MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
ADDRESS TO ABC FRIENDS RALLY, SYDNEY
SUNDAY, 15 MAY 2022
I acknowledge traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
And I take this moment to affirm that, if given the privilege, an Albanese Labor Government will implement the Uluru Statement in full – Voice, Treaty and Truth.
With under a week to go until the federal election, it’s great to be here amongst so many friends – both in person and online – during our festival of democracy.
Thank you to the ABC Friends for bringing us together, for the invitation to share a few words today, and for your tireless advocacy in support of our public broadcaster.
And thank you to the esteemed ABC Alumni – all of whom are campaigning hard to protect the ABC that they helped build with their own blood, sweat and tears.
At the start of my term as Labor’s Shadow Minister for Communications, I appreciated the opportunity to address the ABC Friends in this room on the topic of media concentration and the ABC’s role in promoting media diversity.
And Labor has engaged with ABC Friends many times since, at Parliament House at public events, and will continue to do so.
So I’m not here to recite the long list of defences Labor has had to mount – in the Parliament, in the media and in our communities – as the ABC has been cut and attacked over the past decade, under this rotten Liberal National government. These are already well documented, and frankly we’d be here all day.
And I acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues, Zali Steggall MP and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who will bring their own perspectives as ABC defenders, and I look forward to hearing that.
With the election right in front of us, there is a mood for change, but the contest is close and will narrow between now and Saturday.
So today I have chosen to talk about leadership – leadership in our national interest, with our national broadcaster, the ABC.
Communications connect the nation
Friends, the power of communications to connect Australians, right across our vast land, is immense.
To this end, the Communications Portfolio contains significant Australian institutions that have been built up by generations of Australian taxpayers to serve the public interest, including:
- The ABC – which is 90 years old this year
- The SBS
- Australia Post
- And the National Broadband Network.
Individually, and collectively, these entities service every household in Australia on a constant, daily basis.
And they were critical to keeping our country functioning throughout the unprecedented disruptions of COVID, bushfires, floods, mouse plague and all the rest that beset the nation over the term of the 46th Parliament.
The Liberal National government seeks to divide the nation
Yet in every instance, the Liberal National government has sought to undermine, wreck or trash them.
Whether it’s downgrading the NBN from a full-fibre model to the copper mess that costs more and does less, only to backflip $50 billion later;
Or stacking the board of Australia Post with Liberal cronies, then presiding over their scandals and dysfunction which included a plan to cut services and postal worker jobs under the cover of COVID;
Or breaking an explicit election promise not to cut the ABC and SBS only to turn around and do just that;
The Liberals and Nationals appear hell bent on destroying the public interest institutions that connect and unite Australians.
That they were elected on such an explicit lie about the national broadcasters, in 2013, says everything you need to know about this rotten government.
This government that lies, and cuts, then lies about the cuts, has been on a quest to undermine the ABC, to undermine trust, and to divide Australians.
And they make no secret of it.
They’ve introduced legislation to amend the ABC Act for “regional Australia”.
Window-dressing legislation that is all about division and politics, empty rhetoric and backroom deals, which they like to have sitting on the books but never bring on for debate.
Twice their bills to amend the ABC Charter have lapsed during my tenure as Shadow Minister.
And the Liberal Federal Council has gone so far as to vote to privatise the ABC, except in regional areas that are not commercially viable.
As if you can neatly divide ABC content and services down metro / regional lines.
The fact is, Australians in regional areas do watch Four Corners and Mad as Hell; while Australians in metropolitan areas watch Landline and Backroads.
Right across Australia, Australians come together for ABC content.
Yet Scott Morrison shirks invitations to appear on the ABC – even dodging a Leaders’ debate on the ABC.
And, we know why.
It’s because Scott Morrison is pandering to short-sighted extremists, who don’t understand media plurality and simply don’t want the ABC in the marketplace of ideas.
It’s also because Scott Morrison hates accountability – he is allergic to scrutiny.
It’s the ABC’s job to hold power to account, but in our democracy, Scott Morrison doesn’t want to show up for work.
It’s no coincidence that the Liberals’ broken promises include their cuts to the ABC, their failure to act on press freedom and their failure to legislate a Federal Anti-Corruption Commission.
As it’s no coincidence that Australia’s ranking has slipped down the World Press Freedom Index, or that the Australian Human Rights Commission risks having its global accreditation downgraded, because of the deficiencies in how the Liberals have appointed Commissioners.
Of course, the Liberals have undermined the merit-based selection process for the ABC too.
They’ve thumbed their noses at the legislated independent nominations-panel process designed to bolster trust and integrity in the ABC.
All around us, the evidence of this Government’s appalling behaviour demonstrates that Australia is losing trust and standing.
Early on in Scott Morrison’s time as Prime Minister, a Pacific leader criticised him for being “insulting and condescending”, warning he would push nations towards China.
Another Pacific leader said he was “taken aback” by Scott Morrison’s behaviour in the diplomatic meetings.
A few years later, China’s deal in the Solomons – on Scott Morrison’s watch – marks the biggest foreign policy blunder since WWII.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has name-checked Australia as a recalcitrant nation on climate change, the French President confirmed Scott Morrison lied to him and we now know that Morrison broke trust with the US Biden administration by failing to brief Labor on the AUKUS defence pact.
Now if you can’t be trusted on national security, what can you be trusted on?
Well, they’ve proven they can’t be trusted with the ABC – yet they ask Australians to suspend their judgement:
Trust us, this time.
“I can change,” they say.
In the lead up to the federal budget, this election year, the Morrison Government made a significant pivot, in the direction of supporting the ABC.
After years spent doubling down on ABC funding cuts, then misleading the Australian public by saying “there are no cuts”, Scott Morrison and Minister Paul Fletcher decided to change tack.
In February, they announced that the ABC and SBS would get their usual funding envelope.
They even confirmed that they’d restore indexation – not retrospectively of course, but over the forward estimates.
Now, while it has been noted, including by Jonathan Holmes, that the ABC’s budget is going backwards in real terms, Labor welcomed the Government’s announcement.
Indeed, we encourage Minister Fletcher to do the right thing – to walk towards the light – which can’t be easy when a large chunk of your partyroom want to cancel the ABC entirely.
We encourage the Liberals and Nationals to speak out and express their support for the ABC.
The national broadcaster is an important democratic institution. It shouldn’t be a political football.
But for all the new rhetoric in the Minister’s media release, the Prime Minister still hasn’t been able to hide his contempt for the ABC.
When Labor announced its Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy, to restore Australia’s voice in the region, Scott Morrison mocked the policy, and he mocked the ABC.
Labor’s plan would deliver an additional $32 million over four years – bringing ABC International funding up to $19 million per annum – as well as examine the potential restoration of shortwave radio broadcasting capacity in the Pacific.
But Scott Morrison, without an ounce of humility for his foreign policy stuff up and failure to maintain relationships, simply jeered:
“I sent in the AFP. The Labor Party wants to send in the ABC, when it comes to their Pacific solution.”
As if it’s a choice between the AFP or the ABC, when it’s not.
And Scott Morrison also said, of Labor’s policy:
“When it comes to their Pacific solution, They have a Q&A solution."
He flung this juvenile insult, despite the fact that when his own Minister, appeared on Q&A in Suva, Alex Hawke thanked the ABC and Fiji Broadcasting for taking the show to the Pacific and said there should be more of it.
Now I’m sure many in this room share the frustration and despair of the former high commissioner to the Solomon Islands, Trevor Sofield, who was manhandled by Scott Morrison’s security detail when he calmly and bravely articulated that he would no longer vote Liberal because of the Prime Minister’s mishandling of the relationship with the Pacific Island nation.
No one would doubt this person’s expertise, or his conviction, and he was a voice for all of us when he tried to approach Scott Morrison, but was ignored.
So I worry that, with Scott Morrison’s propensity to break his promises, and his ongoing contempt for the national broadcaster, the ABC remains in great danger.
If Scott Morrison is re-elected as Prime Minister, he will preside over an Australia that is saddled with a trillion dollars of debt.
Debt much higher than that which was used to justify the Coalition’s confected “budget emergency” in 2014, when swingeing cuts were made to the ABC.
And my great fear is that the ABC might, once again, find itself in the firing line.
So when Scott Morrison described himself as a bulldozer, this week, Australians should believe him.
Scott Morrison wants to demolish, to trample, to bully and to crush.
And if he is elected this coming weekend, you can bet your bottom dollar that he will.
A Labor Albanese Government will bring people together
Well happily, there is someone who doesn’t take our highways or the ABC for granted – and that person is the alternative Prime Minister of Australia, my good friend, Anthony Albanese.
Anthony Albanese wants to bring the nation together.
Businesses, unions and workers.
People of faith and the secular community.
He wants to build consensus, bring people together over our common values and shared aims.
He’s described himself as a builder, and he is.
As former Minster for Infrastructure and Communications, he does understand the power of connectivity – of joining cities to the regions with roads, as well as with broadcasting and digital media services.
The ABC is a platform that brings Australians together.
Reflecting and shaping who we are.
For 90 years, the ABC has been our story-teller, our mirror and our conscience.
But its past decade has been marked by arbitrary cuts and hostile attacks, under the Liberals.
At the same time, ASIO is warning of the rise of extremism in our country, and we’ve seen anti-lockdown protests on the streets and, further afield, what the UN describes a global “trust deficit”.
Meanwhile both the ABC and Parliament House have upgraded security systems for the physical safety of their staff and visitors.
In the face of political, social and economic instability at home and abroad, we must ensure that Australia’s instruments of nation building, democracy and culture remain strong now and into the future.
That’s why we’ve announced that, if elected, an Albanese Labor Government will do the following:
- Grant five-year funding terms to the national broadcasters, to provide much-needed stability.
- Review options for delivering a greater level of financial stability and certainty to the national broadcasters to safeguard against arbitrary ideological cuts and political interference.
- Reverse Scott Morrison’s cut of $83.7 million.
- Provide an additional funding of $32 million for ABC International for broadcasting in the Indo-Pacific.
- Examine the reintroduction of shortwave radio.
- Conduct a feasibility study into the expansion of Double J on radio.
These won’t fix repair all the damage exacted by the Liberals overnight, but they will make things better.
And making things better runs deeper than simply increasing funding, which of course is important.
Labor offers something more fundamental than that.
Across the totality of the Australian Labor Party, our rank and file and our Caucus, Labor is united: Labor will never privatise the ABC.
We understand that the idea of privatising public broadcasting is an oxymoron.
And we understand that the staff of the ABC – the journalists, writers, presenters, creatives whose job it is to entertain, inform and educate Australians, should be able to do their jobs without fear:
- of being raided by police simply because they have embarrassed the government of the day,
- of having their funding cut,
- of having vendetta-style legislation introduced into Parliament because of an investigative report,
- of having a threatening letter sent to the Board because the Government didn’t like a program,
- or having their tweets pored over at Senate Estimates by so-called liberals who only support free speech when it’s the stuff they want to hear.
Labor offers something that the Morrison Government simply cannot: respect for the ABC as the important democratic institution that it is.
I can tell you again, friends, an Albanese Labor Government offers Australians a better approach because, Australia – we can do better than this.
With a strong ABC, and a unifying leader as Prime Minister, Australia can reclaim its sense of self and repair its world standing.
Because world class infrastructure and high-quality public broadcasting are things that our developed democracy should have, and take for granted, now and for the next 90 years of the ABC.
But to get it, Australia has to change the government and change the nation.
The choice on the ABC is stark.
And depending on the outcome of the election – I’ll either have a lot more to say to you about the ABC and the Communications Portfolio, or a lot less.
So thank you all, for standing up for the ABC – and with it, the values our democratic nation espouses.
And thank you to the ABC and the hardworking ABC staff:
- for life saving emergency broadcasting over long summers of bushfires – while other people took holidays, you showed up for your jobs;
- and thank you for investigative journalism that has precipitated social reform during this term – including at the very heart of our democracy, in Parliament House
- thanks for trusted news and information that is an antidote to misinformation, including about the pandemic
- And thanks for comedy, drama and kids TV – Bluey in particular – for the laughs, escapism and joy that we’ve needed more than ever through these challenging times.
The ABC, its staff, its audiences, the Friends and Alumni – all play a part in supporting the ABC.
Labor will always engage across the political spectrum in support of the ABC.
But the choice is clear.
While Australians trust the ABC, they can’t trust Scott Morrison with the ABC.
When it comes to the independence and integrity of the ABC, the Liberals crossed the red line long ago.
Only an Albanese Labor Government will put the national interest first and deliver the stability that is needed for the ABC.