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The government ignores the value of the ABC

It took the offer of a Chinese company to bring better telecommunications to the Solomon Islands to remind our government of the value of soft diplomacy.

After years of savage cuts to the Foreign Aid budget, ironically accompanied by huge increases in the defence and arms industry budgets, all of a sudden we can find a lazy $100 million plus to stop what is perceived to be an attempt by the Chinese to gain influence in the Pacific region.

Some would have us believe it is an attempt to hack in to our communications. Perhaps so, though I rather think that is something that could be achieved far more easily another way.

This newly remembered responsibility to help our near neighbours (by means other than paying them to house our refugees or offering to build casinos) was not prompted by recognition of a friend’s need but in hasty reaction to someone else’s offer – more a PR exercise designed to remind them that they should be our friend, not China’s.

Whilst building needed infrastructure in poorer countries is commendable, there are other opportunities this government has deliberately thrown away for what seems little more than ideological spite.

One of the first actions of the Coalition after winning government was to axe the ABC’s $220 million 10-year contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to run the Asia Pacific television service, Australia Network, despite them being in the first year of the contract.

It may come as no surprise to find the IPA had “Cease funding the Australia Network” at number 47 on their infamous wish list.

While countries around the world are expanding their international broadcasting services as key instruments of public diplomacy, our government chose to give up one of the most powerful communication tools available to it to talk to our regional neighbours about Australia presumably just because they hate giving money to the national broadcaster.

Calls from the IPA to demolish the ABC (#50 “Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function” and #51 “Privatise SBS”), followed obediently by the Liberal Party Federal Council, ignore the crucial help they could, and do, provide to the government.

It was a Four Corner’s story, Unholy Silence, that finally prompted the Royal Commission into the institutional response to child sex abuse.

It was the Four Corner’s expose of the cruelty at Don Dale that led to another RC into juvenile detention.

And their coverage of water theft in the Murray-Darling has prompted the SA government to hold its own RC (to which the Federal government are desperately trying to avoid giving evidence).

It was not the police or the regulators who initiated these investigations or uncovered the wrongdoing. It certainly wasn’t the government or their departments.

Congratulations and thanks must go to Walkley Award winning ABC researcher/producer Mary Fallon who was involved in all of these stories, with others, and who then spent hundreds of hours compiling and providing evidence for the Royal Commissions.

And then there are the stories the government won’t allow the ABC to tell.

Like the allegations of Australian authorities paying people smugglers to take asylum seekers somewhere else and the mistreatment of asylum seekers by defence personnel.

Or how we monitored the mobile phone activity of high-ranking Indonesians including the President’s wife.

Or the plight of refugees in offshore detention.

Or the real state of the NBN.

Or the lack of evidence of any benefit from company tax cuts.

Mitch Fifield smiles at us as he assures us that the government has no plans to privatise the ABC but his message to the party is that they have ways and means of keeping the ABC in line.

Aside from the savage cuts to base-funding and the constant stream of complaints and accusations of bias, Fifield outlined some of their plan to further contain and control the national broadcaster.

“In the budget, we announced an indexation pause for the ABC funding in its next triennium. We have paired that with an efficiency review to make sure that the ABC is being the best possible steward of taxpayer resources that it can be.

I’ve also initiated something called a Competitive Neutrality Inquiry, which has the purpose of assessing whether the ABC and SBS are using their position as taxpayer-funded entities to compete in ways which are not fair with the commercial broadcasting sector.

We also have a range of legislative measures which we have before the Senate. One of those, is to put into the ABC’s Act, specific and explicit reference to its obligations to rural and regional Australia.”

I wonder how the unexplained $30 million gift to Fox Sports would fare under competitive neutrality scrutiny.

A recent survey showed that the majority of ABC employees were left-leaning – greenies even. Is it so surprising that those who work for a national broadcaster, rather than a commercial enterprise with an agenda, are more motivated by social justice and environmental protection than profit, greed and personal ambition?

The Treasurer said many people think the ABC is biased but, as those of us who actually watch it rather than whinge about it know, opportunity is given to all sides to present their view. The IPA have resident status and we are regularly forced to endure people like Gerard Henderson, Michael Stutchbury and Nick Cater. Liberal politicians, current and former, abound. Amanda Vanstone and Tom Switzer have their own shows. Extraordinary lengths are gone to to ensure a cross-section in the Q&A audience and panels.

I think the accusations of bias come from people who don’t like listening to actual evidence. Let’s face it, no-one subscribes to pay tv for the news.

Finally, ABC head Michelle Guthrie has been stirred to defend her charge as her predecessors have so often been forced to do.

“[Australians] regard the ABC as one of the great national institutions [and] deeply resent it being used as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests.

Inherent in the drive against the independent public broadcaster is a belief that it can be pushed and prodded into different shapes to suit the prevailing climate. It can’t. Nor should it be.

In a complex world it is too easy for the powerful to do their work in dark corners: to cynically use so-called narrowcasting messages that have a direct appeal to certain targeted audiences, while conveying an entirely different message to others – to rely on rhetoric that doesn’t match actions. Good journalists call that out.”

She further referenced a soon-to-be-released report by Deloittes which shows that the broadcaster contributed $1 billion to the national economy last financial year. In addition to its 4000 employees, the ABC helps to sustain more than 2500 full-time equivalent jobs across the supply chain.

The ABC is not just there for entertainment or to regurgitate government media releases. It is a priceless asset that plays a pivotal role in our society in many different ways. Attempts to strangle it of funds, to erode its independence, to censor coverage, or to dumb it down, must be resisted strongly by politicians and the community.



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  1. diannaart

    Fifield outlined some of their plan to further contain and control the national broadcaster.

    “In the budget, we announced an indexation pause for the ABC funding in its next triennium. We have paired that with an efficiency review to make sure that the ABC is being the best possible steward of taxpayer resources that it can be.

    It is amazing what can be achieved with a bit of spit and an oily rag.

    Recalling a line from the inimitable Leonard Cohen:

    “Have I carved enough, my lord?”

    “Child, you are a bone.”

    Yep, “efficiency reviews” – the tool of the neo-con.

  2. Peter F

    Sometimes we can be surprised by those given responsibility. It is good to see that the ABC leader has a voice. Thanks Kaye for this post.

  3. Pierre Wilkinson

    Agree with Peter F., great that a Liberal appointee Ms Guthrie, has come out in support of the neutrality and value of the ABC, against a liberal ideology that insists on selling everything they can. Murdoch will not be pleased.

  4. guest

    The Government is actually scared of the ABC because the ABC reveals things the Government does not want revealed, and which Murdoch would not reveal and which Fairfax might not be able to afford to investigate.

    The IPA seems besotted with the idea of small government, therefore no public broadcaster. But note that they seem reluctant to sell off the rural areas because that zone would not be viable for a private provider. it’s about the money, stupid!

    I have often wondered, if small government and small taxes are so energising, why have any government and taxes at all?

    It seems to me that privatisation is not a good idea, given what has happened to energy prices.

    We have seen how governments have been milked like a cash cow by unbridled “free trade” and large percentages of enslaved populations have been anything but “free”.

    The idea that the ABC is “biased” is a fiction made up by those with things to hide. There have been numerous investigations into ABC bias. No charges laid. Yet private media outlets seem to be able to comment with jaundiced bias, no sign of “fair and balanced” anywhere. A recent Murdoch opinion piece on Julia Gillard a case in point. Opinion, it seems, has no rules – for some. Free speech OK for some, but not for others.

    So pleased to see the AIMN and Kaye Lee and others speaking up.

  5. Lawrence Winder @shanewombat)

    The completely myopic nature of the IPA in following their orders from The Ugly American, the Biggest Miner, or the BA Puffer and the political and diplomatic blindness of the Ruling Rabble in kow-towing to their demands only shows how bereft of national identity this rabble is.
    What a bloody shambles they are creating.

  6. diannaart


    I have often wondered, if small government and small taxes are so energising, why have any government and taxes at all?

    Taking the IPA’s, um, “logic” to its final conclusion no government no taxes makes a kind of sense … however, these neo-libs are also very authoritarian and require distance from someone to get their hands dirty by controlling dissidents, someone like Peter Dutton.

  7. Glenn Barry

    There were two twitter threads that I was aware of, very likely more, with an interview of Chris Burg on the Bolt report – both IPA stooges – discussing the book advocating for selling/dismembering the ABC.

    They caused quite a stir, so sky news pulled the original tweets – the threads based on others tweets remain

    They may have removed the tweet because it’s causing them so many problems so…I’m just going to put this link here – it’s the podcast of the offending episode with the interview with Chris Burg – listen from approximately 9:00 to get the introduction

    Two original threads I am aware of with information worth reading:

    It seems Chris Burg may have gotten himself into some academic trouble because of presenting incorrect information whilst representing himself as a Professor at RMIT

    Now that would be truly amusing

  8. Matters Not

    For some. the role of government should be limited to the protection of each individual’s rights to life, liberty and property. Simple! And very simplistic as well, but it’s a position that appeals to IPA types

    A full frontal assault on the ABC is counter productive and therefore recent blunders by the Libs (particularly the younger variety)ought to be welcomed. Wiser ideologues will simply continue the policy of strangulation via budget reductions. Shorten could win some votes if he guaranteed future funding backed up by some figures. Could also promise more funds for the telecasting of women’s sport and the like. Could also allow for the popular election of (some) Board Members to encourage more supporter participation and increase the number of staff representatives.

    BTW, Chris Berg is no dill. Not in the same category as Bolt.

  9. Glenn Barry

    MN – the current full frontal assault is beginning to look like a decoy for the other tactics currently being employed, or are they that tactically inept also?

  10. Kaye Lee

    Andrew Bolt’s son scored a job at the IPA.

    As for Chris Berg, he likes to say he is a “Postdoctoral Fellow at RMIT University and a Senior Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs.”

    A postdoc fellow just means he is still doing research, or what he calls research. As mentioned elsewhere, his thesis was “Safety and soundness: an economic history of prudential bank regulation in Australia, 1893-2008.” Hardly groundbreaking stuff.

    As for being a “Senior Fellow with the IPA”, I laugh in your general direction. What the hell does it mean to have that credential? That you still can’t find a real job?

  11. Matters Not

    There’s tactics and then there’s strategy. And while the two are not conceptually discreet, tactics tend to have much shorter (immediate) timelines than strategies. Young Liberals want to change the world yesterday (as do many in Young Labor), strategists know that successful changes requires a tilling of the ground so that ideally, it’s the punters that are crying out for change and the politicians are seen as simply responding to the voters’ wishes.

    It’s a lesson that Rudd never learned. Too quick to offer solutions to problems that only a few perceived as problems.

    Sometimes it’s best to lead from behind.

  12. Kaye Lee

    The IPA love to make submissions to, and appear at, Senate inquiries. The following is an hilarious exchange between Doug Cameron and the IPA’s “research fellow” Chris Berg and “director” Simon Breheny at a 2013 Senate Committee Inquiry into the Finkelstein Review about media regulation.

    Excerpt from Environment and Communications Legislation Committee — 19/03/2013 (from Hansard):

    CHAIR: Mr Berg and Mr Breheny, why should we give more weight to your evidence than to Mr Finkelstein’s and Professor Ricketson’s?

    Mr Berg: The IPA has strong views; I think it is backed by research evidence. I do not think that the Finkelstein review was as intellectually coherent as some have claimed it was, and I do not think it is the be-all and end-all of media discussion in this country. I do not know why we would raise that up to being the definitive statement on the free press.

    CHAIR: But strong views are not the basis on which to make deliberations; strong views are strong views.

    Mr Berg: Absolutely; and I would be happy to send you a copy of my book, which details at great length the evidence that we bring to bear on this discussion, which is a historical and philosophical grounding on the importance of the free press and the historical and current threats to it.

    CHAIR: Do you have a PhD in the media or something like that?

    Mr Berg: No, I do not.

    CHAIR: What are your qualifications?

    Mr Berg: I have a Bachelor of Arts and I am doing a PhD at the moment at RMIT university.

    CHAIR: In what?

    Mr Berg: In economics.

    CHAIR: So you have no qualifications in the media?

    Mr Berg: In the media in general?

    CHAIR: Yes.

    Mr Berg: I am a published commentator on all sorts of things.

    CHAIR: A commentator—

    Mr Berg: No, I understand—

    CHAIR: I am asking about your professional base. I am not asking whether you are a commentator; we know you are a commentator. Mr Breheny, what about you? What are your qualifications?

    Mr Breheny: I am currently a university student; I am studying arts and law at the University of Melbourne.

    CHAIR: Arts and law—good on you; that is great….

  13. Matters Not


    CHAIR: Do you have a PhD in the media or something like that?

    One wonders what a PhD in the media looks like? One wonders also whether the Chair has any such qualifications and if the Chair lacks same, then what qualifies he/she to Chair such inquiries?

    In short, it was a cheap shot. Funny perhaps. But cheap nevertheless!

    As for Berg’s future, I imagine Davidson is working hard trying to welcome a fellow traveller to his faculty

  14. Kaye Lee

    My question is why these unqualified people are allowed to appear before Senate inquiries. Surely there is a vetting process?

    In October 2010, the same Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Ian Plimer’s book Heaven and Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

    Director of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers said “At one stage [Cardinal Pell] lists greenhouse gases. Included in the list is the gas nitrogen. That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere.”

    Pell, to my knowledge, has studied nothing other than theology.

    Formal education is not an essential requirement to having an opinion but some actual experience or involvement surely helps if you are seeking to advise the government on policy? Media regulation is a very important and complicated issue. I agree it was a cheap shot – he should have asked more about their justification for their view. He could have shown how they were just parroting tea party arguments about free speech and pointed out the many examples of conservatives trying to muzzle it. He could have asked about the consequences of a concentration of media ownership. Perhaps he had, I only read the quoted excerpt.

  15. Andrew Smith

    Australian journalists are actually too conservative, culturally specific and soft, possibly too close and similar to MPs?

    This article quite rightly highlights the hypocrisy of the govt. on pulling aid, devolopment and diplomacy in our region over the years.

    Our media, and definitely powers that be, seem to ensure that journalists focus on the now and avoid creating context by ignoring history, trends and non Australian comparisons that may anger or confuse the ‘top people’ in insular Australia.

    Regarding recent events with Murdoch’s other puppet Trump, paying out on Merkel (who is despised by Murdoch as most eminent EU leader where media and monopoly laws constrain NewsCorp, whose own saintly Greg Sheridan has spoken dispargingly of Merkel often on her Christian approach to ‘immigrants’), and refugee stunt, how is this any different from Australia?

    Sessions, Bannon, Kobach et al. we’re all guided and informed by nativist (neo eugenics) movement that has played a long and mostly invisible strategy since WWII, funded by old deep pocketed oligarchs whose influence via think tanks, UN Population Council and foundations have also informed the IPA, directly (via Heritage, Cato and AEI).

    The present Anglo sphere of US, UK and Australia have descended into unethical and paranoid Nativism, supporting oligarchs favoured by Erdogan, Orban and Putin, but who cares? It wouldn’t happen here…. Meanwhile Laura Tingle claims (quite fairly) that the LNP are afraid of ABC and its penchant for facts and analysis versus preferred theatre, bombast and dog whistling. But, me thinks they are more fearful of NewsCorp?

  16. paul walter

    Discussed on the Drum tonight and Conservatives comprehensively routed.

  17. Matters Not

    Conducting an Inquiry is difficult, particularly when it involves thousands of submissions. While there’s no ‘perfect’ way, some type of response classification is essential and will happen anyway – consciously or not. First there’s that of the ‘experts’ – either individually or more commonly the ‘organisation’ – subject associations, faculties, institutions, associations etc.. Second there’s the informed coherent individuals – thirdly there’s the articulate outsider who might attract further publicity and finally there’s those who tick the box in a form submission. As I say there’s no perfect method of screening.

    What’s to the forefront, is the possibility of political flack – before, during or after the ‘findings’. The ‘classification’ is essentially political (but not necessarily party political.)

    If I was conducting an inquiry, I would’ve given Pell all the rope he wanted. And that decision maker made the right choice. Pell is now on the record – and that’s a good thing.

  18. Glenn Barry

    Kaye Lee, that dialogue from the senate is quite magical, worthy of Monty Python and could have just as easily been at a symposium of brain surgeons

  19. Kaye Lee

    Pell is hugely on the record on climate change. He is emboldened by those who actually listen to him about it. It was the subject of his 2006 Legatus summit speech. He wrote an article for the Telegraph about it in 2007. In 2011 he delivered the annual Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture in London. Leading climate change researchers launched a scathing attack on the speech, describing it as “dreadful”, “utter rubbish” and “flawed”.

    Pell said “Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign. In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.”

    Note how Pell’s language was adopted by Abbott? There is a danger in giving people credence they are not due.

  20. paul walter

    They are odd buggers, the righties.

  21. Kaye Lee

    Harry Stutchbury, son of Insiders regular and AFR editor Michael, is president of NSW Young Liberals. He is one of those leading the charge to privatise the ABC and has written a piece in the SMH titled “The ABC is an indulgence we can no longer afford”. It’s great when your dad can use the ABC to push your right wing views and then connect you up with Fairfax so you can have another platform to push your opinions.


  22. paul walter

    You can see why they want the ABC silenced with the latest example, Telstra. If people understand tax cuts is just money to be offshored then all the lies about the value of tax cuts is exposed because it is not reinvested as the liars claim.

  23. New England Cocky

    Perhaps the answer to the IPA “infection” is to ban ALL foreign and local corporate donations to the IPA and similar organisations plus limit all donations from private natural persons to $1,000 per rolling year to be reported on-line within 48 hours of receipt and NOT be treated for tax purposes as a donation to a charity or other worthy cause which would give unreasonable tax advantage.

    I love my ABC and I vote!!!!!

  24. Adrianne Haddow

    The ABC has just launched a website “Future of your ABC”.

    A fight back site with articles outlining the value of public broadcasting, a piece on the efficiency reviews of the ABC (12 reviews in 15 years) and an article on the government commissioning an ‘expert panel’ to do yet another review into the neutrality of the ABC ( June 2018). I wonder what constitutes an expert panel…….. IPA pseudo-academic research ‘fellows’?

    There is an option to sign up for a news letter. If enough of us subscribe, it may send a message to the feather-headed bigots or those who rely on propaganda to make their billions, who are pushing this privatisation agenda.
    Looking at you Gina, Rupert, Mitch and your IPA playmates.

  25. Jaz

    Another excellent post Kaye ,

    This IPA / LNP agenda has been allowed to unfold and be carried out with little critical analysis in our mainstream media
    Which has included the all out assault on the ABC from with in and externally by these IPA and LNP assholes , its an absolute disgrace.

  26. king1394

    How galling it must be for a media professional like Michelle Guthrie to discover that her appointment was based on a perception that she would run the ABC into the ground. She probably thought that compliance and continuing excellence would be recognised and applauded. Now she’s angry.

  27. Glenn Barry

    King1394 – Now Guthrie has alerted everyone to the fact that she hasn’t been doing her job for the last several years whilst the attacks have been in progress. It was better for her to be considered to be without standards.

    Not dis-similar to the speaker of the house and his ridiculous reprimand of a Labor question to Turnbull – citing that the question ‘if it continues going down this path it will demean the house’.

    He would have been far better served by remaining silent, instead he has now signaled that he has standards and after Turnbull’s abusive rant in response to the first question – he then chooses to take a stand – on a foundation of hypocrisy

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