Cuts to Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, during a time when media outlets across the country are closing and cutting staff has been roundly criticised. Concerns over the potential risk to Australian lives as a result of the cuts impacting on life-saving information during emergencies are also being raised.
Local MP Justine Elliot has joined the criticism condemning the Morrison Liberal-National government for it’s budget cuts which will lead to the loss of 250 jobs; significantly more than the 100 ongoing jobs that the Adani mining project is projected to bring to the nation as stated by Nationals MP Brigid McKenzie in 2018.
‘Labor is concerned that successive cuts to the ABC by the Liberal-National government are undermining this trusted institution,’ said Ms Elliot.
‘ABC workers and services are essential across our community. Across regional Australia, and in regions like ours on the North Coast, the ABC plays a vital role in keeping us connected with local news and emergency information.
‘From emergency broadcasting during the bushfires and floods to trusted news, education and information during the Coronavirus pandemic, we need the ABC now more than ever.
‘Since 2013 the Liberal-National government has cut millions in funding to the ABC, which has meant job cuts and a shameful drop in Australian content and services. The fact is funding cuts to the ABC under this government are more than $783 million.
‘The government ignored the ABC’s warning that the latest cut of $83.7 million will make it difficult for the ABC to meet its Charter requirements and audience expectations.’
Emergency broadcasts risk
This is supported by the National Rural Health Alliance, the peak body for rural health in Australia, is concerned about proposed changes to the ABC’s emergency broadcasting division.
‘The devastating bushfires this summer showed just how important the ABC is as an emergency broadcaster for people in rural Australia,’ said CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane.
‘People rely on the ABC for timely, accurate information about the emergency situation in their area and we don’t want to see that diminished.
‘While we acknowledge that the ABC is looking to improve their emergency broadcasting capabilities by making it more locally-focused, we are concerned about any changes that would mean that people in rural areas can’t get access to this life-saving information when an emergency comes and will be keeping a close eye on these developments.’
Dr O’Kane said that media in rural Australia was under threat more than ever and that now was the time to invest more rather than less.
‘The indexation freeze on the ABC is hitting hard and meaning that services are having to be cut – like the 7.45am news bulletin that many Australians wake up to.
‘We do applaud the ABC for wanting to focus more on local journalists and producers outside of Sydney, but when the overall amount of money isn’t increasing it’s hard to see how this will happen without services having to be cut back.
‘This also comes at a time when local newspapers are under threat. We’ve already seen News Corp having to stop printing over 100 mastheads.’
She said that regional media was very important for the health of rural, regional and remote communities.
‘Regional media allows communities to be better connected, but also provides a way for people to advocate for better health services and hold those in power to account when they don’t deliver fair and equitable health care.
‘Regional media is also a significant employer and this is needed more than ever in rural areas, especially in the wake of COVID-19. The links between stable employment and better physical and mental health are clear.
‘Also as we saw with COVID-19, regional media is an incredibly important way of delivering public health messages to communities.’
Government cuts jobs in a recession
While the Liberal–National government continues to support businesses across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic cutting funding to the ABC appears at odds with its stated strategy to keep people in jobs.
‘Australia is now in recession and the media is in crisis yet up to 250 ABC staff now face the sack including 70 staff in the news division. These losses will further undermine the Public’s Right to Know campaign and the strength of our democracy.
‘Since 2013, and in breach of their election promise, the Liberals and Nationals have cut general ABC funding as well as reduced funding for local news gathering, including in regional Australia.
‘Labor has called on the government to reverse these cuts and will continue to hold the Liberals and Nationals to account for seven years of cuts to the ABC.
‘The ABC is a trusted public service that has been invested in and built up by generations of Australians and dedicated ABC staff. The ABC is part of our national fabric. That’s why Labor will stand up for the ABC and fight against the Morrison government’s cuts and attacks against our public broadcaster,’ Justine said.
According to a report in The Guardian last year the Adani Carmichael coal mine would not be viable without $4.4bn in government subsidies, favourable deals and tax concessions. That is $4.4bn of Australian taxpayers money to fund 100 ongoing jobs over 30 years. Compare this to the $1,045.9 million in 2018–19 of government funding for the ABC, an organisation that employs over 4,000 staff across every state and territory in Australia.