Speaking at a pre-election event yesterday in Melbourne, jointly organised by ABC Alumni and ABC Friends, ALP leader Bill Shorten said, “The Liberals have to learn, ‘Hands off the ABC’.”
He promised that, if elected, next Saturday, the ABC will receive a further $40 million in funding. This comes on top of the ALP’s promise to scrap the $84 million “Indexation pause” imposed by the Coalition government, due to come into effect on July 1.
A further $20 million will be allocated to SBS.
Mr Shorten said the new funding would enable more Australian drama, more children’s programming and more music content.
“A strong quality national broadcaster does require resources,” he said. “The government would criticise this cost, I call it an investment.”
Leaders of all major political parties were invited to speak at the event. Prime minister Scott Morrison, communications minister Mitch Fifield and Nationals leader Michael McCormack were among those who declined. Nationals deputy leader Senator Bridget McKenzie also did not attend, but in a statement described the ABC as “a crucial institution in regional Australia”.
“The Nationals do not and have no intention of ever supporting the privatisation of the ABC,” she said. (Liberal Party policy still includes privatisation.)
Other politicians attending the packed rally included the ALP’s arts spokesperson Tony Burke, Senator Kristina Keneally and candidate for Higgins Fiona McLeod, and the Greens’ communications spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
Prominent alumni included Kerry O’Brien, Maxine McKew, Quentin Dempster, Dr Gael Jennings and John Cleary.
ABC Alumni has been lobbying vigorously for restoration of more than half a billion dollars that has been stripped from the ABC over the last five years, despite then Liberal leader Tony Abbott’s 2013 election eve promise that there would be no cuts to the national broadcaster’s budget.
“The ABC still needs full restoration of the funds stripped out over the past five years – and then some – if it’s to maintain Australian culture in the global digital age.”
Restoring funding to the ABC is supported by Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale, who also addressed today’s rally at Deakin Edge, Federation Square.
“There is no more important public entity than the ABC,” said Senator Di Natale. “We will ensure that the ABC remains proudly and fiercely independent.”
Several Independents have also previously pledged their support for restored ABC funding including Wentworth MP Dr Kerryn Phelps and Warringah candidate Zali Steggall who hopes to oust former prime minister Tony Abbott.
Mr Dempster warns, “If the Scott Morrison Coalition is re-elected the ABC faces an immediate downsizing to accommodate the $83.7 million Indexation cut; and it faces the prospect of further substantial cuts to output if the latest efficiency review recommendations from former News Corp and Foxtel executive Peter Tonagh – which the government has yet to release – are implemented.”
Mr Shorten also told the capacity crowd in Melbourne that the ALP would move to provide the national broadcaster with secure funding over a five-year cycle. This is in line with ABC Alumni’s recommendation to the recent Senate Inquiry into the ABC of a minimum secure quinquennial funding cycle.
Under the current three-year cycle, government is able to cut funding at any time.
“This uncertainty of funding makes it impossible for the ABC to properly budget or plan for the future,” said Alumni co-director Helen Grasswill. “And the situation is exacerbated by the complexity of multiple media platforms and evolving technologies in the digital era which often require longer-term planning. Ideally we would like to see a 10-year cycle like the BBC has.”
If there is a change of government, ABC Alumni says further funding will be needed to address priorities including restoration of Radio National’s capacity to produce the in depth and cutting-edge specialist programming for which it has long been renowned worldwide, renewal of a weekly state-based current affairs television program, and better coverage of Pacific affairs.
Senator Di Natale told the rally that the Greens would support Labor’s initiatives, and more. He said the Greens would work to lock into law a minimum of five-year secure funding for the ABC, and the party would also advocate to restore all monies cut since the Abbott Budget of 2014.
“Let’s work together on this,” he said. “We want to see the $460 million that’s needed restored to the ABC.”
Kerry O’Brien told the meeting that “The ABC is not one of the most trusted institutions in Australia, it is the most trusted institution. Funding is essential.”
He was greeted with applause when he told the audience that ABC Alumni and ABC Friends want to be non-partisan, but this is impossible.
“This election next Saturday will determine the future of the ABC,” he said.
Alumni speaker Dr Gael Jennings summed up the overwhelming view in the room, “This government needs to go if the ABC is to survive.”