Tony Abbott has beaten Malcolm Turnbull again. He beat him on the republic. He beat him on the leadership of the Liberal Party, and now he has beaten him on the ABC.
If there is one champion of the ABC in the Liberal Party it’s Malcolm Turnbull. A few weeks ago at an ABC event in Parliament House he was the keynote speaker. He told the crowd that night that the ABC was “more important than ever.”
This week Tony Abbott cut the ABC by more than $232 million – with more to come.
Malcolm Turnbull has a right to be angry. After all Tony Abbott promised he wouldn’t do this.
The night before the election Tony Abbott was interviewed by Anton Enus on SBS news and he was asked “are the ABC and SBS in the firing line?” His answer was clear as crystal and I suspect it will haunt him for the rest of his Prime Ministership.
He said “No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.”
Now we know that was a lie.
Tony Abbott didn’t just make this promise before the election. He repeated it after the election.
On budget night Mark Scott, the Managing Director of the ABC, put out a press release revealing that “the government gave repeated commitments before and after the election that funding for the Corporation would be maintained.”
This is a rolled gold broken promise and it will mean cuts to services, including in the bush.
In February Mark Scott was asked at a Senate hearing if he could rule out cuts to ABC regional radio services if the ABC’s budget was cut.
He said he couldn’t: “if our funding was somehow cut we would need to look at all our services, radio, television, online, in the cities and in the bush.”
In other words, everything is on the chopping block.
And they are not done yet. The budget calls these cuts a ‘down payment’ until the efficiency review into the ABC is completed. So expect more cuts.
The budget also cuts the Australia Network run by the ABC. That is a big mistake. It will reduce our influence in Asia and damage our reputation.
That is not my view, it is the view of leading Australian businessmen like Hugh Morgan who has said, “To pack up and go would send an immediate message, particularly if it is seen as retribution against the ABC in a political context. The signals would be ‘why the hell have you gone, we’ve spent all this time setting up, we thought you were coming to Asia.”
Peter Van Onselen also made the same point recently when he said that scrapping the Australia Network would be, “rash, reactionary and will ultimately be counterproductive to our national interests.”
The ABC is not the only promise Tony Abbott broke this week. He has broken promises in this budget like it is going out of style.
He has also broken the trust between him and the electorate, and it’s this that will be the most damaging.
After Tony Abbott cut down Malcolm Turnbull in 2009, Malcolm Turnbull launched a scathing attack on Tony Abbott. He posted an entry on his blog that was blisteringly honest, he said:
“There is a major issue of integrity at stake here. The Liberals should reflect very deeply on it… Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that… we are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”
This budget is proof of that.
This piece was published in The Guardian on Thursday 15th May.