Monday, 24 November 2014
Questions without Notice
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, representing the Prime Minister, in respect of the ABC cuts. Can the minister acknowledge that the latest cuts to South Australia are a continuation of the drift of staff numbers, editorial control and content production to Sydney in the past decade, as has been widely reported, with the sharpest cut in South Australia from eight per cent to 6.9 per cent of staff numbers? What will the government do to reverse this trend not only in South Australia but in Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland, as well as the regions? Will the government consider quarantining ABC funding cuts for a regional programming initiative as initiated by the Howard government in 2001?
I really do ask her to desist, out of courtesy not to me but to Senator Xenophon. This is something that the management of the ABC has been considering for some six years and, regrettably, they are seeking to blame the decision on the government when they know full well that they have been moving their television model in this direction for some six years. That is why I find it particularly disappointing that, having moved in this direction now for some time, they seek to blame the government's—
Senator Cormann interjecting—
savings mechanisms for these outcomes.
The ABC did a review of television production in 2008 when they first raised the prospect of changing their internal production model. The ABC made public statements in all Senate estimates and at Senate inquiries that, since then, they were reviewing TV production in my home state of Tasmania and indeed in South Australia. So these things were on the drawing board well and truly before the announcements by Minister Turnbull, and that is why it is somewhat distasteful when these two things are brought together and are sought to be blamed on the government's savings mechanisms in circumstances where we simply have to get the budget back under control.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the strong statement of support from the ABC Board for Managing Director Mr Scott released concurrently with the announcement of the cuts today, does the government have unequivocal confidence in the oversight being provided by the board—particularly in the context of its impact on South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia and its regional impact?
I think I have got to be exceptionally careful here because those who remember me in my days in opposition and the comments I made about the ABC might expect me to hold forth now. I think it would be better for me in all the circumstances, about confidence et cetera in the board, to direct those questions to the minister to see whether he wants to add anything. I assume that he would. The mechanism for the ABC is that it is constructed by a board and a managing director. They have the responsibility under the legislation, but it would be fair to say that some of the direction taken in recent times has left me, at least, somewhat nonplussed, but I will see what the attitude of the minister is.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the government consider that the cuts announced today meet the expectations set out by the ABC charter in the legislation? If not, will the government support, in broad principle, a move to revise the charter to explicitly write in requirements to generate content, news and current affairs coverage by and for the states, including regional Australia?
I think the senator makes a very valid point, and from my cursory reading of the charter I would have thought that the ABC should be doing exactly that. The question seems to be the will of Ultimo or central headquarters in Sydney as to how much they pursue that aspect of their charter. I for one would encourage them to pursue that rather than continuing their expenditure at Ultimo, in the middle of Sydney. I would encourage them—like Mr Bannon, the former Labor Premier, not from my side of politics, asked—to look to the regions to maintain and sustain them rather than continually looking after Sydney central headquarters.