The Report on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Advocacy) Bill 2015 released today shows members of the Turnbull Government are crying crocodile tears over the delivery of services to rural and regional Australia.
Despite promising “no cuts to the ABC” before the 2013 election, the Abbott-Turnbull Government cut ABC funding in 2014 amounting to $355 million over five years, then cut further in the 2016 Budget.
It beggars belief that the Liberal-National Coalition slashes ABC funding, only to turn around and complain that the national broadcaster isn’t doing enough for rural and regional Australia.
Just as staggering is how they ride in and say the ABC Act needs to be changed – as if the ABC Charter, the ABC Board or ABC Management are somehow to blame for the decline in rural and regional media coverage in Australia.
In a stunning display of hypocrisy, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie drafted this Bill suggesting that city-residing Board members lack the ability to represent regional citizens. The Senator might have a unique insight in this regard.
This is blame-deflection of the highest order.
Meddling with the ABC Act will achieve nothing worthwhile and serves only to distract from the real communications problems facing rural and regional Australia:
- Coalition Government budget cuts to the ABC.
- Coalition Government failure to progress media reform.
- Coalition Government stuff-ups on the NBN, particularly the ongoing debacle of Sky Muster satellite services.
Coalition Budget cuts are putting pressure on the ABC to find efficiencies in ways that undermine important service provision.
The ABC’s recent decision to cease shortwave radio transmission in the Northern Territory is a case in point. The ABC is being forced to make trade-offs as it is being stretched to deliver on its mandate in the new media environment.
Labor led calls for the ABC to reverse its decision to cut shortwave radio. Coalition MPs and Senators jumped on the bandwagon late, to make noise, but were totally ineffectual in getting any results out of the Prime Minister or Communications Minister.
But what can you expect when it was Malcolm Turnbull who commissioned the ABC and SBS Efficiency Study which identified the discontinuation of shortwave radio as an area of potential savings?
At a time when the ABC has to provide both ‘comprehensive broadcasting services’ and ‘digital media services’ in a media landscape undergoing transformational change, the last thing it needs is cuts.
Labor shares concerns about the uneven ‘postcode lottery’ of service availability in the bush, and the decline in traditional rural and regional media coverage, but these issues go well beyond the remit of the ABC.
The ABC is one of Australia’s most important and trusted public institutions. It plays a vital role in the diversity of news in our media landscape and provides an opportunity for Australian content to be shown and heard in local news, public announcements and emergency messages to regional and remote communities.
If the Turnbull Government really cared about the ABC, and its regional and remote viewers and listeners, it wouldn’t just point the finger: it would fund it properly.