02 March 2020
In the nine short months since I was elected to this place, I have made no secret of the fact that I am one of the most ardent and dedicated fans of our national broadcaster. I say that now as the proudly elected representative for the people of Lilley, who—when I was doorknocking the streets during the election campaign, and in the mobile offices on the north side that I've held since then as the MP—have also made very clear to me that they love our national broadcaster and want to see it properly resourced. They want to see it properly resourced because 7.30 provides informed and unbiased news and reporting that keeps Australians up to date with current events in our backyard and across the globe; Q+A and Insiders give a platform to a cross-section of voices for diverse debate on important issues like the impending religious freedom bill and climate change; Triple J provides the best playlist for Australia Day weekend parties across the country; Bluey and Playschool teach our children about imagination, caring, leadership and problem-solving; and Four Corners brings Australian stories into our lounge rooms, shining a light on heroes like Rosie Batty and investigating injustice that would otherwise have been swept under the rug, as we saw with St Kevin's in Toorak and the George Pell story. The ABC challenges the Australian media landscape when it is often swamped by disinformation sprayed by commercial media and broadcasters for power, for profit or to encourage division and disharmony among Australians.
Over the last six months, with the catastrophic bushfires, the importance of independent and accountable public broadcasters like the ABC has become undeniably evident. The ABC's extensive coverage of the bushfires across television, radio and online services is a testament to the network's position as Australia's No. 1 emergency broadcaster. Australians trust the ABC in times of crisis. We know we can turn the TV or the radio to the ABC to keep informed and to stay safe.
There is no doubt that the ABC's coverage of the bushfires this summer saved lives. Reporters, presenters, producers, staff and crew across the country worked around the clock to provide fire warnings, road closure updates and evacuation plans. They broadcast accurate, reliable, continuous coverage under incredible pressure and sometimes in very dangerous conditions. An example of this was when the ABC team in Canberra had to host an impromptu outdoor broadcast because they were evacuated from their own studios because the bushfire smoke triggered the fire alarms. They stood outside in that smoke, which made it too dangerous to be in their studios, and they persevered with the broadcast.
When the ABC's emergency broadcasting policy was delivered in 2011, the emergency division ran for around six months of the year. It now runs year-round. The number of ABC emergency broadcasts has risen from 256 in 2017 to 900 so far this financial year. The ABC topped the Nielsen digital content ratings for digital views in January 2020 both in unique visitors and average time on site, with Australians going online to their ABC to keep up-to-date with the bushfires.
The cost of the ABC's emergency broadcasting coverage comes out of base funding. There is no specific federal funding for emergency broadcasting. The cost of reporting teams on the ground and keeping regional TV and radio running during crises has to be found from somewhere. With the predicted rise in natural disasters, we also have to factor in the cost of replacing or fixing infrastructure after natural disasters. Broadcast towers are vulnerable to fire, which we saw in Batemans Bay and Gippsland.
In 2019 the Morrison government imposed $84 million in cuts to ABC funding through a three-year freeze. The ABC themselves have estimated that they will have to cut 200 jobs to meet the 2020 budget. According to budget forecasts the ABC stands to lose $783 million in funding by 2022 unless steps are taken to remedy the situation. That's why we're here today.
Cutting ABC funding doesn't help Australians living in rural and regional Australia. In emergency broadcasts we need experienced local reporters to guide the coverage. The ABC cannot fly city staff into regional areas during a crisis and expect them to know all of the local areas, the back roads or the correct pronunciation of names. Knowing the area can be the difference between life and death. If an accident could happen because a reporter was giving the wrong pronunciation to names because they were unfamiliar with the area; they could send evacuees into immediate danger. They didn't because they were local, and it should stay that way.
I call on the Morrison government to put its money where its mouth is for rural and regional Australians so that the ABC can continue to provide vital emergency broadcasting during natural disasters.