Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Funding
My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Has the minister’s attention been drawn to a report today that the KPMG review into the adequacy of ABC funding found that the ABC needs an increase in funding of $125 million above inflation over the next three years if existing services are to be maintained? Isn’t the report confirmation that the government has been running down the ABC for a decade? I ask whether the minister will now apologise for misleading the Senate yesterday when she stated:
ABC funding has been maintained in real terms for the whole of the time that this government has been responsible for the funding in the ABC ...
Can the minister give a commitment to a significant increase in funding for the ABC in the May budget? If not, can the minister identify which ABC services she would like to see cut?
I thank Senator Webber for the question. The KPMG review into the adequacy and efficiency of funding for the ABC has been prepared for consideration by the government as part of the budget process. The report does contain large amounts of commercially sensitive information on the ABC’s internal operations. As a consequence of it being prepared for the purpose for which I have stated and because of matters that are completely confidential to the ABC, I certainly do not propose to canvas its contents at this time. I am very glad that Senator Webber has raised the issue of funding for the ABC. I will go into what the funding for the ABC is.
You might ask why the ABC’s funding was maintained in 1996. It was because of the extraordinary debt left by the Labor government which this government had to address when it came into office. The ABC’s funding was reduced in the 1996-97 budget because the ABC—like virtually all other government agencies, as we remember only too well—was required to contribute to the whole-of-government budget savings necessitated by the parlous financial situation inherited from the previous Labor government.
The question gives me the opportunity to remind the Senate of what the current funding arrangements are for the ABC. At the start of the new funding triennium in 2003-04—and of course we are coming up to the next one in the next budget—the government fulfilled its 2001 election commitment to maintain the funding in real terms. This year, 2005-06, is the final year of the current triennium. In the 2005-06 year the ABC’s total government funding will be $792.9 million of taxpayers’ dollars. The ABC will receive nearly $2.3 billion from the Australian government over the 2003-06 triennium. In the 2004-05 budget the government went beyond the terms of its election commitment and provided additional funding to the ABC of $4.2 million per year—ongoing and indexed. The funding was to assist the ABC meet the increase costs of television program purchasing.
In addition to the 2004-05 budget, the government continued the ABC’s regional and local program funding at a further cost of $54.4 million over three years from 2005-06. I know the Labor Party does not think that regional and local programming is important, but there are people around Australia who rely on local programming on the ABC and value these services. This government understands how important it is to those people who listen to the local ABC. Sometimes it is the only real source of news that they get.
The government has done this to provide the ABC with certainty in its planning for its range of radio, television and online services which have been funded under this initiative. We will continue to maintain the ABC’s funding in the next triennial funding round.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Has the minister seen comments attributed to a government source saying that the leaks from the draft KPMG report ‘are very selective’? When will the minister release the KPMG report so that the public are able to make their own judgment? When will the minister stop trying to hide from the Australian people the proof that the Howard government’s funding policies are running the ABC into the ground?
I do not know what question in her supplementary question Senator Webber expects me to address in one minute. So the answer to Senator Webber’s question is: I have already answered her earlier question. She should not try to rely on revisiting the issue when I have already answered it.