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Byron Shire
April 22, 2021

Friends of ABC protest against cuts

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Friends of the ABC northern rivers show their support for staff in the wake of government cuts to the broadcaster's budget at the ABC North Coast studio in Lismore this morning (November 20). Photo supplied
Friends of the ABC northern rivers at the ABC North Coast studio in Lismore this morning (November 20) demonstrating their support for staff in the wake of government cuts to the broadcaster’s budget. Photo supplied

Chris Dobney

Bearing signs carrying slogans including ‘Hands off our aunty’ and ‘Save our local ABC’ dozens of supporters gathered outside the national broadcaster’s Lismore radio studio this morning.

A letter of support was handed to staff along with cupcakes and other goodies to bolster their morale.

Friends of the ABC’s northern rivers president, Richard Gates, said he was pleasantly surprised both by the turn-up and the positive responses the rally received from passers-by.

‘We were amazed at the number of people who honked the horns of their cars as they drove past our action’ Dr Gates said.

‘The staff were clearly very appreciative of the public support. Their hands are tied against kicking of any “own goals” and so we felt someone had to speak up for them,’ he added.

‘It is clear to me that staff are worried about their futures and with good reason.’

Dr Gates said protesters had reserved their especial ire for communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had the job of wielding the axe over the ABC and to a lesser extent the SBS.

‘It would be fair to say that he has done himself a lot of damage over the last few days through his defence of the indefensible, that is Tony Abbott’s promise that there would be “no cuts to the ABC”.

‘People see through the rhetoric and do not like being patronized and treated like fools,’ Dr Gates said.

‘I called today for Mr Turnbull to release the Lewis efficiency review of the ABC. It is time for the government to stop hiding behind claims of ‘commercial-in-confidence’ and provide the report which has generated the cuts to the ABC.

‘The government does itself no good by hiding behind technicalities particularly when it seems that the contacts of the Murdoch press have knowledge of what’s contained in the Lewis review,’ Dr Gates said.

High school debating tactics

Earlier today finance minister Mathis Corman told incredulous interviewer Chris Uhlmann that the cuts, amounting to five per cent of the broadcaster’s budget over five years, were not in fact cuts but rather ‘efficiency dividends’.

‘These are not cuts. The ABC has been exempted from efficiency dividends for the last 20 years, efficiency dividends which apply to every other department in Government, every other agency of government that is funded by the taxpayer,’ he told AM.

Opposition communication spokesman Jason Clare told Lateline last night, ‘that sort of excuse is worse than kids make up for why they didn’t do their homework.’

The Friends’ letter of support read in part, ‘No amount of high school debating team tactics or spin doctoring by politicians diminishes what is happening to our ABC. It is suffering the “death of a thousand cuts” brought about by a secretive minister for communications and his secretive department.

‘It might have been easier to accept some change to the ABC’s budget if the Lewis Report on which these changes are based had been made public so that we could see what is being done and hold the government to account,’ the letter continued, ‘but Malcolm Turnbull and his department have refused to make the report public.

‘But worse than that, the individual who authored the report is now a member of the ABC Board, a clear political appointment.

‘Cuts of the size proposed by the government cannot be dismissed as “backroom fat” that can be easily trimmed. We are talking about people, not commodities.

‘The ABC is what it is because of its staff. We want you to know that many people in the community support the ABC and its staff and are appalled by what is happening.’

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