MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
MINISTER LEADS NATS UP THE GARDEN PATH ON ABC FUNDING
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s responses about ABC funding cuts on Insiders today were incomprehensible and an insult to the ABC Chair, to the National Party and to regional Australia.
When asked why he didn’t make his National Party colleagues aware of an ABC funding request for regional services after the black summer bushfires, the Minister dismissed both ignoring the ABC and the Nats as a routine matter.
The Minister’s failure to raise the ABC’s request for vital emergency broadcasting and local news capability with the Minister for Regional Communications, Mark Coulton, or Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, with whom he shares a Department, smacks of arrogance and incompetence.
When asked for his response to an urgent request from NSW Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, to reverse the ABC cuts because of the devastating impact on regional Australia, the Minister simply doubled down on denial and distraction.
The Minister denied the ABC cuts saying “there is no cut” and that “funding is stable” even as the Government’s budget papers record an $83.7m saving from the ABC, which the ABC Chair confirms as a cut.
Then the Minister distracted by pointing to a $50m Public Interest Newsgathering Fund (PING) for commercial media which also sells regional Australia short.
The PING is running late – too late for newsrooms that have already closed – and falls $100m short of what the ACCC recommended over a year ago. It is comprised of funds the Government failed to disperse to regional and small publishers under a previous fund and not one cent of it goes to the ABC.
Even the Minister’s claim that the Government gave the ABC “additional” funds of $43.7m for regional and local newsgathering is misleading.
Funding for that program commenced in 2013-14 under Labor at $69.4m over three years. The Coalition then continued it in 2016 at a reduced amount of $41.4m and again extended it in 2019 at $43.7m over three years.
Empty words and false assertions do nothing to address the crisis facing regional media, exacerbated by COVID-19 and the recession, and do nothing to ensure the safety of Australians in the face of natural disasters.
The Minister likes saying of the ABC that “Sydney is not Australia and Ultimo is not Sydney”.
It’s time the Nats reminded the Minister that the Liberals are not the Coalition when it comes to funding the ABC.
SUNDAY, 28 JUNE 2020