Yesterday afternoon Minister Mitch Fifield released the report of the inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the national broadcasters.
Minister Fifield, a card-carrying IPA member, commissioned this report as part of a backroom deal with Pauline Hanson to pass the repeal of the 2 out of 3 cross-media control rule, which followed One Nation threats to block the Federal Budget unless the ABC budget was slashed by $600 million.
This Liberal fishing expedition splashed half a million dollars of taxpayer funds to establish what the ABC and SBS have said all along: The national broadcasters are operating in a manner consistent with the general principles of competitive neutrality.
Indeed, the report notes that “The Commonwealth’s Competitive Neutrality Policy (CNP) is focussed on government trading corporations and its relevance to the National Broadcasters is more limited. Nevertheless, the National Broadcasters operate under a best endeavours approach to competitive neutrality”.
Rather than utilise the Australian Government Competitive Neutrality Complaints Office (AGCNCO), a separate unit within the Productivity Commission set up to investigate competitive neutrality complaints, the Liberal Government appointed a three-person panel, supported by a Taskforce within the Department of Communications and informed by research outsourced to external consultants, to run the ruler over the ABC and SBS.
With respect to the panel, who have delivered a reasonable and constructive report in the circumstances, it is impossible to divorce this inquiry from the broad-ranging attack on public broadcasting under this Minister.
To the extent the national broadcasters might improve transparency and reporting, this is yet more marginal tinkering from the Minister who does little more than complain about, attack and cut the public broadcasters.
While the Minister’s fixation with the ABC and SBS consumes him, a range of real and critical reform tasks in the Communications Portfolio languish, including spectrum reform, 5G deployment reform, the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review and Audio Description for blind Australians.
Australians trust and value the ABC and SBS and should not have to foot the bill for Mitch Fifield and Pauline Hanson’s vendetta against public broadcasting.