House debates

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Matters of Public Importance

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

3:14 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government cutting $83 million from the ABC.

I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

A cut in funding to the ABC may not determine the outcome of the next election, but it does determine the sort of country we are and the sort of direction this nation is taking. This government has neither an agenda nor any real authority, but it does do good vendetta. It speaks every day against the unions or against better conditions for workers. It speaks against properly funding our schools, our hospitals, our TAFEs and our universities. But it also, in the last budget, has cut the national broadcaster and the capacity of the national broadcaster to fulfil its charter.

In the budget barely two weeks ago, $83.7 million was cut from the ABC in the form of an indexation freeze over the next three years. This cut is on top of the $254 million cut in 2014 and another $28 million in 2016. I think many Australians, as they listen to the parliamentary debate, have noticed this notorious cut to the ABC but wondered why on earth there is not more debate about it. So today my colleagues and I speak up to defend the ABC and to defend a deeper principle—the fundamental principle of Australia possessing a quality, well-funded, independent public broadcaster. Labor stand up for the ABC and the coalition attack it—and do they complain about the ABC. I have the latest example.

On 6 May this year, ABC News ran a story analysing the government's innovation agenda. On the next day, which happened to be the day before the budget, when you'd think the Prime Minister might have had something more to do with his time, he sent through a list of 11 complaints about the story. He couldn't even cut it down to a modest 10. You could just imagine it. The first thing Monday morning, poor old PMO staff are called into His Lordship's office and told: 'Take a letter to the ABC: Dear Sir,/Madam, here are 11 things wrong with last night's segment. Signed, Bitterly Disappointed, Point Piper.' And how many of his complaints prompted a correction? Was it 11? No. Was it 10? No. Was it five? No. It was just one. Did the Prime Minister, then, having scored a manifest victory to get one correction off the ABC, leave it there, flush with the glow of another success of the Turnbull government? Not at all! He rang up Senator Fifield and he said, 'Lodge a separate complaint.'

When it comes to the ABC, Senator Fifield is something of a vexatious litigant—the sort of chap who would take you to court for putting your recycling in his bin on bin night. This year he is averaging one complaint a month. In January he complained about Triple J moving the date of the Hottest 100 in response to a voluntary national survey. How dare they! He then complained about an Emma Alberici article on corporate tax. He complained about a Tonightly sketch insulting John Batman. He complained, because nothing escapes his stellar gaze, of a sketch on black comedy on the ABC Indigenous Facebook page. Then, of course, it was Emma Alberici again, and the Prime Minister's blockbuster, 'Eleven Things I Hate About The ABC'. I have to say, we do question his priorities as Minister for Communications, but you can't fault his commitment to letter writing and keeping Australia Post in business.

To the best of anyone's knowledge, the last time a communications minister referred a complaint about the ABC to the regulator was in 2003, when Senator Richard Alston complained about their coverage of the weapons of mass destruction in the Iraq war. I do say though, more seriously, if Senator Fifield wants to talk about complaints, why don't you focus on the 204 per cent increase in complaints on the NBN? These complaints though, as amusing as they are, are not just a harmless obsession; they come with real consequences. Cuts to the ABC have become a fact of life under conservative governments: the efficiency reviews, the faux competitive neutrality inquiries, the deals with One Nation to change the charter. The poor old National Party, once upon a time, under Minister Nixon, knew enough about the bush to understand that you had to back the ABC, but that doesn't even happen anymore.

To be fair, in the past the Liberals under Howard or under Fraser would at least offer a reason to cut back the ABC, but now they don't even bother. It has become an accepted part of the conservative political landscape in Australia to be into reducing and bashing the ABC. There is no doubt that the ABC in the last 20 years has been harmed by the ironically named 'culture wars' led by the right wing in Australian politics, but when you look at any genuinely independent survey, despite all the commercial and ideological attacks, the ABC still retains a level of credibility and trust unmatched by any other media organisation and indeed most institutions in Australian life. This is what the out-of-touch Prime Minister always gets wrong. He wanted to protect the banks from the scrutiny of a royal commission, and stubbornly refuses to support a national integrity commission, a federal ICAC to restore some faith in our system, but he still finds the time to attack the most trusted institution in our country.

The ABC is part of the fabric of our country. Every week 17 million of our fellow Australians consume some form of ABC content: the cricket and the footy on the radio, the brilliant drama made on shoestring budgets, AM, Radio National, Triple J, Play School, Behind the News, catching up on the latest or revisiting an old favourite on iView. The ABC is company on the long drives in the bush, and calm and comfort for older Australians in the late evenings. Our nation has grown up with the ABC. The first radio and TV services heard in the bush were courtesy of the ABC. In the Second World War, Australians learnt that we were at war listening to Prime Minister Menzies on the ABC. For many Australians the great news of VE Day, celebrated in Martin Place, was broadcast on the ABC. We have all grown up with the ABC. I remember as a child knowing that when you could hear that majestic fanfare theme song of the news coming on, it was time to start to preparing for bed. Even if we don't always listen to the ABC, at different times in the cycle of life's patterns we come back to it. It has a far greater responsibility to cover in our far-flung nation, urban and regional, than any other media organisation, and it does cost money.

I am deeply concerned that this government is perpetuating a malaise and a disillusionment within the ABC about the future of the ABC. It is fundamental to the health of our democracy. I acknowledge the importance of commercial media operations, the commercial mastheads of print and the role of active journalism in our daily lives, but nothing can replace the central role in our democracy of an independent, not-for-profit, well-funded public broadcaster. Any politician who says that they've never been frustrated with the ABC has never been in politics, but if you can't put the personal aside and put the nation's interest first then you shouldn't be in politics. I believe in the ABC's role in our democracy. In the words of the first ABC TV news broadcast 71 years ago:

This is the news that you don't have to fetch and carry. … The view you can get without having to go to your window.

The Labor opposition with me as leader will defend the independence of the ABC, and a Labor government with me as Prime Minister will defend the independence of the ABC. We've always ensured the ABC has the resources and freedom to do its job. We start by saying loud and clear to this government: this $83 million cut should not go ahead. When it comes to the next election, the Australian people will have a very clear choice. They can vote for the conservatives and the continued diminution of the ABC. If at the next election the ABC is viewed by the conservatives just through the prism of some sort of free-market obsession, I promise you, Government: you do not understand how Australians think. The ABC is an 85-year-old institution. It's a friend that Australians can count on through good times and in bad times. We say to all of those Australians who care about the ABC, who hold the ABC as an important and valuable part of their lives and our society: the Labor Party will stand alongside the ABC, win this argument and stop these cuts.

3:24 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I feel I've just been caught in a bad episode of Seinfeld where the opposition leader has become the George Costanza of parliament—that episode of Seinfeld where George says to Jerry: 'Jerry, just remember. It's not a lie if you believe it.' I really think the Leader of the Opposition is starting to believe his own lies. Seriously, the opposition leader is really starting to believe Labor's lies. If they say it enough, if Labor lie enough, they think that actually people start believing them. He thinks if he keeps repeating this claim of a cut when there is no cut whatsoever—

Ms Plibersek interjecting

I welcome the deputy opposition leader's interjection as well, because the ABC will receive more than $1 billion per year in this budget. There is no cut in this budget. She knows it, and the Leader of the Opposition knows it as well. The only thing that lets down Labor's lies in relation to the ABC, Labor's lies in relation to Medicare, Labor's lies in relation to health funding and Labor's lies in relation to education funding is the facts. The facts are very difficult for Labor to dispute, because education funding goes up year on year and health funding goes up year on year.

The ABC has not had a funding cut—that's a fact. The ABC has greater funding certainty than any other media organisation in the nation, and that's a fact. The ABC will receive $3.2 billion in base funding from taxpayers—remember, it's taxpayers' money. So the ABC will receive $3.2 billion in taxpayers' money for its base funding from 2019-20 to 2021-22. That's a fact as well. The ABC will have a pause in indexation—that's a fact—and that pause doesn't apply until 2019, which gives the ABC executive more than 12 months to plan for that circumstance. This government has taken a responsible approach to fixing the mess left behind by the Labor Party. We have an economic plan which is focused on delivering jobs, on record infrastructure expenditure right around the nation and on making sure we can guarantee the critical services that Australians want.

There are a couple of points that the Leader of the Opposition made that I agree with. The ABC does play a very important role in our nation: in our cities, in our regional centres, and in our small rural country towns and remote areas. I notice some regional members here, including the member for Dawson. The ABC is a critical part of our regional communities in times of emergency. In the member for Dawson's own electorate, they rely very heavily in times of cyclones or floods on the emergency broadcaster, on the ABC. In my own electorate of Gippsland during times of fires and floods, we've received emergency warnings through the ABC, which is a critical part of keeping my community safe.

I'm pleased to see that there have been increases in regional services in recent times. As a member based in a regional electorate, I've been critical of the ABC in the past for being too metro-centric. Too much of its focus has been on Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane when there are great stories and great personalities in our regional areas which deserve to be heard. The voices of regional areas deserve to be heard. The ABC, as recently as March last year, announced its biggest ever single investment in regional and remote Australia, during this government's term in office. This is the press release from the ABC itself on 7 March 2017, 'Building the ABC’s services in regional and remote Australia':

Up to 80 new jobs, delivering regional news and information, will be recruited within 18 months as part of a broader content fund announced by the ABC's Managing Director … "We want to ensure that the stories, issues and interests of the one-third of Australians who live outside the capital cities are well-represented across the gamut of ABC services and have a stronger voice in national conversations," she said.

'Hear, hear,' I say to the ABC. Investing in regional services in the member for Dawson's electorate, the member for Durack's electorate and the member for Page's electorate is what the ABC should be doing, making sure more regional voices can be heard. That's occurred under this government. Those opposite might want to reinvent their stories, but that's happened under this government. The ABC itself, according to its own press release, is investing in regional communities. More than a billion dollars a year of taxpayers' money is going to the ABC. So the facts simply don't match the rhetoric of the Leader of the Opposition. We're seeing greater investment in video and digital recording and increased coverage of local events and breaking news on weekends, and the ABC itself says:

The new jobs will … enable reporters and program makers to spend more time in remote areas of the country.

Surely the member for Lingiari would appreciate that.

Under this government and investment by the ABC:

The new jobs will boost video and digital reporting, increase coverage of local events and breaking news on weekends and enable reporters and program makers to spend more time in remote areas of the country.

Surely, the member for Lingiari supports that, under this government? Surely you support that, member for Lingiari?

The ABC's commitment to regional Australia is something that we all respect on this side of the House. I'm surprised that the member for Lingiari isn't cheering me on in that regard. There are great stories, there are great personalities and there are regional voices which need to be heard, and under that investment by the ABC announced during this term of government we're seeing more investment in our regional communities.

The ABC does have obligations; it has obligations to all Australians. And I think that all members on this side of the House would agree with those obligations. There are obligations to be fair and balanced, and to be accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

I tuned out!

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, yes, member for Wakefield—I'm here for a bit longer! We'll talk about our new arrangements later on. I'm glad the member for Wakefield has woken up again! It's important, though, that he listens a little bit and perhaps learns a fraction more about the importance of the ABC in our regional communities and the extra investment we've seen by the ABC—perhaps the fact that his own leader would like to claim that there have been cuts when there have been no cuts may come to his attention. More than a billion dollars a year is going to the ABC under the current funding agreement.

I would have to say that in terms of accurate and impartial reporting according to recognised standards of objective journalism, the ABC largely meets those standards in our regional communities. I would say that in our regional communities they do meet that standard. I have the opportunity to spend a lot of time being interviewed by members of the ABC, whether it be in their current affairs programs or in their news programs, and I have to say that the journalists I've dealt with in those regional communities largely meet that standard. I would have to say as well that in this place, within the gallery, the vast majority of ABC journalists meet that standard as well.

The ABC's content extends beyond news and current affairs. During the term of the coalition government we have seen the investment in important regional programs like Back Roads. I'm sure the member for Wakefield is a fan of Back Roads. Probably not quite as big a fan of Back Roads as I am—

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

You were in cabinet once, weren't you?

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad the member for Wakefield is endorsing me in that regard! We all like Back Roads. The investment in Back Roads actually occurred during this coalition government. If the ABC has been so badly impacted by the coalition government it's hard to believe that they have the money to invest in great programs like Back Roads. It's a program that is beautifully shot and shows many aspects of regional life, but it also provides a more positive view of regional Australia.

It's something that I think the media and regional Australia deserve—some more positive stories about our communities. The vast majority of metropolitan journalists seem only to come to regional areas when there are issues of fire, flood and pestilence, but there are actually so many great stories to be told about regional Australia, and the ABC tells them. It tells them on a weekly basis through programs like Back Roads. And, with more than a billion dollars of taxpayers' funding, I'm glad they're spending some of that in telling those stories in regional areas.

So we're proud of some of the improvements we've seen in the ABC under the Turnbull-McCormack government. The Turnbull-McCormack government has seen significant improvements to the ABC.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

That's a mouthful!

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm appreciating the free advice from those opposite! The encouragement is something that I greatly appreciate!

In the context of today's debate, let's just simply reflect on the facts. There is $3.2 billion of base funding for the ABC. The ABC has 12 months to plan for the pause of indexation. There is no cut to ABC funding and there's no reason for any cuts in ABC services. It is actually insulting for those opposite—and for some within the ABC—to be out there scaring viewers and scaring listeners, suggesting that there is going to be a reduction in content. The ABC can continue to provide quality journalism, quality current affairs and quality programs like Back Roads for all Australians, because it's receiving more than $1 billion a year of Australian taxpayers' money.

The Australian government is providing an economic plan for the future where we have to secure the jobs for our nation's future, invest in critical infrastructure and make sure that essential services are still provided. The ABC will receive more than a billion dollars per year to continue its service to the Australian people.

3:34 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

The previous speaker, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, is a country member, and he knows how very important the ABC is in country areas. He should know better than to come in here and justify and defend $83.7 million of cuts to the ABC, because it's regional communities that are particularly hard hit by these cuts.

The Leader of the Opposition was being a little bit nostalgic about the wonders of the ABC, and it caused me to be a little bit nostalgic as well. I was remembering my childhood, watching Countdown, watching Doctor Who, watching The Goodies. I remember my dad would come home from work and he'd be there in his overalls; he'd sit down in his chair, exhausted, to watch the ABC news, and I'd climb onto his lap, and I'd fall asleep, safe in my father's arms, listening to the ABC news music come up at the beginning of the program.

So there's a lot of nostalgia for a lot of us over here, I think, when we think about the ABC—and no more nostalgic memory than that of leather-jacket-wearing Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A! Do you remember the days when Malcolm Turnbull actually believed in the ABC and said he'd support and defend the ABC, back in the good old days when we thought Malcolm Turnbull had a spine, had some principles, had some guts, and was committed to having a public broadcaster that held the government, and the opposition, to account? Well, gone are those days.

The now Prime Minister, when he was communications minister, cut $254 million over five years, in that horror 2014 budget, then cut a further $28 million from the enhanced news-gathering service that Labor had set up in 2016. Now we see a further $83.7 million cut in this most recent budget, under the stewardship of the Prime Minister, who, once upon a time, used to be a defender of the ABC.

What are the effects of these cuts? Since 2014, we've seen about a thousand ABC staff lose their jobs. The Australia Network—such an important and powerful projection of Australian soft power; such an important projection about Australian democratic values and our way of life into our region—has been cut. Short-wave radio—as the member for Lingiari was pointing out—has been cut. The number of hours of ABC factual programming has dropped by 60 per cent, and drama by 20 per cent. Documentaries have dropped by 13.5 per cent. Managing Director of the ABC Michelle Guthrie has said that the budget cuts just announced will mean more job losses, diminished content and reduced services.

How can it be that the once-upon-a-time leather-jacket-wearing Malcolm Turnbull, member for Wentworth, would put up with this? The only possible explanation for this change of heart is that this Prime Minister knows that the biggest threat to his Prime Ministership is a news organisation that does its job and holds this government to account. That's why we've seen the pattern of frequent complaints from this government to the ABC, with the Prime Minister, in particular, complaining about reporting on the big business tax cuts—the big business tax cuts that only the government and the Business Council of Australia, whose own members will stand to benefit most from the tax cuts, think are a good idea! Everybody else has picked the lie of trickle-down economics that this government is trying to peddle when it comes to those tax cuts.

But it's not just the tax cuts. We've had complaints about the Hottest 100 being moved. We've had the tax cut complaints in February. In March, there was the Tonightly show comedy sketch complaint. In April, another comedy sketch copped it—Black Comedy, broadcast on Facebook—and in May it was poor old Emma Alberici again. This government is doing what governments around the world try to do when they are seeking to shut down scrutiny of their own decision-making, which is: undermine the most trusted news organisation in Australia.

I've got to say I don't always like what the ABC says about me. I'm not always happy with the way they report about me or my ideas or the proposals I'm putting forward. I tell you what I'm always happy about. What I'm always happy about is having a news organisation in this country that will speak truth to power—that will stand up against the bullying. And the reason this government is cutting it, again, is because they don't want that. They don't want democracy and they don't want debate.

3:39 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, we do have a list of vexatious litigants in the vein that the Leader of the Opposition was talking about. There are members of this House, I'm happy to report, who are very concerned about the accuracy and the bias in the ABC. There are a number of members in this House, and I want to go to them. I have a list of them, as provided in Senate estimates. The member for Ballarat, on 3 April 2017, was concerned about a constituent and the accuracy of an article that was provided by the ABC about The Doctor Blake Mysteries. Senator Kim Carr, a member of the other chamber, complained about an inaccurate article about the weather—weather graphics. If we're speaking of vexatious litigants, I have three complaints from the member for Lyons about bias at the ABC. So if the Leader of the Opposition is looking for vexatious litigants, he could go no further than the member for Lyons, who was not concerned not about a weighty matter of national significance; he was concerned that an article on salmon farming was biased—not a grave political issue of the day, but salmon farming.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

It's actually pretty important to the electorate.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take the member for Wakefield's interjection—yes, it's an important matter for constituents. The second complaint from the member for Lyons—come right in; I'll reel you in like a salmon on the hook!—was the complaint about the quality of spelling in an online news story—spelling!

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

That's also important. Are you saying spelling is not important?

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Spelling is not important? So, all of a sudden, the Labor Party is on a crusade against the ABC. This is your MPI, member for Wakefield.

Mr Champion interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Wakefield!

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

You're saying that the ABC is a model of virtue, but now you're saying that what you should really be worried about with the ABC's billion dollars a year is that they don't spell right. Is that what you're telling us: 'Don't cut any money out of the ABC, but they don't spell good over there in the ABC'?

Mr Champion interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Wakefield is warned.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

That was the second complaint from the member for Lyons, but he wasn't finished.

Ms Swanson interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Paterson is outside her correct seat and will be quiet as well.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lyons was then concerned that a complaint about the elements of an online story about Michaelia Cash was based on supposition rather than journalistic fact. So, when we look at who is complaining—and I haven't gone into all of the Labor Party complaints about bias in the ABC—and who the vexatious litigants are in this House, it is the Labor Party. What you didn't hear from the Leader of the Opposition and what you didn't hear from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was any explanation of why the Labor Party, when they were last in office, protected the ABC from the efficiency dividend that they set for the federal government. They excluded the ABC from the efficiency dividend. They said, 'Only the ABC in the entire federal government is efficient.' Does anyone in this House believe that there are no efficiencies to be found in a billion-dollar organisation? Can any one of you look us in the eye and say that our defence department, which protects our country and serves our nation, should find an efficiency but the ABC should not? 'Yes!' the members opposite say. So our soldiers should be more efficient, but the state funded journalists should not be more efficient. It is a completely nonsensical argument for a well-funded organisation like the ABC.

This government brings to this parliament and to the community the right approach to government—which is that all departments should find efficiencies, where those efficiencies exist; that we should live within our means; and that we should reduce our spending. We set an efficiency dividend for the ABC. We said, 'We're going to pause your indexation,' which is the basis of the claims that the ABC funding is being cut. It's not a real cut, but a pause in indexation. That's what's going on. What does the ABC say to that? Well, no, again, they are a paragon of government virtue: there are no efficiencies to be found within the ABC. Only the ABC. You couldn't find a dollar. You couldn't find a dime. You couldn't make anything better or improved or more efficient or get better value for money.

That is the opposition's approach to government. That is why, when they're in government, they fail—because they are spending your money. They are spending the money of the Australian people. For the Labor Party to come in here—for Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, and for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to come in here—and go all nostalgic on us and say, 'When I was a kid I used to love this organisation, and therefore I'm going to spare them from any efficiency dividends, when our soldiers have to find efficiencies.' is false, is wrong, and the Labor Party have no shame.

3:44 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

To get back to the real world, it is abundantly clear that this government would like us to think that somehow there have been no cuts to the ABC in this budget. They would be the only ones, and they would be denying what is actually in their own MYEFO and on page 79 of budget paper No. 2. But if they wish to deny that these are cuts, we are very happy for them to go out and keep telling the Australian public that there are no cuts to the ABC. Australians know full well that in 2013, just before this government was elected, we had then Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott look down the barrel of a camera, the night before the federal election, and explicitly promise no cuts to the ABC.

And we know that it was the now Prime Minister, when he was communications minister, who presided over a quarter of a billion dollars in cuts in this government's very first budget in 2014. So if those opposite want to deny that this happened, if they want to deny their own MYEFO, if they want to deny that somehow they had their own cuts, then, please, be my guest. Not only are they treating the Australian public like mugs on their policy for the ABC and denying how important the ABC is, they're treating the Australian people like mugs for denying that a pause in indexation is actually a cut. It is actually a cut.

So what are they saying? Are they saying that Michelle Guthrie is wrong? Are they saying that Justin Milne is wrong?

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

They're saying yes! So clearly they know more than those who are running the ABC.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely he says! Clearly they know more.

It does take some gall to deny that there are cuts, but this is really in the same vein as the current communications minister. This budget was about cutting, amongst other things, the ABC. He put out a release on budget night, and the media release was called 'Strengthening Australia's connectivity, creativity and cultural heritage'. So that's how you do it, that's how you strengthen Australia's connectivity, creativity and cultural heritage—by making cuts to the ABC. It's right up there with the media release the NBN put out the day they announced the HFC was being paused. They put out a media release saying, 'Taking the customer experience to new heights, to new levels of customer experience'. But that's okay; we're very happy to acknowledge the Orwellian doublespeak of this government.

The reality is that those cuts do have consequences: the hundreds of staff jobs that have been lost; short-wave radio being shut down; the drop in drama and the drop in documentaries. But, more than anything, the attitude of this government when it comes to the ABC will come back to bite them. They are so out of touch. They think that somehow it's only Labor people, Labor voters, who support the ABC. I can tell them this: this is an issue that goes across demographics, it goes across geography and it goes across political parties. So if this government wants to not only deny that there have been cuts but also justify these cuts to the ABC, then be our guest. The reality is that the ABC is a trusted brand right across Australia. Eighty-three per cent of Australians value their ABC.

And if you want to talk about these cuts, have a look at some of the polling that has been done specifically about these cuts in the budget. The Australia Institute found that 58 per cent oppose cuts to the ABC—58 per cent! Essential polling went through a number of line items. One of them was 'Cutting spending on the ABC'. The total number opposed was 45 per cent. It's not as those these numbers are somehow an aberration; they are real.

I will end on this point: if those opposite somehow think that the Australian people are going to fall for what they have pedalled in terms of saying 'no cuts to the ABC' and carrying on with their lies, they'll find the Australian people won't wear it. This reminds me exactly of the movement, the grassroots movement, when those opposite wanted to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. We had a grassroots movement that stood up to them. We won then, and we'll win again.

3:49 pm

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Apparently today the matter of public importance, the most public issue that this parliament needs to address—

Mr Champion interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's the member for Wakefield's final warning.

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

is a pause in the indexation of the ABC's funding, not a movement towards perhaps a peace treaty on the North Korean Peninsula, President Trump and what's happening with Kim Jong-un, a billion jobs being created, what's happening in Italy and the effect on bond markets, or what's happening in Europe.

Ms Swanson interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Paterson is in the wrong seat and will remain quiet.

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No. None of those issues seems to have resonance today. What has resonance is a pause in an increase of a billion-dollar budget for a national broadcaster.

Ms Swanson interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Paterson will remove herself under 94(a).

The member for Paterson then left the chamber.

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I look at Minister Hawke, who has been here with me for a decade. We were here in the days of real cuts by those opposite. I was here when those opposite cut Defence as a proportion of GDP to 1938 levels. I was here when billions were cut from defence programs, when 40 per cent of all defence acquisitions were scrapped. I was here when those opposite didn't order a single ship for six years—and they want to speak about cuts! Apparently, out of all of that, they could cut our defence force while we were on combat operations in Afghanistan. Those opposite would cut defence spending, but apparently the ABC was sacrosanct. Australians at war were able to have cuts to what they were doing but journalists writing in Australia, out of Ultimo, couldn't. Now, if that's not the height of hypocrisy, I don't know what is.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition would have us believe that this is being done because—and I quote—'We on this side hate democracy.' I am not too sure whether that's hyperbole or stupidity, or both. This is what the matter of public of importance is about: should we pause the indexation of the ABC? Hint to those opposite: I know they have never, ever run a business in their life. They have certainly made large ones small. If you're running a billion-dollar organisation, if you can't find at least five per cent in savings, you aren't even trying. We're talking about a pause of 1.9 per cent, and suddenly it is catastrophic. Suddenly, it is the most important issue which this parliament must devote time to actually debate it. Those opposite would tell us that the ABC is the most trusted media organisation and is beloved like a small child's teddy bear. The problem with the 'beloved' argument peddled by my esteemed colleagues on the opposition benches is that the data does not support you. If I read the latest 2017 annual report, ABC's television metro daytime share has decreased right across the board, except in Perth. ABC's regional daytime share has decreased right across the board and, in some cases, markedly. ABC's metropolitan prime time has decreased right across the board. It's regional prime time share has decreased right across the board. ABC average weekly metropolitan reach has decreased right across the board. ABC television average weekly regional reach has decreased right across the board. In fact, by every single measure in their own report, bar one little bar, which is ABC television metropolitan daytime in Perth, fewer Australians are watching them. Where is the beloved, trusted argument gone? The data calls that hypocrisy.

This government is simply saying to the ABC, as it has said to every other government department and as has been said since time immemorial or at least for the last decade or two, that government can expect an efficiency dividend—that is, a return on investment to the taxpayer—from increased management practice, increased technology and better leadership. That's reasonable. Every corporation on the planet is providing that sort of efficiency dividend—everyone, except the ABC. All the companies in this nation, all of the public sector departments and the public service departments are expected to provide a return to the taxpayer, except, apparently, the ABC. Why don't we just call this out for what it is? It's blatant hypocrisy and it's about time the ABC caught up and acted like every other public organisation.

3:55 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

As a result of the contributions of the last two members of the government, the member for Mitchell and the member for Fadden, we know that at least there's a conflict of views amongst them, because one says there's not a cut and the other says there is a cut. I'm not sure how you balance that up, but the member for Fadden made it very clear that he regarded this as a cut and that we should be grateful for it. We should be grateful that the ABC's had a cut, because after all they're a superefficient organisation who deserve a cut!

Let me make it very clear: I live in a regional part of this country, and we rely absolutely on the services of the ABC. We rely absolutely on a quality, independent, publicly funded broadcaster as committed to by the Leader of the Opposition but not committed to by the government. We know that the leader of the government has said various things on various occasions depending on what his mood was. He said in 2013, 'There is no more committed defender of public broadcasting than me.' Well, what do we say to that? That's a bit of a fib. 'I haven't kept that up.' You could call it a lie if you wanted to: 'The fact is I, as the minister responsible, oversaw cuts of a quarter of a billion dollars out of the ABC budget, but I'm a believer in the ABC. What do you think I'd do if I didn't believe in the ABC?' Here's a bloke who in 2016 oversaw a further $28 million cut in the ABC and this year an $83 million cut out of the ABC.

Where does that impact most? You might think from the schizophrenic behaviour of the government that it doesn't impact anywhere. The fact is it impacts across the country, but most particularly in remote communities. In December of 2016, we saw the ABC make a decision, based on the budget decisions of that year, that they had to find efficiencies in the way in which they were delivering services and cut some services. So what did they do? They thought they got the low-hanging fruit. The low-hanging fruit in this case was to abolish short-wave broadcasts in this country. Who did this directly impact? People who live in remote parts of this country who have no alternative means to get ABC services. The ABC, through its CEO, Ms Guthrie, said, 'We don't think this is required.' The fact is the ABC last consulted with Aboriginal communities who are beneficiaries of this short-wave service in my parts in 2007. That was the last time the ABC went out and talked to any person in regional Australia about these sorts of services, and they made this decision in 2016. It impacted upon travellers in the Northern Territory, pastoralists in the Northern Territory and the transport industry in the Northern Territory. It impacted broadly across the Northern Territory community, yet this government just said, 'Nothing to do with us—it's all about the ABC.' Well, it is to do with you, because you're the people who cut the budget in 2016 by $28 million on top of the $254 million you cut in 2014.

I remember the 2014 budget, because there was not only the $254 million you cut out of the ABC but the half a billion dollars that you cut of services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. I remember that budget only too well. Mr Abbott—fancy!—said prior to the 2013 election, 'No cuts to the ABC.' They cannot be believed. They don't understand. They don't want to know what the desires of ordinary Australians are, because they've got no relationship with them.

We saw the Prime Minister today admit that he's here defending the interests of those people who support him. 'I'll defend those people who I represent,' he said. Well, they're not the people who listen to the ABC. They're not the people in my electorate. They are the people in the top end of town. They're the people he looks after. If you happen to live in Point Piper or anywhere in those parts of Sydney, you're okay with the Prime Minister; he's a good dude. But if you live in my part of the country, or if you live in any part of regional Australia, you've been dealt a great disservice by this Prime Minister, who doesn't know and doesn't care. Not only does he not know or care but his government don't know and they don't care. They've made it very clear time after time. We've seen it in regional Australia—please. Mrs Miller, the Mayor of Katherine, who's a person I know well, didn't deserve to be treated in a misogynistic way by the health minister, yet the Prime Minister defended him.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The assistant minister on a point of order.

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, he should withdraw that reflection on a member.

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't intend to. It is not a reflection. It is a matter of fact—

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The assistant minister will resume his seat. I call the member for Dawson. Is the member for Lingiari going to withdraw the comment?

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the member for Dawson.

4:00 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not surprising we have this MPI, this glorified schoolkids' debate, over the ABC and apparent funding cuts. These guys over there are always dancing with the one that brung-em, and the ABC brung-em. The systemic bias in the ABC has to be noted in this debate. The other day I saw the managing director of the ABC, Michelle Guthrie, apparently complaining to her staff that the freeze in funding was going to 'make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations'. I thought that if the organisation or the managing director can't do their job with more than a billion dollars every single year, then either it is time to get a new organisation or time to get a new managing director. A billion dollars and you cannot meet your charter—it is ridiculous!

I, too, used to grow up watching Dr Who and The GoodiesI still do. We can reminisce about all that, but times have changed. You can get that stuff on YouTube, on other free-to-air channels and on DVD. Most people do. As the good member for Fadden said before, the ABC's ratings are going down because we're living in different times. If another organisation were there and they followed their charter they probably wouldn't waste taxpayers' dollars producing some current affair show that aired left-wing bias and bashed up regional Australia at every chance it got, like they do on Four Corners. I could talk about the Four Corners show last year digging into Adani, which presented every green activist masquerading as an independent critic or independent analyst. Or I could talk about the recent story they did on a sugar tax, which was just lining up person after person to attack the sugar industry. Or I could talk about their attacks on the live trade.

There is a consistent pattern here with shows like Four Corners. They often attack the productive end of Australia. They are often attacking regional Australia. We do have regionally based journalists on the ABC who do a very good job. But most of the funding the ABC gets from the government ends up being channelled into Ultimo, into the capital cities, leaving those guys less-resourced. Yes, there was some shift in funding a few years ago under our watch, but there should be more and the ABC should direct it more into the regional areas, principally to make up for the anti-regional bias on their main flagship shows, like Four Corners.

A few years ago the Lewis efficiency study report came out—the ABC's own finance executives were involved in it—which talked about where savings could be achieved in the ABC. The report suggested many different things: a lot of inefficiencies in their back office functions; that they could rationalise technology; remove duplication; standardise solutions; retire old assets; centralise procurement; reduce managers and administrative support staff; outsource the payroll function; and work in conjunction with other taxpayer funded broadcasters such as the SBS. Yet, in 2014 we saw the ludicrous situation where the ABC went and outbid its fellow national broadcaster—a taxpayer-funded organisation, the SBS—for the Asian Cup football tournament. Why would you do that? That is just nonsense! It is the sort of stuff we see from the ABC. The ABC threw $1.5 million of taxpayers' money down the drain with that. There's a litany of these sort of sins that the ABC has committed. Why would they waste taxpayers' money on establishing Fact Check when we have PolitiFact—an independent private one that is doing it. Were they worried that they were somehow not going to be skewed left enough for them?

What about the fortune they spent on Vote Compass, which can only be seen as this manual on how to cast your vote? It's ridiculous stuff. Why do we have this comedy channel that's really just this left-wing panel masquerading as humour, which is as funny as a 'Life. Be In It' T-shirt at a funeral? This is the sort of stuff we get. Double J: a channel for people to listen to music—the same sort of rubbish that we didn't listen to 10 years ago. This is the stuff they spend their money on, and they can't find an efficiency dividend? I'm sorry, the ABC can find some savings and they can do it without affecting regional Australia. They should do it without affecting regional Australia and they should clean up their problem of bias as well.

4:05 pm

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can see why this government and the member for Dawson wouldn't want a fact check facility at the ABC or elsewhere, with the rubbish they spin out all the time. Who could have guessed that when the Turnbull government handed down their budget earlier this month there would have been some surprises for the ABC? Yes, the Treasurer, happily stuffing the stockings of the big banks and his big business mates, has delivered a big lump of coal to our national broadcaster. In freezing the indexation applied to ABC funding, this Turnbull-Joyce-McCormack government has delivered an $83 million cut which forms part of an overall eye-watering cut of $254 million these Liberal-National governments have wrought upon on our ABC.

When it comes to the ABC, you cannot trust any Liberal government. I ask members: what does this government have against the ABC? Why does it hate the ABC? Maybe it's something to do with the ABC being the most trusted source of news for Australians. Maybe it's something to do with the ABC being among the most trusted institutions in this country. Is it simple jealousy? All this mean and tricky, untrustworthy, malfunctioning government can do is to petulantly take away funding from the most trusted body in this country. What an immature and vapid bunch of nothings those opposite are.

Before this Prime Minister finally, with what stands for courage in the Liberal Party, stood up to knock over the empty chair in the Liberal Party party room, the member for Warringah promised the Australian people that there would be no cuts to the ABC and to SBS. As sure as night follows day, Mr Rabbit proceeded to cut the ABC and SBS. That was 4½ years ago, and this Prime Minister is no different at all. Seriously, the empty chair would do a better job than this banker. He has thrown his #qanda leather jacket in the back of the cupboard and reached for his top hat from the top shelf and joined a cavalcade of conservatives lining up to give the ABC a bit of a kick.

Well, I've got news for those opposite. People like the ABC. They like the national broadcaster more than they like you, and they trust the ABC more than they trust you. Here's another newsflash: people don't think the same as you over there. Just because you and Uncle Rupert don't like the ABC doesn't mean the rest of the country feels the same way. It's not the fault of the ABC that people aren't buying The Australian or watching Sky. That's no-one's fault but their own.

If I could reflect on Western Australia and what the cuts have meant to the ABC in WA: under the Liberals and Nationals, the ABC staff numbers in Western Australia have plummeted due to jobs and services being centralised on the east coast. It's not because technology has made these jobs redundant. It's because they're cost cutting at the expense of local services. There's no reception, there's no HR manager, there are no finance staff and there's no outside broadcast van in Perth or in Western Australia. And, for rural WA—that's a third of the continent—as the Labor candidate for Fremantle, Josh Wilson, has pointed out often, there is no WA reporter for Landline. Someone is flown in from Sydney to report on Landline issues for Western Australia. I wonder what those agrarian socialists, the WA Nationals, think of that. I wonder if they know. Do the members for Durack and O'Connor and Forrest realise that a journalist from Sydney has to fly to rural WA to undertake WA stories for ABC's Landline? Because of this government's cuts to the ABC, the nation's pre-eminent rural and regional TV program, covering stories and issues concerning regional communities, does not have a Western Australian based reporter. Another bit of news for those opposite: there are fairly substantial agricultural and regional interests in WA. So I ask: why do you seek to constrain the national broadcaster with your cumulative $254 million of cuts to the ABC?

Do you realise that the cuts mean that the issues important to those in WA cannot be canvassed on television in the cities and towns? Are you even able to see the connection? With this government and its cuts to the ABC: well, they have consequences. It's those in the regions and remote areas—they're the ones who miss out on their stories being told around the country.

In addition to that, as the member for Lingiari pointed out, they have also lost short-wave radio in the far north—as did the Pacific, a place where we used to project reliable, independent news. But, no, no more. This vapid government has simply left the scene and left our broadcasting interests out of the Pacific. These $83 million cuts are shortsighted. To the millions of friends of the ABC, rest assured that the Labor Party will continue to stand alongside the ABC. (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Photo of Chris CrewtherChris Crewther (Dunkley, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today's MPI, about the government cutting $83 million from the ABC, is Labor back to their usual tricks. Last week they tried to make out that there are cuts to health care and hospitals, and they failed—particularly when the increase in healthcare funding is more than $10 billion higher than the approximate $13 billion when Labor last left government.

So this week it's the ABC. The Australian Labor Party, as I said last week, are the real party of cuts. Where they can't cut, they create cuts. They pretend. They exaggerate. So what is the Labor Party proposing to do? Cuts to your standard of living through higher taxes. Cuts to retirees' savings. Cuts to your investments. Cuts to your housing. This will all come back to cost-of-living pressures and make it harder for everyday working families to get by.

As usual, those opposite are showing absolutely no respect for Australians and are completely disregarding my constituents' intelligence. We are here to stand up to their lies, and the fact that they are lying to the Australian public shows that they are completely unfit to govern—spinning falsehoods and running any scare campaign that their tacticians can come up with.

We on this side of the House are blessed with a great balance between private and public organisations, media and other avenues that ensure our community is provided with a variety of subjects, viewpoints and depth. ABC and SBS provide the vast majority of cultural and educational programs. But, as usual, the focus of those opposite is all about the dollar figure. They think that if the funding isn't increasing, how could the situation be improving? Again, they claim that by not increasing funding, it is a cut. In contrast, the coalition government is looking at the content, the management and the compliance with the ABC's charter. Also, it is vitally important that the ABC can maintain its independence without being fed more and more money to propagate the views of the big-spending, big-taxing Labor Party.

In 2018 and 2019, the ABC will be provided with over $1 billion in annual funding. Over the three years from 2019-20 to 2021-22, the ABC will receive nearly $3.2 billion in base funding. The key point is that there are no cuts to the ABC. The Labor Party, who announced a one-, two-, three-, three-, four-, five-point budget plan, have shown yet again that they are fiscally illiterate, clearly not understanding the difference between cuts and an operational indexation pause. The operational indexation pause is equivalent to around only 2.6 cents in every dollar of funding that the ABC will receive.

The ABC has greater funding certainty than any other media organisation in the nation—a great luxury, of which I know the ABC's management will be appreciative. How many other organisations, businesses or other bodies can know down to the dollar what their funding will be? They are dependent on investment performance and the reception of their message, amongst many other factors. But I am confident that the ABC can manage this short period effectively without reductions in content and services. The indexation pause does not even take effect until more than a year away. Furthermore, the ABC will continue to be exempt from the government-wide efficiency dividend.

I also note that we are a government that is focusing on responsibility, as well as the ability to govern by bringing the country into strong economic management. We are currently a country that is in debt, and we are completely committed to returning to responsible governance as entrusted to us by the Australian public. This year's federal budget shows we have gone a long way to rectifying this, reducing the debt that originally arose from the six years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments. We are now planning to bring it to surplus in 2019-20. This is the difference between this side of the House and those opposite. This means, by being fiscally responsible with ABC funding and funding to other organisations and by reducing our debt and increasing the revenue coming to the government through strong economic management, we can spend more on essential services. No more, for example, does the ABC need to report on those with spinal muscular atrophy suffering from the implications of not having access to Spinraza, because we are funding Spinraza in this year's budget. We are doing many other things on essential services through strong economic management, and I look forward to speaking further on this.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.