Radio Interview with Lexi Metherell – 31 January 2014







TONY EASTLEY: Funding on the ABC and SBS is already being examined by the Government’s Commission of Audit but now the Communications Minister has instituted his own review. It’s said to examine how efficiently the public broadcasters spend their combined annual budgets of $1.4 billion. The review does not cover their editorial content.

The Opposition though, smells a rat and says the study is paving the way for the Government to break a pledge to not to cut the broadcasters funding.

With more here’s Lexi Metherell.

LEXI METHERELL: The announcement of the “efficiency review” came a day after the Prime Minister’s criticism of the ABC. A former Managing Director of the ABC, David Hill draws a link between the two events.

DAVID HILL: This is a repetition of exactly what happened with the election of the Howard Government. Richard Alston the Communications Minister attacked the ABC and its alleged bias and it was followed up by huge funding cuts. I think you are going to see the exact same thing here.

METHERELL: The Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull says there’s no link.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: It’s got nothing to do with the comments that have been made over the last few days or indeed any news story. This is an exercise that has been put in train quite some time ago. In fact I foreshadowed this last year.

METHERELL: Malcolm Turnbull’s office has been consulting ABC and SBS management about the matter for the last two months. Each broadcaster will have a representative assisting with the study. It’s separate to the Government’s Commission of Audit, which is also examining the ABC and SBS as part of its review of government expenditure.

The Commission of Audit is led by business leader, Tony Shepherd who is also the Chairman of pay-TV lobby group, ASTRA. Malcolm Turnbull says as a new shareholder in the public broadcasters he himself has a responsibility to make sure they are run as efficiently as possible. He is a self-proclaimed staunch supporter of the ABC but he can’t rule out budget cuts.

TURNBULL: We do not have any plans to cut, slash, axe the ABC let alone SBS. However as we have always said, if there are cuts across the board because of the severe budgetary situation we are in, then you could not expect any agency of the government, including the national broadcasters to be exempt.

METHERELL: The Opposition’s Communications spokesman Jason Clare says before the election the Prime Minister promised not to cut the broadcasters funding.

JASON CLARE: It shows you can’t trust Tony Abbott. You can’t trust the Liberal Party. More than that though, what this shows is division that’s emerging inside the Liberal Party.

It’s always been there between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, there’s no love lost between these two men. Malcolm Turnbull attacked Tony Abbott in the newspaper yesterday and now it looks like he’s being forced to push out this “efficiency review”.

METHERELL: The Communications Department will conduct the review with the assistance of former Seven West Media Executive, Peter Lewis. A report is due to be delivered to the Minister and the Chairman of the broadcasters in April.

EASTLEY: Lexi Metherell with that report.