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Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Page: 1596


Senator McGRATH (QueenslandDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (19:44): If you follow British politics, you may have seen that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is looking to reform the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC. One option being considered is to scrap the BBC licence and replace it with a Netflix-style subscription model. A survey last week found that more than half of the respondents agreed with abolishing the licence. Sixty-three per cent agreed that the BBC was an important part of British culture, but half no longer believed it represented value for money. Ouch!

In many ways it is reminiscent of the issues we face here in Australia with the ABC. I'm a friend of the ABC, and I want to reform the ABC to save it from itself. I have a three-point plan to do so. There should be a wide-ranging, independent review of the ABC Act, including its charter. Commercial ads should be put on the ABC to help fund it. Secondly, the ABC's headquarters in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne should be sold and those staff moved to the suburbs or the regions. Thirdly, let's open up the ABC by advertising all positions externally with an independent selection panel. I think the ABC would do a lot of good by adopting this plan, because I'm a friend of the ABC.

But we can always do more, and the ABC should always try to do more. So last week I took to Facebook in search of what other ideas there may be out there. I said that whoever had the best idea would get a Boris tea towel, provided they posted their ideas by the start of last Sunday's Insiders program—not that anyone needed encouragement! The winner of that poll was Maclane Schloss, who called for all ABC spending to be published online in real time, with the cost of each show to be detailed in the credits. Brilliant! This would mean that at the end of a 15-minute episode of Media Watch you'd be able to see how many staff were employed to make it, how much Paul Barry was paid in salary and anything else that taxpayers' money paid for. So I put the challenge out to you, Paul: how about it? Why don't you be a bit of a pioneer in this and show the rest of the ABC? Or are you all talk? It is every taxpayer's right to know what the ABC spends and when and where it spends it.

I'd like to mention some of the other ideas. For example, Noel Hawes backed Boris's idea and suggested the ABC could become a subscription service. Nicholaj Buichovski was of a similar view. He said it would make the ABC more accountable to taxpayers. Tania Berman called for the ABC's headquarters to move to the suburbs or regional areas. Good on you, Tania. Robert Richards wanted the ABC to focus solely on news, chucking out the commentary. Jim Fazl said that the ABC needed proper targets and KPIs like in the real world. It's easy to forget targets and budget constraints when it's not your own money, isn't it, ABC? Gerry Ball pointed out that many of the commentators have no idea. If you haven't lived in a coal community and you haven't worked in a coalmine, what would you know about working in a coalmine or living in a coal community?

Like Tania, Daniel Thomas wants the head office moved to Orange in New South Wales. Christopher Mullins liked the idea of an Australian news channel instead of a broadcaster with its fingers in many pies. Janet Jones wanted the ABC to tell the truth and remove the politics—that's a big ask, Janet! Marie McMullen said the ABC should ditch the commentary. Christina Faulk backed the integration of ABC News with Radio National, reducing it to one program. She said Ultimo should move to Parramatta, Campbelltown or Goulburn. Brilliant! Chris Lehmann wanted more conservative guests on Q+A, with Chris Kenny to be the first cab off the rank. Michael Heyne and Brodie Thompson proposed that the ABC should be split into two stations, metro and regional. Michael said the metro station should be closed down and assets sold, keeping the regional stations.

Many of the participants wanted the ABC to be sold altogether. Sadly, for the ABC this is increasingly the view of many quiet Australians, who are sick and tired of the bias and blabbering that comes from their so-called national broadcaster. I don't want the ABC to be sold. I want it to be better. But we do need to reform it, and these are some of the ways it can happen. The ABC needs to be reformed to save it from itself.