Funding Cuts to the ABC and SBS


Peter Khalil: We all remember the infamous words of the member for Warringah when he said, as opposition leader in 2013, ‘No cuts to the ABC or SBS under a coalition government.’ The member for Warringah made that promise and both he and Malcolm Turnbull have proceeded to break it. There’s not much difference between them, really—they’re Tweedledum and Tweedledee, as far as I’m concerned. Only last month, the budget revealed another $83 million cut to the ABC. This is on top of the $254 million cut in 2014 and another $28 million in 2016.

As a former executive director of SBS, I’ve also watched closely and with concern SBS suffering funding cuts of over $40 million under this government. The effect of these cuts happened to be extremely obvious in this particular week, of all weeks, as we’ve seen football fans across the country absolutely furious at the botched coverage of the FIFA World Cup. I note the member for Forde here—a goalkeeper extraordinaire. He’ll be pulling whatever hair he’s got left out at not being able to watch the wonderful World Cup games. This is directly because of the funding cuts. The SBS CEO maintained that he had to onsell the digital rights to World Cup games to Optus, which, as we’ve seen, had bungled the delivery of these games.

SBS is a globally unique public broadcaster. It provides multilingual and multicultural content that celebrates our diversity—

Mr Van Manen interjecting—

Peter Khalil: I did say that, Member for Forde—I noted that I was an executive director there for many years. It’s a wonderful institution. But the cuts to public broadcasting show the hypocrisy of this government. In 2013 Malcolm Turnbull, as Minister for Communications, said, ‘There is no more committed defender of public broadcasting than me.’ What a joke! Under his watch in 2014 800 ABC staff lost their jobs and $254 million was cut from the ABC. While these cuts were occurring, Malcolm Turnbull, as Minister for Communications at the time, had the temerity to argue that the ABC was ‘more important than ever’. Proving his hypocrisy, doubling down on his arrogance, he cut ABC funds in 2016 and now in 2018 as Prime Minister.

The government may say they believe in the importance of public broadcasting, but they have spent their time laying siege to both the ABC and SBS. Maybe they don’t care. Or, more likely, they don’t believe in public broadcasting. This past week, as the member for Forde would know, the Liberal Party voted for a motion to privatise the ABC. The Liberal Party’s federal council, its peak body, voted almost to two to one to privatise the ABC. Of course the government quickly went into damage control after a huge public backlash. Yet it’s the Liberal Party that wants to dismantle a vital institution in our democracy and silence the independent voices that have spoken to Australians for over 85 years. Well, the member for Forde and the Liberal Party may be tone deaf to the vital role that an independent media plays in our democracy. They may be blind to the truth that strong public broadcasters are even more essential today in the light of the fractured commercial media sector, with fake news and polarised social media and news sources compromising the public’s right to fair, balanced and accurate journalism. They certainly don’t care about the 17 million Australians who watch, listen or read the ABC every week and the 15 million who do so with the SBS. The ABC is part of our national fabric. From Play School to Bananas in Pyjamas,from critical warnings of floods and fire in the regions to the Hottest 100countdown. Privatising this institution could mean Aussie kids watching advertisements during children’s programming, commercial influence in the ABC News or SBS World News, metropolitan and regional Australians missing out on popular programming like Four Corners or Australian Story

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting—

Peter Khalil: You’d want to get onto that, Member for Goldstein—you’d love to be on Australian Story. This could mean putting high-quality Australian drama, documentaries and investigative reporting behind a paywall. These are all consequences of the cuts or a potential privatisation of this national institution.

Labor wants to restore trust and faith in our institutions, not attack them like the government does. And only Labor can protect our national broadcasters going forward.