minister how the ABC might be able to reduce its $20 million travel budget.

These are just a few ideas. They aren't radical, they aren't unachievable; they're actually very reasonable and very achievable. The ABC must show how it can manage its existing budget before asking for a bigger one. Remember: its existing budget is over $1.1 billion—$1.1 billion of taxpayers' money. The ABC needs to be better, must be better, because if it isn't it will no longer be taken seriously; it will become nothing more than a joke, and Australians won't be amused.