The new Minister for Communications and Arts Minister, Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield joined Patricia Karvelas on RN Drive last night to discuss potential changes to the ABC and also his plans for the future of both the Communications and Arts sectors.
Fifield began the interview declaring his intentions:
“Well, Patricia, what I want to do as Minister for the Arts and the Minister for Communications is be part of a conversation with the Australian people about the positive future that we have as a nation. I want to engage with the community, I want to engage with both sectors, and talk about the tremendous opportunities that we have as a nation. I’m not someone who is in the business of picking fights for the sake of picking fights. I think in my former portfolio I demonstrated what I’m all about is getting good outcomes and working with anyone of good will to achieve those.”
Karvelas dug up the past reminding the minister that the Labor Party has found a speech that he gave to the Australian Adam Smith Club in 2008 where he said, “Conservatives have often floated the prospect of privatising the ABC and Australia Post, there is merit in such proposals.” Karvelas asked if he still believed that?
Fifield was quick to defuse the situation:
“Well Patricia, I confess I was about seven or eight years ago a frisky back bencher who sought to give a provocative speech, as you can probably tell by the title of the address. But look, I had an important caveat there. Really, the key point I was making was that although people talk about different ownership arrangements, ultimately the Australian public have a settled view on these matters. So, changing the ownership arrangements of the ABC is not something that I’m seeking to do.”
When questioned about the ABC’s current negotiations of its triennial funding and whether more cuts were possible Fifield didn’t give anything away.
“Negotiations are just that. It’s various parties sitting down, each with a starting point, and hopefully reaching a point of agreement in the middle.”
“look, I certainly take the point that we’ve got to speak plainly and let the words that we use mean what people would take them to mean. We did, as you know, seek to identify some efficiencies in the ABC and look, I think as a general principle, any Commonwealth Government funded agency should look to be the best possible steward of tax payer dollars that it can be. I’ve yet to come across a Commonwealth agency that has achieved administrative nirvana. But one thing is certain, we as a government will ensure that the ABC is well-resourced to do the job that Australians want it to do.”
“Well I don’t want to pre-empt where the triennial funding will end up but look we’re a government that recognises the important role that the ABC plays. I mean, I think you can probably characterise how Australians experience the ABC a bit like a long term relationship. Sometimes you just can’t get enough of it, sometimes you want nothing to do with it, sometimes it drives you to distraction, but ultimately, you keep coming back because you want some more.”
You can hear the full interview audio here.