Speech: ABC (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019

Speech: ABC (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019 Main Image

16 September 2019

BILLS;Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019;Second Reading - 16 Sep 2019

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (17:29): I am proud to stand here today as a friend of the ABC to show my support for everything the ABC does for our community today and every day. On the New South Wales South Coast and Far South Coast, we love our ABC. Many of us grew up watching the ABC—those iconic programs like Play School and Bananas in Pyjamas, quality TV time that many, parents and children alike, have been grateful for. The first radio and TV services heard in the bush were courtesy of the ABC, and regional towns around the country still depend on the ABC for their local news today. In regional and rural areas like that of my electorate, the availability of local news is of vital importance, and not just for sharing local stories, hearing local voices and knowing local issues; it can also help save lives in critical situations such as bushfires or accidents on the notorious Princes Highway. The ABC becomes a kind of community noticeboard, with stories shared on air and via ABC Illawarra and ABC South East New South Wales social media pages. Regional communities trust the ABC, and we rely on it as our independent public broadcaster. We turn to it in times of need and trust it to always be there.

That is why I am disappointed in the coalition government's cynical attempts in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019 to hide the fact they are doing nothing to help improve broadcasting in regional and rural areas. This bill is simply unnecessary. I struggle to understand why this government is wasting time with legislative amendments that will increase red tape when we already know what the cause of the problem facing the ABC is and we know the answer too.

People of my electorate have been feeling the effects of this government's contempt for the ABC for years. When the Abbott government first cut ABC funding in November 2014 after promising at the election that there would be no cuts to the ABC, it was regional Australia and the New South Wales South Coast that felt the brunt first. Despite Mr Abbott's election eve promise of no cuts to the ABC, the Nowra office of the ABC was forced to close when the Abbott government cut $254 million from the ABC. 'No cuts to the ABC' was all too soon proven to be a falsehood, and my community's disappointment at the treatment of the ABC has only increased from there. In my electorate, we are proudly represented by ABC Illawarra, based in Wollongong, and ABC South East New South Wales, based in Bega. However, the closure of the Nowra office in 2014 left the South Coast of New South Wales with no ABC office between these two regional hubs. Areas like Kiama, Nowra, Ulladulla and Batemans Bay were caught between the two, which is over a two-hour stretch for a local reporter at either end of the electorate. But this was only the beginning. In 2016, the coalition government cut another $28 million from the ABC, and this year we saw even more, with a further $83.7 million slashed over three years. This means fewer jobs, fewer local stories and declining investment in Australian content and regional communities.

In total since 2013, this government has cut $366 million from the ABC. The impact of these cuts has been real for regional and rural Australia, including the communities in my electorate. In a declining economy, when even the Reserve Bank has been calling for the government to increase jobs growth, these cuts have seen 800 jobs lost. We have seen the loss of the Australia Network, short-wave radio is gone, and the hours of factual ABC programming have dropped by 60 per cent. The ABC warned that this latest cut threatens delivery of the requirements of the ABC charter, the same charter the government are now seeking to amend in order to mask the impacts of their own cuts. This bill will cost the ABC hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in bureaucracy and red tape when what we need is funding for local voices and local stories. This government will use every lever it can to undermine the ABC.

In June 2019, the ACCC released its report from the digital platforms inquiry. The report recommended that stable and adequate funding be provided to the ABC and found that the public broadcasters 'are not currently resourced to fully compensate for the decline in local reporting previously produced by traditional commercial publishers'. This bill does nothing to address these recommendations or the real issues facing our ABC.

The people in my electorate want to see genuine efforts by this government to protect and properly fund the ABC for regional and rural areas. Unnecessary, duplicative and burdensome changes to the ABC Act and Charter that will only increase red tape are not what the people of the New South Wales South Coast need. We need funding and real policies to ensure we can support local news gathering. That is what the people of the south coast need from this government.

This bill proposes to:

… amend the ABC's Charter in relation to the delivery of services to ensure that the ABC's programs contribute to a sense of "regional and" national identity, and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural "and geographic" diversity of, the Australian community.

I oppose this bill because we know that, when rural and regional communities are struggling under the weight of budget cuts, job cuts and the silencing of local stories, this government wants to waste time amending the ABC's charter to achieve something it already does. The ABC's charter already has obligations for rural and regional communities to be served. Those in rural and regional communities know that the ABC is already delivering on this commitment. We know that the ABC is doing what it can for rural and regional Australia with the resources this government has given it. The ABC's charter uses the phrases 'national identity' and 'cultural diversity'. These terms are already interpreted broadly, and the addition of the words 'regional' and 'geographic' are plainly just semantics and simply unnecessary.

People in communities like mine know how hard the ABC works to serve all Australians. We know that the ABC is inclusive and diverse and full of local voices. We know the ABC has a long history of focusing on programming and initiatives for rural and regional communities. The problem is not the charter. The problem is not the act. Ask anyone on the New South Wales South Coast and I'm sure they will tell you the problem. The problem is the funding. The problem is that this government continues to take the axe to the ABC's budget. It continues to stop the ABC from being able to do what it does best—represent regional and rural Australia—by pulling away the resources, jobs, programs and dollars it needs to effectively represent our community.

I wish to raise another aspect of this bill that is simply unnecessary and does nothing to address the problems facing the ABC: the provision to establish a regional advisory council. This seems a strange provision, because the ABC already has an advisory council. This advisory council provides advice to the board on all matters, including rural and regional matters, and includes a number of members from outside capital cities. This is simply more waste from a government that has shown it doesn't really care about rural and regional Australia. The government isn't genuinely trying to find ways to fix the ABC. This government is simply undertaking a wasteful and duplicative exercise to establish an unnecessary regional advisory council that will stretch the ABC's resources even further, pushing it towards breaking point.

This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to push the public broadcaster to a market failure broadcaster. The establishment and costs of this unnecessary council will see the ABC lose another $100,000 a year. At a time when the government has just cut $83.7 million, I ask the government: how is this sustainable? The impact of these cuts will be felt in my community. They will be felt along the south coast and far south coast. The people of Gilmore have had enough of these cuts.

I can tell the minister what the perspectives, views and needs of regional areas are. The people of the south coast and far south coast want to see a properly funded ABC. They want to make sure that board members are appointed because they are the best person for the job. They want to make sure that in the rapidly changing media landscape that Australia is now facing that the ABC's board members have the business and media skills to effectively navigate this landscape. I want to make sure that those who are representing regional areas are the best people for the job. I want to make sure that the ABC board has the ability to do its job effectively. That job is to represent the voices of all Australians, including rural and regional Australia. Mr Deputy Speaker McVeigh, I can tell you that the best way for us to make sure the ABC board has the ability to do its job is to make sure that the ABC is properly funded.

Finally, I wish to address one more aspect of this bill. This bill requires the ABC board to report annually on a range of additional matters. These matters include the total number of individuals employed by the ABC in regional and metropolitan areas, the ratio of individuals employed as journalists compared to support staff and the total number of hours of local or regional news bulletins broadcast during the reporting period. We oppose this measure because we know that the ABC's annual report already includes figures such as these. The annual report already includes a staff profile detailing regional and corporate management, finance and operations, employee figures and extensive lists of service transmissions and frequencies by location. More red tape, more bureaucracy and no benefit; that is not what the ABC needs. This is not what the people of the South Coast expect.

Again, I reiterate what the ABC needs is not what is contained in this bill. What the ABC needs is more funding. What the ABC needs is for this government to reverse its $366 million worth of cuts. What we need is more local voices in our regions. What we need is more local jobs. What we need is more local reporting, not more red tape, not more dishonesty and trickery from the same government that promised no cuts to the ABC on the eve on an election only to break that promise as soon as they were elected.

During the recent election campaign, Labor promised to reverse the cruel and unnecessary cuts. Labor promised never to privatise the ABC. Labor committed more money for regional broadcasting and local content. I stand with the ABC and the people of rural and regional Australia. We love our ABC and we want to see it protected.

To finish, I want to share some human stories that the ABC Illawarra and the ABC South Coast put up on their social media page. I think they really typify the important role that the ABC plays in my rural and regional area. Yesterday, ABC Illawarra posted:


John Kane and Andy Gordon take us on a musical journey through Kangaroo Valley.

They've both played music for years, John in Flying Emus and Andy on his own projects as well as at 301 Studios and Chevalier College, but decided to make music together from the comfort of their homes—

On 14 September:


Do you remember the Shoalhaven's first swimming pool on the south-western side of the bridge?

On 12 September:


A man has received burns to his legs following a fire at a house in North Nowra.

On 11 September:


Police are calling for witnesses to a fire that was lit in the Worrigee Nature Reserve yesterday afternoon.

On 11 September:


This week's Illawarra Weekly newsletter features the heartwarming story of young Levi, who went into his local chicken and chip store for a snack, AS YOU DO, and had his bike stolen.

Spoiler alert: There was a happy ending—

On 11 September:


The Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative held a community breakfast in Kiama this morning for National Suicide Prevention Day.

The collaborative is encouraging people to equip themselves with the knowledge to ask friends and family if they are okay and take action if they say no—

The stories keep going. The ABC pulls communities together. Probably one of my favourite ones is, 'What's an issue that's not getting enough coverage?' Because that's what the ABC does; it gets the story out there.

We love our ABC and want to see it protected. This bill does not achieve this goal. This bill does nothing to fix the problems facing our beloved broadcaster. It does nothing to improve rural and regional service provisions. I call on this government to stop deflecting blame for their cuts and to stand with our communities.