The Labor Party says the Morrison Government’s “inaction and buck passing” in relation to emergency broadcasting in regional Australia is putting lives at risk, while the Nats are “missing In action.”
The Senate Inquiry into lessons to be learned in relation to the Australian bushfire season 2019-20 heard that the Government still has no plan to enhance emergency broadcasting in regional Australia, either in terms of ABC newsgathering, ABC broadcast site resilience or ABC Local Radio black spots.
ABC Managing Director, David Anderson, confirmed reports that the ABC has, on repeated occasions, approached the Government with a proposal to invest more in regional newsgathering if the Government reverses the ABC indexation pause but is yet to receive a response.
The ABC has also raised further proposals for the extension of the Enhanced Newsgathering program and additional investment in regional Australia, including with the Minister for Regional Communications, Mark Coulton, and remains hopeful that the proposals remain active in the lead up to the Federal Budget.
BAI Communications CEO, Peter Lambourne, confirmed that BAI’s proposal to enhance the resilience of ABC broadcast infrastructure at up to 291 transmission sites across Australia has not been progressed, despite the roadmap for delivery commencing in Q3/Q4 in 2020 in preparation for the next bushfire season.
Yesterday David Anderson told the Senate inquiry
Emergency Broadcasting is a responsibility the ABC is deeply committed to.
Our audiences expect the highest levels of broadcast and digital service and the information we provide during times of crisis has a critical and immediate impact on those whose lives and property are at risk.
As the Government has acknowledged, the ABC’s actions during the bushfires last summer saved lives.
The number of emergency events covered by the ABC has almost tripled in the past two years. In 2019-2020 the ABC provided coverage for 953 emergency events. This compares to 371 the year prior.
The ABC responded to this unprecedented increase in emergency bushfires by redirecting resources from around the country to provide support when and where it was needed.
This meant calling staff back from leave, extended overtime, and moving staff from location to location across the summer period.
During the peak of the coverage, there were up to 140 Journalists and other staff on the front line.
This increase in emergency broadcasting came at a financial cost.
We estimate that the ABC has spent an extra $3.1 million dollars to meet the additional emergency broadcasting activity undertaken in the last financial year.
The ABC receives no additional funding for emergency broadcasting and these costs have had to be absorbed within the broader corporate budget – which has been falling in real terms.
Since the end of the bushfires in March, the ABC has been working hard to prepare for the 2020/21 season.
Two pieces of work have underpinned our preparations:
- The first is a research project commissioned by the ABC to provide us with critical information and insights on how communities sourced emergency information and how we could improve our emergency broadcasting coverage.
- The second is work by the ABC’s digital and social media teams to upgrade our emergency services website and the ABC News app to provide aggregated and more detailed, localised emergency information.
During the winter months we have continued to provide training for our broadcast teams, and we continue to strengthen our engagement with local, state and national emergency organisations and stakeholders.
Finally, the ABC continues to take a national approach to our emergency coverage with a focus on localised information. Our transmissions cross state and territory borders and our coverage of local emergencies also cross borders.
A key focus for our national emergency broadcast team is its close working relationship with all 56 of our capital city and regional bureaux to ensure every community affected by a bushfire receives the information it needs at the time it is needed.