I rise to speak to this bill before us today, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Restoring Shortwave Radio) Bill 2017, put forward by Senator Xenophon. While I understand a lot of the concerns that have been raised—and I’ve spoken to people in my home state in South Australia about their very dear concerns in relation to not being able to access short-wave radio in remote areas, particularly in the north of my state—we believe that this bill is not the right mechanism to use to go about this. We believe that introducing a bill to direct our national broadcaster in this way does interfere with its independence.
However, we know that the ABC has been under immense funding pressure ever since this government came to power in 2013, despite the promises from the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, that there would be no cuts to the ABC. Indeed, in his first budget that promise was broken. Hundreds of millions of dollars were cut directly from our national broadcaster. We now hear, in relation to negotiations over media reform this week, that the government is prepared to open the door to even further cuts to the ABC and SBS at the whim and demand of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
The truth of the matter here is that the ABC continues to be used as a punching bag by those within the ranks of the government—and, indeed, by some on the crossbench—who simply don’t like the fact that they can’t control what the ABC does. We know that getting some bad press every now and again has rattled Senator Hanson and her party. I don’t think we should set a precedent in this place that just because someone does a touch-up on a Four Corners show you slash and burn the ABC’s budget. That is just not how a democracy should be functioning. Yet we know that this is exactly what Pauline Hanson and One Nation want to do. They’ve got the ABC and SBS in their sights. They have a grudge that they want action on. They have an axe to grind and they want that axe to fall squarely onto the ABC’s budget.
That will mean that there will be more hard and difficult decisions to be made by ABC management in relation to what simply cannot continue to be funded. The example in the bill that’s been put before us today by Senator Xenophon and his team is that of shortwave radio being closed down—without a suitable alternative being put in place—as a direct result of that pressure building year by year.
So what is going to be on the chopping block next? Well, I can tell you: it’s going to be the ABC’s online and streaming services; iview is what will start to be impacted here—the programs and the service delivery. And perhaps there will even be a paywall so that taxpayers will have to pay to access content that their taxes have already paid for. That’s where this is going. That is exactly where this deal that One Nation wants to pull off with Malcolm Turnbull is going: a tax on the ABC, cuts to the ABC and less content access for everyday Australians.
Of course, at a time when there are budgetary constraints made on our public broadcaster—because of broken promises from the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which were followed through by this Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull—there are hard decisions to be made, and it is the Australian community that loses out every single time. Rather than simply using the ABC as a punching bag, as Pauline Hanson likes to do, I think we need to see a bit more leadership from our government on this. They want to get their media reform package through this place so they should talk about what they’re going to do to invest in the diversity of journalism in this country—to create more jobs for journalists in this country and to invest in the creation and the production of Australian content so that we have Australians employed to make Australian stories that Australians can access freely and in a timely way.
Of course, this government wants to hand $30 million over to Foxtel, with no strings attached and no questions asked, but they continue to take the axe to our national broadcaster. You can see the priorities in this place. You’ve got a grudge being held by Pauline Hanson, you’ve got a government that wants an excuse to slash and burn the budget of the broadcaster and the darling of the ABC, Malcolm Turnbull, is shrinking over there in the shadows. He is unable to shake off the broken promise from Tony Abbott when he cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the ABC’s budget, despite promising the Australian people before the 2013 election that he wouldn’t. We all know what happens when Tony Abbott says he’s going to do something; the exact opposite seems to occur. He’s never been very good at holding a promise, and now we see Pauline Hanson doing dirty deals to finish the job for him.
Chamber Senate on 17/08/2017 Item BILLS – Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Restoring Shortwave Radio) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker: Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah Transcript Used for News Reporting