Interview with Peter Van Onselen – Sky News PVO News Hour – Tuesday 4 February 2014






PETER VAN ONSELEN: Here’s something I think is a more interesting story. The ABC has issued a statement of regret, their calling it, over its airing of asylum seeker mistreatment claims after it was found that the claims could not, that’s not, be substantiated. While not a direct apology, not quite an apology, they couldn’t quite suck it out of the media department, the statement does follow on right from the Abbott Government’s accusations that the National Broadcaster was not taking Australia’s side on the issue.

The Shadow Communications Minister and the former Home Affairs Minister, it has to be said, Jason Clare says that the PM’s statement against the ABC asylum seeker claims is a thinly veiled argument to cut the broadcasters funding – maybe. I spoke to him, Jason Clare that is, a short time ago.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well if you make a mistake you should say sorry and I welcome the fact the ABC have put this statement out. It’s not the first time they’ve done something like that. Only two years ago when I was the Minister for Home Affairs I remember serious allegations were put to me by the ABC that were wrong. I was able to prove they were wrong and they subsequently apologised. I think part of the problem here is that there’s been a lot more secrecy around this issue than there needs to be and that’s led to confusion and not enough effort I think by the Government in explaining what the truth is here. If there was more information provided I think we would have got to the bottom of this a lot sooner.

VAN ONSELEN: I want to get to some of the secrecy in a moment but just before doing that though, is this a full baked enough apology for you though? Dare I say it but a lot of people made a lot of the fact for a number of years that John Howard refused to say sorry when he continuously expressed regret. It sounds like the rhetoric being used by the ABC is the same even if the issue obviously isn’t as totemic as that one was.

CLARE: There’s a difference between the responsibilities of a Prime Minister and what they should say with something as important as apologising to the Stolen Generations for years, more properly described as decades and decades of maltreatment and abuse and this issue here. I’d say that all media organisations make mistakes, they get some things right, some things wrong. If you make a mistake you should apologise. What’s your definition of an apology, whether this is good enough or not, I don’t necessarily want to get into that but I would make the point that if you make a mistake, apologise.

There’s a political issue here which is just as important and that is turning this event into a justification to go and cut money out of the ABC’s budget and I think that is wrong.

VAN ONSELEN: Do you see efficiencies that can be found in the ABC and if you do, can that be separated from allegations of cuts? Obviously that’s a clearer thing that the Abbott now Government said in opposition that they wouldn’t do.

CLARE: All government departments can be more efficient. All private businesses can be more efficient and we need to continually drive to make our public service more efficient. There is an issue of trust here. The Government said before the election, in fact the night before the election Tony Abbott on SBS News said ‘there will be no cuts to the ABC and no cuts to SBS’. Now to be true to those words, if they find efficiencies then terrific but reinvest them in more services that the ABC and SBS provide to the Australian public. If they use this as an excuse just to cut money out of the ABC and cut money out of SBS then that’s a broken promise. That’s a lie. Tony Abbott spent three years running around the country attacking the former government based on what he said was a broken promise. You can’t then become Prime Minister and start breaking promises yourself and not expect to be held accountable for them. If you break this promise then it’s a lie and it means that this Prime Minister can’t be trusted to do what he says.