29 May 2014



SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government Cuts to SBS funding

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Today we’ve seen a massive own goal by Tony Abbott when it comes to his promises for funding public broadcasters. Today in particular, the SBS. Today in Senate Estimates, Michael Ebeid the Managing Director of SBS, confirmed that the specialist content they provide, their specialist language services, not to mention very important content such as the FIFA World Cup and the Tour de France, is under threat from further cuts from this government. $8 million already ripped out as a down payment, a down payment, $8 million from the SBS, an organisation which already runs so efficiently. There are promises of further cuts to come with the efficiency review underway. As has already been put, so many Australians not only rely on the specialist services offered by the SBS, but also we have excellent content which many Australians love. All that is under threat with Michael Ebeid confirming that further cuts that are promised will devastate content at the SBS. This is something that no one voted for. In fact, the night before the election, amongst his list of promises, that litany of lies, included these cuts to the SBS and I think all Australians should be extremely concerned about the impact that this is going to have on our communities at large, but also on content that they have come to take for granted because of the excellent services that have been provided by the SBS until now.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott’s a big fan of cycling. Do you think the Tour de France will really, I guess, hit home?

ROWLAND: Well, one wonders whether he actually thought this through – and I mean, even his Parliamentary Secretary has said that he’s doing a really good job selling this Budget. He should sell this cut to himself and let’s see how he likes it, and whether it does have an impact on these kinds of content.

JOURNALIST: This morning the Treasurer said that other public departments have had efficiency dividends in place for a while now, this is the first that SBS and ABC have had. Isn’t it fair that they should also be considered when there’s cuts across the board?

ROWLAND: One needs to take into account the fact, as Michael Ebeid also stated, this is an organisation whose back end already runs to the maximum efficiency, and if any further cuts were imposed then this is the very reason why they would need to look at cutting content services. That’s the fact.

JOURNALIST: This is just mischief making though isn’t from SBS? They’re not going to get rid of the World Cup any more than the ABC’s going to get rid of Peppa Pig?

ROWLAND: Well, why doesn’t someone come out and guarantee that? Everything is on the table now. And with the managing director saying this will devastate content, choices need to be made. Let’s also remember this: the SBS provides services that many new Australians rely on. Not just on TV but also broadcasting through radio services, over 70 languages. Now I represent a very diverse part of Australia, that includes people – just giving you an example – of Maltese origin. Now when SBS looked at redoing its scheduling to fit in more language services, they necessarily had to look at a cut to Maltese services and I can tell you, as a local member a few years ago, the uproar was loud and clear. So when you look at cutting these kinds of content services, you need to remember that it’s not only looking at programs such as that, but services that many Australians rely on often as their sole source of informed broadcasting.

JOURNALIST: So just to clarify, these are further cuts, they’re not the ones [inaudible]?

ROWLAND: Indeed, further cuts. It’s bad enough that there’s an $8 million cut in the Budget, which is a broken promise from Tony Abbott, but there’s a promise of more cuts to come with this efficiency review. As the Managing Director Michael Ebeid has pointed out: further cuts will devastate content on the SBS.

JOURNALIST: Ethnic communities have mobilised when it comes to already opposing a lot of the cuts that Tony Abbott and the changes that Tony Abbott has made, such as the changes to 18 C, do you any think they could mobilise when it comes to cutting ABC and the SBS?

ROWLAND: I think that they will, I think that they will because people underestimate the power of a lot of people who actually feel very strongly about these things. And also it’s not only people from non-English speaking backgrounds. The SBS, as part of its charter, informs all Australians about different cultures and I think that all Australians would be very concerned if their ability to receive quality content that the SBS provides is going to be cut.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you on a separate matter altogether, Medicare hotline, apparently when you call that up they warning you about changes to Medicare even though they haven’t been put through the Senate or Parliament at this stage. Do you think the government’s is getting confident or cocky about om some of its changes.

ROWLAND: One wonders about the arrogance of this government but if these are in fact true then certainly it is. Look, maybe it is a fact that Malcolm Turnbull last night had dinner with Clive Palmer, maybe he got the deal through. Who knows, who knows. But, you know, the guy is the smartest guy in the building. Just ask him, he’ll tell you. He invented the internet. He cares so much about being a friend of the ABC and the SBS, but he’s very happy to let these sort of cuts have their devastating impact. But if that is the case, as you say, then I think it points to their hubris, their arrogance.  And I think this government is severely out of touch when it comes to this Budget and its impact on communities.