Communications Legislation Amendment (SBS Advertising Flexibility and Other Measures) Bill

“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”

Deputy Speaker, these now infamous words were almost the last thing Tony Abbott said to Australians before they headed to the polls to cast their vote in the 2013 election.

He said it on SBS World News – the night before the election.

It was his last and final offer – a solemn promise.

You make me Prime Minister and I promise you this – “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”.

That was the deal – and he was asking people to trust him. To take him at his word. They did. And we all know what has happened since.

$50 billion dollars in cuts to health.

$30 billion dollars in cuts to education.

Cuts to the pension – that have only been stopped because we defeated them in the Senate.

Changes to the GST in the latest budget released a few weeks ago.
And, surprise surprise, half a billion dollars in cuts to the ABC and SBS.

The people of Australia have learnt a very important lesson – you can’t trust this Prime Minister.

He has broken every promise he made in that interview on SBS World News on the night before the election, and this Bill is nothing more than an attempt to cover up one of those broken promises.

His promise that there would be “not cuts to SBS”.

Last year he cut the budget of SBS by $53.7 million.

The purpose of this legislation is to allow SBS to put more ads on TV when people are watching to try to make up for some of these cuts.

It is legislation based on a lie.

Its objective is to help make up and cover up a broken promise. Plain and simple.

There may be good reasons to support some of the measures in this Bill, but if the Parliament passes it, it will be complicit in this broken promise.

And that is why the Opposition will not support this Bill.

The bill doubles the amount of advertising that SBS can broadcast between 6pm and midnight, every night.
This will mean more ads during the shows that most people watch on SBS.

More ads during the SBS World News, more ads during Insight, more ads during Dateline, more ads during the football, more ads during the cycling, and in all likelihood, more programs designed to fit in around the ads rather than the other way around.

Just like Channel 7, Channel 9, and Channel 10, between the hours of 6pm and midnight SBS will be able to broadcast ten minutes of ads and four minutes of promos per hour.

Labor has consulted widely on this bill and we have paid close attention to the submissions and the evidence presented to the Senate Environment and Communications Committee Inquiry into the legislation.

The Committee has received 27 submissions. Two submissions are confidential; two submissions from SBS and FECCA reluctantly accept the bill as a way to make up the impact of the Government’s budget cuts.

All of the rest oppose this bill.

This is what Free TV said in their submission to the Inquiry:

“The proposal to increase prime time advertising on the SBS equates to the introduction of a fourth commercial television network by stealth.”

This is what Save our SBS said during the public hearings:

“ Despite a promise made the night before the 2013 election by Mr Abbott on SBS television directly to SBS audiences that there would be no cuts to SBS, the government has cut five per cent from SBS’s budget over five years. In a strategy said to be devised to claw back some of this quantum, SBS is supporting this bill, which, in practice, will effectively double prime-time advertising on SBS television.”

Even SBS in their submission admitted this was a cut:

“As a result of the Lewis Efficiency Study, Minister Turnbull announced further cuts to SBS’s funding in November 2014. Of the cuts, $25.2 million was based on back office efficiencies that SBS was already working towards. A further $28.5 million was predicated on successful legislative amendment to the SBS Act, which would provide SBS with additional advertising and sponsorship flexibility and allow SBS to deliver this portion of the funding cut via a modest annual revenue increase. The total funding cut of $53.7 million over five years from 2014-15 has already been reflected in SBS’s forward estimates.”

The most important evidence the Committee received though, was not from broadcasters or peak bodies but from people who watch and love SBS – who want the Government to keep their promise, and don’t want their favourite shows interrupted by more TV ads.

Here’s one example. This is what Kym Ambrose said:

“It will change the way SBS conducts itself and turn it into a commercial venture. We need to support this station not destroy it.”

Here’s another. This is what Peter Maurice Wilkinson said:

“I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister declare just before the federal election, that under his government there would be “No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or the SBS. I am writing to request that you hold the government accountable for their promises.”

Here’s another – Bridget Ikin:

“To see SBS eventually broadcasting 14 minutes per hour of disruptive commercial breaks (ads plus promos) is totally unacceptable. It’s starting to look a lot like any commercial channel.”

There are 61,874 more like this – that’s how many people have signed this petition opposed to this legislation.

The only people who really support this legislation are the Government.

And the only reason they are doing this is because they lied to the Australian people – and now they are trying to cover it up by getting someone else to replace the money they ripped out.

In November last year Bill Shorten asked the Prime Minister in Question Time about this broken promise.

And I remember his response like it was yesterday. He said it wasn’t a broken promise. It wasn’t a cut. It was an “efficiency dividend”.

It was like theatre of the absurd.

The night before the election the Prime Minister said “no cuts to SBS”. In the Budget he cut the SBS by $53.7 million – and then he said that wasn’t a cut. It was an efficiency dividend.

I remember saying at the time, there is one thing people hate more than politicians lying, and that’s politicians lying about lying.

The next day the Prime Minister’s old friend the Minister for Communications dobbed him in. He went on Sky News and he was asked if this was an efficiency dividend and this was his answer:

“It is not an efficiency dividend… This is not an efficiency dividend….Certainly there are cuts. He said no cuts to the ABC or SBS. There are cuts to the ABC and SBS.”

He threw his own Prime Minister under the bus.

The next day in Question Time I asked the Prime Minister who was right? Was it an efficiency dividend or was it a cut?

Backed in a corner he changed his position again.

He said it was effectively an efficiency dividend.

In February this year he finally cracked and admitted this was a broken promise and gave us an insight into what he really thinks.

This is what he said in answer to another question on the 12th of February:

“We’ve broken that and frankly it’s just as well we did”.

That’s what this Prime Minister really thinks of SBS. The organisation created by another Liberal Prime Minister, and one of the key ingredients in what makes us the most successful multicultural country in the world.

Not only has the Prime Minister broken his promise not to cut their budget – but he is proud of it: “thank god we did” he said. And now he wants to put more ads on TV to pay for it.

So how much would SBS make if this legislation was passed?

Well, according to the Government it is $28.5 million over four years.

According to Free TV that number is more like $147 million over four years.

An independent analysis by JP Morgan puts the figure at somewhere between $88 million and $132 million.

Whatever way you cut it – it’s designed to cover up a cut.

What’s the impact of this on SBS? Well, SBS has recently been in the news for a controversial TV program. A controversial TV program that a lot of people watched.

The argument that many have made in their submissions to this inquiry is this legislation will only encourage SBS to produce more content that pulls in the ratings and pulls in the advertising dollars – in other words to be more like the commercial TV channels.

There is some evidence for that.

The Government’s own Efficiency Review into the ABC and SBS admits that is a risk. It argues at page 85 that:

“there will be greater pressure on SBS management to consider the trade-off of delivering on commercial expectations, against delivering those functions described in the SBS Charter”.

And what about SBS viewers?

The Minister says this won’t mean more ads on SBS. They are still capped at 120 minutes a day.

This might be right. But the fact is it will mean more ads when people are watching.

Instead of being in the middle of the night when most people are asleep – all those ads will be on when people are watching TV.

The 61,874 people who signed this petition don’t want more ads on TV – interrupting their favourite shows.

I am pretty sure most Australians don’t want more ads on TV.

And they also don’t want the Government to break their promises.

The Prime Minister promised the night before the election “no cuts to SBS”. He should stick to that. Simple as that.

The Government should just do what they promised.

They don’t need this legislation to fund SBS. All they need to do is keep their word.

And if they seriously think it is a good idea to cut SBS’s budget and to increase the amount of ads on TV in prime time, then OK, take it to the next election, because the Opposition will not help the Prime Minister to cover up another broken promise.