Monday, 2 May 2022

Federal Election 2022: what about our ABC?, 14 February 2022

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The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) was established as the national public broadcaster in 1932 by an Act of Parliament.

It was formed as a publicly-owned politically independent and fully accountable entity offering a media service to the general public.

Originally funded from radio and later television license fees, in 1973 the funding model was changed to direct federal government funding.

In 1983 it’s name was formally changed to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The ABC Charter contained in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 requires the Corporation to provide innovative and comprehensive radio and television broadcasting which contributes to a sense of national identity, informs, educates, entertains and, reflects the cultural diversity of the Australian community.

It was made exempt from federal government efficiency dividends (created as a cost saving measure by way of annual funding reductions) when the Hawke Labor Government introduced these dividends in 1987-88.

Since 1989 the ABC has been funded by a three-year appropriation known as the triennial funding system.

The first assault on this triennial funding system came in 1996 when the Howard Coalition Government removed $55 million from the ABC triennial budget.

At the September 2013 federal election the Abbott Coalition Government came to power and within its fist year in office it commissioned an efficiency review of the ABC and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) a separate public television broadcaster created in 1980.

This review was ideologically-driven by a new hard-right prime minister, Tony Abbott, whose broad political agenda included gradually withdrawing federal government from provision of a wide range of services, either through privatisation (via direct sale or leasing to private corporations) or by cost-shifting onto the states.

The review reportedly identified $60 million in savings across both the ABC and SBS. It was used by the Abbott Government to commence direct funding reductions and funding reductions by way of efficiency dividends. Abbott stopped short of implementing the merging of ABC and SBS facilities, pay-for-view for certain ABC online services or proposed entering into a new online service with a commercial media organisation as partner, but nevertheless these remain as recommendations in the redacted Draft ABC & SBS Efficiency Study dated April 2014. The Abbott Government then released a 9 page executive summary of the review dated 14 May 2014. The ABC countered by releasing unredacted pages from the Lewis review.

The Turnbull and Morrison Coalition governments continued to drain funding from the ABC, while antipathy towards the public broadcaster grew to ridiculous levels within both Coalition parties.


At the Liberal Party annual federal council meeting in June 2018, attended by at least 100 Liberal MPs, Senators and party members, there was an overwhelming vote in favour of a motion to sell the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in its entirety, with the exception of maintaining the Rural Department which is seen as supplying a service which is in the national interest and, is viewed as supporting the interests of powerful rural & regional backers of the Liberal and National parties. That motion has never been rescinded.

Interviewed in the days following that annual council meeting, Treasurer Scott Morrison made a point of saying that it is the ABC's job to defend itself against claims of left-wing bias. "It's not for me to defend the ABC or promote the ABC. I fund the ABC as Treasurer and we do that every year. And I think there are concerns out there in the Australian people about that and I think it is up to the ABC to demonstrate that they are not doing that."

In the 2018-19 Budget Prime Minister Turnbull & Treasurer Morrison froze ABC funding until 2022.

So that by 2020 a Per Capita study revealed that across the three triennial periods which have occurred to date in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison years, the ABC will have lost over $738 million. The last of these cuts being $10 million removed from the ABC operational budget in the Morrison Government's 2021-22 Budget.

In the 2022-23 ‘Election’ Budget Prime Minister Morrison & Treasurer Frydenberg have increased the ABC’s fourth triennial funding period (July 2022 to June 2025) by $87.2 million – with $45.8 million of this going to the Enhanced News Gathering program leaving only an additional $14 million a year until end June 2025 for all other ABC radio and television programming & operating costs.

The government has also announced it will impose new reporting conditions on both public broadcasters, including statements of expectation requiring them to detail the levels of Australian content, and other key services. The Statement of Expectations for the ABC can be found at:

The almost irrational hatred Liberal MPs display toward the ABC is never ending and this month reached an unbelievable height with this from Liberal MP for Wentworth Dave Sharma who is standing for re-election on 21 May 2022:

“Finally they nail their colours to the mast! ‘Your’ ABC is running a candidate in Wentworth.”

A re-elected Morrison Government is unlikely to break the habit of a political lifetime and begin to adequately fund the premier national broadcaster.

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