Senate debates

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 35 of 2018-19; Consideration

6:16 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise tonight to talk about the Auditor General's report and the performance of the Special Broadcasting Service Corporation. The SBS is one of our nation's most important cultural institutions. It is welcome news that its governance arrangements are, in the words of the Auditor-General, both fit for purpose and effective. As most senators in this place would know, the SBS started its life in 1978 and exists to reflect the multicultural community which we are all so proud of. As the Auditor-General notes, its role is not just to keep Australians informed but also to educate and entertain, and to pioneer our rich and diverse cultural heritage.

It is easy to take the SBS for granted. After all, as it has been in existence for over 40 years, it's hard to remember a time when it hasn't been around. Nonetheless, to help us appreciate its true value to modern Australia today, it's important to reflect on what there was before—or, rather, what there wasn't. Before the SBS, it wasn't just the case that there was an absence of multicultural broadcasters in Australia; even having one was legally precarious. A point not touched on by the Auditor-General is that, before 1970, radio stations in Australia were prohibited from broadcasting more than 2.5 per cent of their programming hours in foreign languages. Such restrictions meant that, for new migrants to Australia, being able to keep up with the news from home or to express their cultural heritage was almost impossible.

At the time, Labor understood the impact that this was having on new Australians, and so began the process of winding back these outdated laws and paving the way for the establishment of an institution that would proudly express our status as a welcoming and diverse nation. This great endeavour would lead to the SBS we know today, with what the Auditor-General explains is its commission to inspire all Australians to explore, appreciate and celebrate our diverse world and, in doing so, contribute to our cohesive society.

Sadly, successive budgets under the Morrison government and previous coalition governments have resulted in the SBS suffering from cuts amounting to tens of millions of dollars, all coming at a time when its importance could not be greater. The Auditor-General reports that roughly 30 per cent of the funding of the SBS is generated through 'own-sourced revenue'. This comes from the sale of goods and services, and is predominantly from advertising revenue. What this tells us is that the SBS is already pulling its own weight.

I hope that the budgets to come from the Morrison government reverse the recent pattern of austerity in relation to public funding for the SBS and that the Prime Minister will come to appreciate the SBS as strongly as I and millions of others do. As the Auditor-General's report makes clear, the SBS is a well-run organisation that is managed responsibly, and that's coming from its board. In turn, it is the responsibility of all of us in this place to ensure that the SBS is adequately funded and supported by government to continue the good work it does in our community. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.