Defending the ABC

I spoke in parliament today in defence of that great national institution, the ABC.
ABC, 27 February 2014

There are more than 200 ABC employees in the Australian Capital Territory. They cover national politics from Parliament House and local issues from Dickson. They cover everything from disasters to national politics. Of course, under this government, those are not mutually exclusive categories. I do not always agree with their perspective or the questions, but I absolutely respect the role of the ABC.

I am fortunate to chat regularly with Waleed Aly and Senator Sinodinos on Radio National, a conversation with two men I genuinely respect and which I think probably makes me a better politician. When I am at home, my three boys love watching Bananas in Pyjamas, the Wiggles and Playschool. If we are in the car, you will likely find us listening to triple j, NewsRadio or one of the thoughtful podcasts such as Conversations with Richard Fidler; the Religion and Ethics Report, with Andrew West; or Geraldine Doogue's Saturday Extra.

Thousands of my constituents have registered their support for a robust, well-funded and independent national broadcaster. They are worried that this government confuses state funded media with state run media. They were worried when they heard ABC managing director Mark Scott tell Senate estimates this week:

If our funding were somehow cut, we would need to look at all our services—radio, television, online—in the cities and in the bush.

The ABC's mandate is to inform, entertain and educate. It is not all about ratings and it is certainly not about pleasing political masters. The ABC has earned strong audience support as one of Australia's most trusted and highly valued institutions.

In 2004, the Howard government announced a funding adequacy and efficiency review. Its subsequent findings, not made public, were reported to have shown the ABC's value and cost-effectiveness. Under stingy budgets in the Howard era, the ABC maintained audiences and grew platforms. Under Labor, funding was expanded, and the multimedia platforms that the ABC developed to engage news audiences are now the envy of its competitors.

But history has a way of repeating, and now we have another efficiency review commissioned by communications minister Malcolm Turnbull. Some see this review as the prelude to an amputation, a ritual of permission that will justify deliberate excisions.

Every Australian government has an obligation to provide the ABC with the resources it needs to bring Australians rigorous reporting and analysis and to fiercely expose what is in the public interest. But will the Prime Minister's pre-election promise not to cut the ABC end up as just one more broken promise? Australians cherish their national broadcaster. Regardless of where they live or how they vote, people are passionate about the ABC.

Prime Minister, don't put the Bananas in the blender. Don't stifle our frank and fearless public broadcasters, and don't put narrow partisan agendas ahead of the national interest.

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