SUBJECT: Impact of Turnbull Government’s cuts to the ABC in Tasmania.

LEON COMPTON: Let’s have a chat about what we learnt out of Senate Estimates last night. There was questioning of the ABC about what the implications might be for what Michelle Guthrie has described as $84 million in budget cuts over the next three years. That's an extrapolation from the annual funding indexation freeze that was announced in the Federal Budget. Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications and was watching Estimates closely last night. Michelle Rowland, good morning to you.


COMPTON: So the question was asked directly about Tasmania and the potential implications on services under these budget cuts here. What did you learn

ROWLAND: It certainly was asked and Senator Urquhart from Tasmania specifically asked the question about whether the ABC could guarantee that Tasmania would be spared as a result of the cuts as a result of this government's decision to make this $83.7 million in cuts. And the answer given by the ABC was quite emphatic: "No Senator, I cannot guarantee Tasmania will not experience any cuts," which is deeply concerning. 

COMPTON: What answers were there about the $43 million that is still in question? Funding that was dedicated to support quality news and current affairs services that was due to end. Will that continue? Do we have answers on that?

ROWLAND: Well it was noted that this is a valuable package, that it does service areas such as Burnie and Launceston under this fund. As we understand it, it's still on the table. It's very valuable but it will be considered next year, so that's one on which we will certainly continue to have a watching brief. And I think it's very important to note for your listeners that the ABC made the important point about being able to serve remote communities such as King Island, and that the roles that are provided from these important, what they call, ‘Connecting Communities’ packages – that support rural and regional based reporting – it enables them to carry this out in Northern Tasmania so they've got seven day coverage and this is clearly a very valuable service and one that we will keep a very close watching brief on. 

COMPTON: The important question perhaps Michelle Rowland is what is your policy when it comes to ABC funding? Are you promising that you will restore this funding; allow indexation of the ABC's annual budget?

ROWLAND: Well, Bill Shorten made it very clear on his Budget Reply night that we will fight these cuts and I think the fight is not yet over in terms of this government's budget cuts. They will be well aware, this government, that they're going into an election year but also a by-election in Tasmania. We've made it clear that we'll fight for the ABC across all of these cuts. We'll fight for the ABC when it comes to some of the damaging inquiries, including yet another efficiency review which the government is proposing to undertake, the competitive neutrality inquiry that this government is undertaking, and three pieces of legislation that again are purely aimed to undermine the ABC as a result of a deal with Pauline Hanson.

COMPTON: Okay, but my question to you specifically is do you have a policy on funding the ABC that people can easily find? 

ROWLAND: We’ll have a very clear and distinct choice for the electorate going into the next election. I can make that very clear. 

COMPTON: But you don't, at the moment, have a policy beyond criticising and suggesting you'll be different to what the government are doing?

ROWLAND: Look, I don't accept that. We are completely different in terms of being very committed to ensuring that we have a strong ABC. We also are very committed to fighting these cuts as they stand. 

COMPTON: There are by-elections on right now, we don't know the dates of those yet, but you don't have a policy on funding the ABC that people can consider at this point.

ROWLAND: No, the ABC is still working on its triennial funding pitch. The way that the ABC is funded is on a three-yearly basis. We're going to consider all of these matters in due course but we will be going into the next election, and indeed into these by-elections, with a very clear and distinct approach to the ABC as opposed to the government. 

COMPTON: Do you know when these by-elections are going to be? We keep asking the question, we're heading off in Braddon to a by-election but no-one still knows when. Have you got any thoughts on that?

ROWLAND: Well my thoughts are that the by-elections should have been called some time ago. But we are just as in the dark as you and your listeners are about when that date is. But I can assure you that in Braddon, Justine Keay will be fighting very hard on the ground. She'll have a very positive message about Labor's support for the ABC. Our positions are in stark contrast to the government when it comes to their attitude, not only towards the ABC's independence, but also the value of the ABC.

COMPTON: I understand that and I'm mindful that here we are, sitting here talking about ourselves Michelle Rowland. You will have a policy that's critical of the government but you are pledging that you will have a policy with specifics that people can actually compare to those of your opponents by the time people vote, whenever that might be, but certainly sometime in late June, early July?

ROWLAND: Absolutely, and not only that, we have very clear and distinct approaches right now on everything from the ABC salary disclosure bill that the government's got before the Parliament, to this pointless efficiency review that the government is going to undertake when they've even already announced cuts.

COMPTON: Thanks for coming on this morning Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Communications.