05 September 2017

I rise to speak for the over 15,000 Australians who have signed a petition urging crossbench senators to reject the moves to undermine the ABC and SBS as part of negotiations with the Turnbull government on its flawed cross-media ownership changes which are now before the Senate. 

The Australia Institute and ABC Friends have presented me with this petition, which asks the coalition and the Senate crossbench to:

Please reject all moves to trade away ABC and SBS funding, tamper with their charters and independence, or hobble their ability to engage in the new media environment.

The reason the ABC and SBS are facing this fresh attack is that the Turnbull government is desperate, unable to get its media ownership changes through the Senate on merit, and has resorted to using our national broadcasters as a bargaining chip in a side deal with Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. When the parliament last sat, the Turnbull government welcomed what it called 'constructive engagement' with One Nation, only too happy to support a package of measures directed at undermining the independence of the ABC and SBS. This pact between the Turnbull government and One Nation includes a rewrite of the ABC Act and charter, to give One Nation a few hooks to meddle with the ABC's independence. These include a requirement that the ABC be 'fair and balanced', which One Nation explained would absolutely include giving equal weight to anti-vaxxers. What's next? Equal time for Holocaust deniers and white supremacists? What is more, Senator Hanson has stated in no uncertain terms that she'll be taking the matter of ABC funding up with the Treasurer to 'whack off quite a bit of money' from the ABC's budget next year. It begs the question: is there a secret side agreement between One Nation and the Turnbull government to cut ABC funding next year?

Unless the Senate crossbench, including the Xenophon political party, rejects this deal with the Turnbull government on its flawed media ownership proposals, an unprecedented attack on the ABC and SBS will be unleashed. The government's deal with One Nation proves that the Liberals and Nationals can't be trusted with our public broadcasters. The night before the 2013 election, then opposition leader Abbott promised there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS. Yet, at the earliest opportunity, he, along with Minister Turnbull, then Minister for Communications, made savage budget cuts. This government, under two successive prime ministers, has shown that it cannot be trusted with our public broadcasters. It beggars belief that the Turnbull government slashes ABC funding and then turns around and complains the national broadcaster isn't doing enough for rural and regional Australia.

Labor condemns the Turnbull government for using our broadcasters as a political football and as a bargaining chip in its backdoor dealings with One Nation. The vast majority of Australians value and trust their national broadcasters. Labor stands with the over 15,000 Australians who have put their names to this petition, and we will table this as a document in the Senate and carry their message forward: hands off our ABC and SBS.