HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MONDAY, 24 MARCH 2014
Can I thank the member for Fremantle for bringing forward this very important motion to the House. It is an important motion. It raises the issue of trust.
The night before the last election the Prime Minister said that there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS. Just over 24 hours after that on election night he said that he would lead a government that “says what it means and means what it says”—all reasons to think that the ABC budget will not be cut and that the Prime Minister would be good to his word.
But in the last few months we have seen some ominous signs. The first from the Prime Minister himself, who said in a radio interview that the ABC “takes everyone’s side but Australia’s.”
And then from some of the Minister’s in this Government.
The Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, said this after a debate about the ABC and whether its budget should be cut, “What goes around comes around.”
Then the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, who time after time has refused to rule out cutting the Australian Network, which is run by the ABC.
What is all this about? I suspect that it is about softening the ground before the Liberal Party breaks another promise—before they do what every Liberal government does, and that is – cut the ABC.
If they do that it means at least three things.
First, it means that you cannot trust anything that this Prime Minister says.
Second, it will hit regional Australia, particularly regional radio services.
The Chief Executive Officer of the ABC was asked about this in estimates only a few weeks ago, and he said this,” I can give no guarantees that any services would be spared, including regional services, if our funding was cut.”
He was then asked the question by Senator Urquhart, “Does that lack of guarantee refer to radio as well?”
Mark Scott, Chief Executive Officer of the ABC said, “Yes, Senator.”
So if there are cuts to the ABC not only does it mean that the Prime Minister’s word is not something that you can trust or believe but it will hurt Australians in regional Australia that rely on the ABC’s regional radio services for everything from local news to local sport to the important emergency broadcasts that are provided in times of flood, cyclone and bushfires.
Third, if the ABC’s Australia Network contract is cut then it will also hurt our influence in our region—in Asia and in the Pacific.
That is not my analysis; that is the view of business leaders who are closely aligned with the Prime Minister, including Maurice Newman, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, who said recently in the Australian Financial Review that, “Certainly there is a case to be made for having Australia Network in a soft-power advocacy role, particularly to the region.”
Hugh Morgan has made the same point. He 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’.” That is Hugh Morgan.
Peter van Onselen made the same point in The Australian recently, where he said scrapping the Australia Network would be, “rash, reactionary and will ultimately be counterproductive to our national interests.”
So there is a lot of stake in this debate.
There is a lot at stake in the discussions that are going on in the ERC right now. If the decision is made to break this promise and cut the ABC’s budget, it will hurt the Prime Minister’s integrity; it will hurt regional Australia and will hurt our influence in the region.
That is why it is important that the Minister for Communications wins this debate in the ERC and in Cabinet.
He has got to convince the Prime Minister that he is wrong on this. He has got to win this debate. All of the signs are not promising.
He has been beaten by the Prime Minister in the past on the republic. He was beaten by the Prime Minister in a leadership decision only a few years ago. He was rolled by the Prime Minister on Huawei way only a few months ago and only last week he was rolled by the Prime Minister on his request to reappoint the head of the SBS for another term.
On any objective analysis Malcolm Turnbull is due for one, and for the good of the ABC we hope he wins on this important issue.
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