Interview with Tony Jones – ABC Lateline- Wednesday, 19 Novembver 2014





SUBJECT/S: Cuts to the ABC; Tony Abbott’s broken promises.

TONY JONES: I’m joined now in the studio by the Opposition Communications Spokesman Jason Clare. Thanks for being here.


JONES: Malcolm Turnbull says there has been no broken promise on ABC and SBS funding because both he and the Treasurer warned time and time again in the lead-up to the election that the public broadcasters would not be exempt from efforts to eliminate waste and inefficiencies. It’s true those warnings were given, isn’t it?

CLARE: I don’t think that passes the pub test. I thought Malcolm Turnbull was better than that.

JONES: But it passes the truth test does it, but not the pub test?

CLARE: What he’s effectively saying – break it down – he said this on QandA as well – is that Tony Abbott didn’t break a promise because even though Tony Abbott said there would be no cuts to the ABC, what he really meant was that there would be no cuts to the ABC over and above the cuts that I said there would be to the ABC.

Now come on. We are going to hold the Prime Minister to his words. That kind of excuse is worse than kids make up for why they didn’t do their homework.

People know the Prime Minister promised the night before the election there’d be no cuts to the ABC and he said that with a long list of other promises, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the pension. And he’s broken all of them. This long laundry list of lies.

JONES: I will just go back to back up Malcolm Turnbull’s point. Joe Hockey on the same QandA program sitting next to in me in fact answering a questioner as to whether the ABC’s funding would be cut said essentially he couldn’t rule out changes due to waste and inefficiencies. And Malcolm Turnbull says he’s gone through this process now methodically. He’s appointed a review of waste and inefficiency, effectively. Now he’s acting on that.

CLARE: And all organisations can be more efficient and the ABC’s no exception to that. Whether it’s a government department or a private company, any organisation should be more efficient. But I’d argue that to be good to the Prime Minister’s word, we should find efficiencies inside the ABC and SBS and then invest them in more programs, more services for the Australian people, not break a word which is what I’m saying he’s done, what most people agree the Prime Minister’s done, by breaking his word that there would be no cuts to the ABC and he said that the night before the election.

JONES: What about the Lewis review? I mean, evidently the Lewis Review has found waste and inefficiencies and Mr Turnbull says in accordance with that he’s making cuts?

CLARE: What’s in it? This is what we don’t know. And I’d call on the Minister to release the report, release it in full. If there’s commercial in confidence elements in the report then redact them. But the Minister talked about the importance of transparency today and letting the sun shine in. Well, if you want to get to the bottom of this and understand exactly where you can have find those efficiencies and have a proper debate about whether it’s going to affect content or just back office then release report. He is refusing to do that. He refused to do that as recently as on the 7.30 Report tonight.

JONES: Critics of the public broadcaster will argue and have argued indeed that the funding cut locked in at five per cent over five years means the ABC’s gotten off lightly. In fact, at a time when there are huge budget deficits and lots of government services and departments are being cut, should the ABC be exempt from that?

CLARE: First don’t buy this five per cent figure. It’s more like eight per cent. Mark Scott sent out a note to all staff at the ABC tonight making it clear that it’s more like eight or nine per cent when you take account of not just these cuts but the cuts in the budget and the cancellation of the Australia Network. So we’re talking about half a billion dollars here. Not small change. Serious money that’s being taken out of the ABC. And the point I’d make, I keep coming back to is – I think the people of Australia were entitled to trust the Prime Minister the night before the election when he said he wouldn’t make any of these cuts. He now has. That’s why this is going to an issue of trust. I said today you could put the Prime Minister on a polygraph and it would break. What’s breaking seriously now is the trust. The relationship between a Prime Minister and the Australian public. People don’t need a love a Prime Minister but they do need to trust them. They do need to respect them and I think that’s seriously at risk now with all of these broken promises.

JONES: Do you think the cuts should affect as Malcolm Turnbull says, it should all happen in the back rooms of the ABC, it should all happen behind the scenes and nothing should affect the programming, unless the ABC chooses to do it that way. To you accept that argument?

CLARE: The only way to know the answer to that question is to release the Lewis Report. But what we know is, according to the Chief Executive Officer of the ABC that this will lead to hundreds of people being sacked. As well as terrific programs that people enjoy being axed. Unless we get the Lewis Review, we can’t know whether that necessarily has to happen or not.

JONES: If you take the Minister at his word he seems to be suggesting the ABC is using the government cuts as a cover for cutting programs and services and so on which it wanted to do in order to create a pool of funding to invest in digital technology for mobile phones and so on?

CLARE: They’re trying to shift the blame. Look at what the Minister said today.

JONES: The ABC’s trying to shift the blame? That’s what Malcolm Turnbull says.

CLARE: He’s saying you would be a coward to cut programs and use this as an excuse to do it. What I’d say is it’s cowardly to break promises and not even admit that you have broken promises. And it’s cowardly to try to hide behind ABC management here. You’ve cut the budget. Admit that it’s a broken promise, and then I think people will be more interested in what you’ve got to say.

JONES: Finally, how do you interpret Mr Turnbull’s move to disempower the ABC’s Managing Director Mark Scott by taking away from him the title Editor-in-Chief?

CLARE: Well, look, Leigh Sales conducted a pretty convincing cross-examination of Malcolm Turnbull this evening where she identified why that wouldn’t work. You couldn’t necessarily give that job to another person because they couldn’t properly review the type of things that The Chaser do, for example.

JONES: You couldn’t give that job to the current head of news and current affairs, because they deal only with news and current affairs not other programs but you could theoretically bring someone in from the outside and give them power over all the ABC’s editorial content. Do you think that might be in play?

CLARE: I think that’s the sort of thing the board should look at. I think Ministers need to be very careful to keep at arm’s length from the board and from the operation of the ABC. We shouldn’t be telling people what should be on television. We shouldn’t be telling them what they should be investing in whether it’s digital or traditional media and they should be very careful about telling people who should do what job here at the ABC.

JONES: The Minister says he’s not telling the board what to do, he’s giving them advice as he is entitled to do as the Minister under the Act and it’s up to them whether to decide to act on it or not. What do you say the board should do with regard to this idea of splitting the function of the Managing Director and the Editor-in-Chief?

CLARE: I don’t have a strong view Tony. Take advice from the ABC. We might ask some questions about that this week to get some more detail on whether that would be a valuable thing to do or not. But I wouldn’t rush into it. I would seek the advice of the board and senior management.

JONES: You don’t see it in any way as being a get-square, Mark Scott has obviously had a very strong independent position in the way he’s handled all of this?

CLARE: Look, there’s no doubt, it’s not a secret that there’s lots people in the Liberal Party who don’t like the ABC. One of the things they’ve got to be very careful of though is that a lot of people in the Liberal and National Party seats love the ABC and they love the ABC more than they like this current Government. So they should be very careful about the way they proceed here.

I think Malcolm Turnbull’s lost a fight here. I’m sure he’d like to fund the ABC but he has lost this fight to Tony Abbott, just like he lost the fight to Tony Abbott on the republic and he lost the fight to Tony Abbott on the leadership of the Liberal Party.

JONES: Jason Clare we’ll have to leave you there. Thanks very much for joining us.

CLARE: Thanks Tony.