Thursday, 7 December 2017
Questions without Notice
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Service
My question is to the Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield. Senator Hanson has made it clear she will be lobbying the Turnbull government to pursue cuts to ABC funding. Will the minister rule out funding cuts to the ABC in the 2018 budget?
I thank Senator Urquhart for her question. The funding for the ABC, as colleagues would be aware, is conducted on a triennium-funding basis. The triennium funding was outlined a couple of budgets back. Colleagues would also be aware, from looking at the last budget, that that was continued. That is the state of funding for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I should remind colleagues that the ABC does receive in excess of a billion dollars a year, which is not an insignificant contribution by the government on behalf of the taxpayers for the national broadcaster. Obviously, we also, in parallel, make a significant contribution to SBS as the other public broadcaster. All colleagues in this place recognise the important role and function of the ABC. Each of us is perfectly entitled to form our own view about particular ABC programming decisions and the areas where the ABC undertakes its activities. That is a good and healthy thing. The ABC has legislated independence, and that means that every colleague in this place should feel perfectly entitled to express their views, good, bad or indifferent, about the work of the ABC. Colleagues do take that opportunity regularly, including through Senate estimates, and I'm sure they will continue to do so.
Likewise, the SBS is funded on a triennial basis. Colleagues would also be aware that, unlike the ABC, the SBS does secure revenue through advertising. There are restrictions on the advertising that the SBS can conduct and, therefore, the revenue that they can receive. Colleagues would also be well aware that the chief opponents of the SBS seeking further commercial advertising revenue are, in fact, the commercial free-to-air broadcasters, for, I guess, what might well be self-evident reasons. But the situation of the SBS funding is the same as that for the ABC. It was outlined on a triennial basis in the budget, and that was not altered in the last budget.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Urquhart, a final supplementary question?
Given the minister's repeated failure to rule out further budget cuts to the ABC and the SBS, will the minister guarantee that there will be no reduction in Australian drama, documentary or children's content as a result of the 2018 budget?
Colleagues would be aware that, as the ABC has legislated independence, the manner in which the ABC directs the funding that it has to particular activities and particular programs is a matter for the board and management of the ABC. I think we would all be very pleased that the ABC does have a focus on and commitment to Australian drama and Australian product. That is a good and a positive thing. But, in terms of how the ABC management and board direct funding and to which activities, that is something that the ABC has complete freedom in; indeed, this place and the other place have legislated to ensure that those of us who sit here cannot direct the ABC with regard to those decisions.