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Smith welcomes ABC's new regional services.

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Stephen Smith - Smith Welcomes ABC's New Regional Services Thursday, 09 August 2001

Smith Welcomes ABC's New Regional Services Stephen Smith - Shadow Minister for Communications

Media Statement - 8 August 2001

Shadow Communications Minister Stephen Smith today warmly welcomed the announcement today of the ABC's new regional services.

The ABC has announced that it will launch two new regional radio stations and recruit 50 more program makers at 32 stations, producing more than 10,000 hours of additional local programming.

"These new services reinforce the ABC's role as our national broadcaster," Mr Smith said. "In particular, the new services underline the critical importance played by the ABC in rural and regional Australia.

The new services follow yet another back-flip in this year's Budget, which saw a $17.8 million partial restoration of the 1996 and 1997 Howard-Anderson Government's $66 million cuts to the ABC.

"This additional funding was not provided because of any love for the ABC by the Howard-Anderson Government. In the past, both the Prime Minister and Communications Minister Richard Alston had consistently denied that the ABC was under-funded and had vehemently ruled out revisiting the ABC triennial funding arrangements.

"Rather, this funding decision was made in the context of a pre-election Budget, designed to bolster National Party and regional and rural Liberal MP's chances against a rising political tide. Were the Government not desperate to save its own political skin, the ABC would not have received this funding," Mr Smith said.

"While welcome, the funding only provides a limited back fill. It goes nowhere near making up for the $66 million the Government slashed from the ABC's Budget in 1996 and 1997 nor is it an effective response to the ABC's $40 million December 2000 urgent funding submission.

"The ABC's $40 million December 2000 urgent funding request sought funding for a range of education, families and business content that was specifically ignored by the Government because it did not suit the Government's political purposes.

"The Government's priorities can be seen from the fact that it is spending more on its government advertising campaign every month than it has given to the ABC for new services for a full year.

"Finally, while the additional regional services are welcome, they will not resolve other problems caused by the Howard-Anderson Government's 1996 and 1997 $66 million cut to the ABC," Mr Smith said.

"For example, the ABC's TV production capacity has not recovered since the Howard Government's cuts were first instituted in 1996. As a result, the ABC has had as little 440 hours of first run television in its inventory.

"In another recently announced back-flip, the Howard Government signed yesterday a $15 million a year contract to restore Australia Television, now to be known as ABC Asia-Pacific, to the ABC.

"At the coming federal election, Australians will have a clear choice: between a Howard-Anderson Government that is now trying to save its political skin but which has put the ABC under five years of financial and political pressure and a Beazley Labor Government that will ensure Australians have an adequately resourced, genuinely independent and truly national public broadcaster," Mr Smith concluded. Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.

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