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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3110


Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (17:16): I think it's incredibly unfortunate that here we are debating and discussing the public broadcaster. Those across from me have every opportunity to question the broadcaster at every Senate estimates where it is made to be accountable in terms of its spending, its coverage and its employee and staff numbers right across the country. Senators get up in here and speak so disparagingly about those who work in the ABC when this parliament, and this Senate in particular, is able to make the ABC accountable through the Senate estimates process, as it does with the SBS. These public broadcasters are accountable not only to the parliament but to the public.

For the debate in this house to refer to complete bias is totally unfair and reprehensible, given the intensive work of journalists and broadcasters across Australia in the ABC and the SBS. How do I know this? I know because I have worked there. I saw firsthand in the 16 years I was with the ABC and the four years I was with the SBS the lengths to which staff in both those organisations go to represent to the best of their ability the stories across each state and territory jurisdiction and internationally.

The problem here is that those opposite in the Turnbull government cannot leave the ABC alone. The problem here is that those opposite harass and intimidate. They raise unfair expectations when they pull the funding rug from under both of these broadcasters. We've seen that, since 2014, ABC funding has been cut by $366 million and 800 staff have gone. The expectations of the Turnbull government, the constant harassment and the criticism are compounded and completely unjust.

A motion was put forward by members of the Liberal Party wanting the complete privatisation of the ABC. What you do speaks more than what you say. On the one hand you are here in this debate saying: 'No, don't look here. There's nothing to see.' Yet, on the other hand, you are withdrawing funds at an enormous rate and having high expectations that are completely unjust. You are squeezing it so much.

In fact, you say you don't want to privatise, but what you're actually doing is dismantling the ABC. What you are actually doing is pulling it apart piece by piece. What you're doing speaks louder than what you're saying in here today. Not only are you removing the funding over successive years—this year $83.7 million in your budget is being removed from the ABC—but on top of that you've launched two damaging public broadcasting inquiries and you still have three bills before parliament that are meddling with the ABC's charter. How can the organisation—how can the public broadcaster—continue its day-to-day job when this government is constantly pulling it apart?

There is one complaint a month by the Minister for Communications, and that's probably being very generous. We only have to look at the fact that you've enabled and carried out the removal of the shortwave service across Australia. You argue on that side of the house that that was the ABC's decision, but we know for a fact that your removal of $366 million now as well as a further $83.7 million leaves no room for decision-making other than to cut programs—programs like shortwave that are so valuable. We see that the remote regions of this country are impacted dramatically where there isn't the mobile coverage that people so expect to receive—'Oh, just go to your mobile phone. You can download an app.' What about those cattle stations, those communities, the ranger programs out there and the fishing industry, who needed so much and still do need the shortwave service where there is no access to mobile coverage, where they can't just download an app that says, 'Here, tune in to this ABC program here or tune in to that ABC program over there'? You are enabling the dismantling of the ABC. You can stand here all you like and say you're not going to privatise, but you're already doing it by dismantling the ABC.

One of the other successful areas of what both public broadcasters do is developing Indigenous content and increasing Indigenous employment. The ABC in 1987 was one of the first media organisations in this country to establish an Indigenous department, which evolved from the Indigenous Programs Unit. It's a centre of excellence for the production of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander television and the development of Indigenous filmmakers in this country. One of the first programs produced was a show called Blackout, a magazine-style program that combined covering current affairs issues, Aboriginal events, comedy segments and musical performances. It was followed by a series of successive programs, including Songlines and the long-running documentary series Message Stick. It's developed the skills of many well-known and talented Indigenous filmmakers.

The ABC also focuses on landmark quality Indigenous drama and documentaries: Redfern Now, Black Comedy, Cleverman and Mystery Road. Put your hand up if you don't know any of those programs. They are important, valuable programs. Again, if we want to value the employment of First Nations people in this country, let's make sure that organisations like the public broadcasters—the ABC and SBS with NITV—continue the tremendous amount of work that goes into employing First Australians across the country.

The role played by SBS in support of NITV, where Indigenous stories are told by Indigenous people—not just for Indigenous audiences but for all audiences in this country—helps bring about a better understanding between black and white Australians. It is those programs that you are dismantling. It is those programs that you are refusing to support. Selling and suffocating all of these things is this government's approach to our ABC. It's an absolute disgrace. It is a disservice. And Australians want to see how all of this can improve. Don't dismantle the ABC. Certainly don't privatise it. What you're doing can tell us only one thing: that it's in the DNA of the coalition government to squash the voice of our public broadcasters, to squeeze it so much, to pressure it, to intimidate and keep saying, 'Look, there's nothing to see; we support the ABC.' Yet your actions speak very, very differently.