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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview, 1 November 2000: ABC and SBS.

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Doorstop Interview

Stephen Smith - Shadow Minister for Communications

Subjects: ABC and SBS

Transcript - Parliament House, Canberra - 1 November 2000

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E & OE - Proof Only

SMITH: For the fourth time this week Senator Alston, the Minister for Communications has refused to rule out the partial or the full privatisation or the break up of the ABC. So, for the fourth time this week, Senator Alston refuses to rule out the partial privatisation, the full privatisation or the break up of the ABC.

On Sunday, on the Sunday program, when it was put to him, he said it was something that the Government would consider. In Senate Question Time, twice on Monday, he refused to rule out the break-up of the ABC. And today in Senate Question Time he's refused to rule out the partial privatisation of the ABC and, in particular, he's refused to rule out the selling off of Triple J, a suggestion made overnight by a former Howard Minister.

This is a Government that would rather flog off the ABC than fund it.

JOURNALIST: How much extra funding will Labor pledge here, now for the ABC?

SMITH: What I've said consistently is that there are two things that need to occur before that express commitment is made. Firstly, I'll be very interested to see what the Board decides in December when Mr Shier puts his proposals to it. That will give an appropriate consideration, or enable an appropriate consideration of what the ballpark figure might be. That's the first point. Secondly, we're 12 months away from an election. We will of course make our detailed financial undertakings in the run-up to that. And under this Government, under the financial and political pressure this Government is putting the ABC under, who knows what state the ABC will be in in 12 months time.

JOURNALIST: Are you happy with the plans that Mr Shier outlined to you this week for the ABC? His vision of the ABC?

SMITH: I had a private meeting with Mr Shier. I'm not proposing to go into the detail of that. But I think it's pretty clear that most of the things that were discussed in the course of his rounds of conversations this week are on the public record. He's indicated some general areas of priority or concern so far as he's concerned. I'm content to wait until the Board makes its detailed decisions in December before commenting on detail. But certainly, in terms of a general proposition that we'd like to see the ABC bring a greater focus to education matters, that's something, of course, that in general terms we support. The detail will follow.

JOURNALIST: …and in the past, but again today, that he doesn't have a problem with some of the institutions in our society funding some elements of ABC production.

SMITH: I think the primary obligation and responsibility is with the national Parliament and the national Government. That's the primary obligation and responsibility. As soon as you go outside that, you, of course, rub up against he notion of independence of the ABC. There's much less of a concern, of course, if you're dealing with State governments or Commonwealth instrumentalities. And so far as State government funding is concerned, if it's for the area of education, that is something that would, in general terms, not cause any great difficulty, provided the appropriate independence mechanisms were in place. If it was, for example, the CSIRO for scientific purposes, again, not something that in principle causes me great difficulty. Of course, the difficulty comes when you have, as we did on the proposed On-line arrangement, which the Board subsequently declined to proceed with, a commercial organisation or an organisation with some commercial aspects to it, then that's entirely different. The primary funding responsibility is with the national Parliament, the national Government and that's the primary responsibility that this Government has failed to adequately provide for.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the ABC needs to lift its ratings?

SMITH: I think that the ABC needs to act consistently with the Act and the Charter. And the Act and the Charter make it expressly clear that the ABC needs to provide a range of programs, some of which are specialist and of particular interest, and some of which are general. So, there's always a mix for the ABC. But, as I've made the point previously, ratings by itself is not something that you want driving the ABC. And I don't get the impression that the Board has a view other than that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shier has said that at some stage there needs to be a debate about whether there is a role for a separate ABC and SBS or whether the two broadcasters should be merged to rationalise costs and maybe maximise the amount of spectrum available. Do you believe that a merged SBS/ABC could be….

SMITH: No, I support, and the Party supports, the current arrangements. We support the independent national broadcaster, the ABC and the specialist broadcaster, SBS. So, I support and am content with the current arrangements.


Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.