This report looks at the accumulated impact of recent government decisions, and uncovers details of a virtually unprecedented attack on the operational capability of Australia’s national broadcaster.
By 2022, which represents the end of the third triennial funding period during which the Coalition Government has been in power, the total funding cut from the ABC will be over $783 million.
The national broadcaster’s 2019-20 operational revenue from Government of $879 million represents a decrease in real funding of $367 million per annum, or 29.5%, since 1985-86.
The ABC is now operating with the smallest budget since the Howard Government’s extraordinary 2% funding cut in its first budget, in 1996, which removed $55 million from the ABC’s triennial funding.
As the ABC’s Chief Financial Officer, Louise Higgins, told the first ABC Annual Public Meeting in February 2018, “…in 1987, [the] ABC famously cost each Australian eight cents a day. In 1987 dollar terms we now cost each Australian just four cents a day.”
Cuts to the ABC’s budget since 2013 have resulted in a significant loss of jobs, programming, and services. Almost a thousand jobs have gone from across the ABC since the first of the government’s funding cuts came into force on 1 July 2014. Many of those gone from the ABC were senior journalists and producers, with centuries’ worth of combined knowledge and experience.
State-based versions of 7.30 were axed, as was 27-year old flagship current affairs television program Lateline. Radio current affairs programming via The World Today and PM has been halved, as has the number of hours of original, scripted Australian content on television. Specialist programming on Radio National, including music and religious programs, has been cut, along with a significant reduction in the recording and broadcast of live concerts on Classic FM. Online, over 100 ABC websites have shut down, including the specialist disability portal RampUp. The ABC no longer covers local sport on TV. Its local production units, other than for news and current affairs, in Adelaide and Perth have been closed, along with five regional local radio newsrooms.
There is no television production other than news and current affairs outside Sydney and Melbourne, and most outside broadcast facilities in the smaller states have gone. Short-wave radio in the Northern Territory has been closed down, and locally produced regional stories for broadcast online and on TV that were produced through ABC Open have been discontinued.
Internationally, the Australia Network was cancelled, with consequent impacts on resources for Radio Australia, and international bureaus in Tokyo, Bangkok, New Delhi and New Zealand have closed or had their operations reduced.
As this report makes clear, the ABC has never been more important, or more valuable, to the Australian people.
It provides a trusted source of essential news and information, underpins our social cohesion and national identity, and brings Australians together in times of crisis. It educates our kids, informs our decisions as participants in our democracy, and provides comfort and entertainment in our homes.
At a time when the federal government is providing extraordinary financial support to the commercial broadcasting sector as part of its response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, the ABC – on which Australians rely and trust more than any other media service during times of national emergency – has received no such assistance. The funding cuts that have decimated its operational budget in recent years remain government policy.
It is imperative that the federal government reverses these cuts in its budget scheduled for October 2020. For the government to continue with the imposition of these cuts to the ABC, while providing almost $100 million in direct funding and tax relief for commercial broadcasters, is indefensible.
If the constant hostility displayed by this government to our national broadcaster is not arrested, and its funding restored, the implications for our nation are significant. It is time for all Australians to defend and protect our ABC.