Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Questions without Notice

Northern Territory: Australian Broadcasting Corporation Shortwave Radio Service

2:54 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation, Senator McKenzie. The minister described the decision by the ABC to end shortwave radio services in the Northern Territory as 'wrong and ill-advised'. Does the minister stand by her statements?

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Regional Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I absolutely stand by my comments about the ABC board's decision in December 2016, on the advice of their former managing director, to shut down the short-wave services that communities in the Territory needed, that Pacific nations relied on, that fishermen in the waters around the Northern Territory relied on, and that the truckies who went from Adelaide to Darwin relied on to stay informed. It was an appalling decision by the ABC, and I absolutely stand by those comments. But I do find it a little cute by half that your team is lecturing our side of politics about ensuring that the ABC is independent. That is something that we are very cautious about.

We want the ABC to retain their independence, which means we can't direct the board or the managing director where to spend their money. But I will always urge the managing director—and, indeed, I've even written to the new acting chair about this issue to say that the board needs to revisit that decision and that it also needs to look at the advice that the ABC is giving rural and regional people in the NT about how they can access ABC services. They say, 'Just use VAST.' Do you know what? That would require you to put a satellite on your ute so that you can get to listen to ABC services. They do not understand what it means to live out in the regions. They think everybody has amazing connectivity. It's an appalling decision, and I stand by my comments.

2:56 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday the shadow minister for regional communications, Stephen Jones, wrote to the minister, inviting her to support Labor's commitment to provide the ABC with $2 million in capital funding to assist them to reinstate ABC short-wave radio services to the Northern Territory. Has the minister responded to the shadow minister for regional communications? If so, did the minister accept his invitation to join Labor in securing this essential service?

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Regional Services) Share this | | Hansard source

As I said, in instigating a Senate inquiry into this very decision at the time and questioning the then managing director in Senate estimates over and over again about this appalling decision, they need to reinstate it; they need to revisit the decision. The ABC itself, in evidence to the Senate inquiry, which is in Hansard, stated that budget cuts were not the reason that the board made that decision. We had Ms Guthrie saying that resources were to be redirected towards better technology because they thought that short-wave was century-old technology and that we needed to get with the times. Well, it's century-old technology that's simple and that works. It's a very typical Ultimo view from the ABC when it comes to essential services for rural and regional Australia.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McCarthy, a final supplementary question?

2:57 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister's colleague Senator Scullion has said, 'Short-wave radio transmission is an essential service, especially in times of emergencies such as cyclones and floods, for people in rural and remote areas of the Territory'. Given the impact on remote communities and First Nations peoples, why has the minister failed to act to reverse this wrong and ill-advised decision?

2:58 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Regional Services) Share this | | Hansard source

This is the height of hypocrisy. Last week it was: 'Hands off the ABC! Independence of the ABC! Do not get involved in the ABC!' Now, here you are saying, 'Why don't you, as the minister for regional communications, tell the ABC board, tell the acting managing director, how to spend the billion dollars that the Australian taxpayer gives them?' It is outrageous—and you don't even blink. You come in here and spruik coal in Queensland but not in Victoria. Last week, 'Hands off the ABC,' and a big song and dance; this week, 'Minister, can you intervene in budget decisions of the ABC?' It is absolutely outrageous. So, again, I call on the ABC board to get serious about its charter and get serious about delivering essential services to rural and regional Australia.