Labor will move to reverse the latest cuts to the ABC’s funding if it wins government at the next federal election, as the public broadcaster shapes up as the latest battleground between the two major parties.
After Mitch Fifield made his sixth complaint about ABC coverage in as many months, Labor stepped up its advocacy on behalf of the public broadcaster, with Bill Shorten vowing to challenge the government’s funding cuts.
Last month’s budget included an $84 million cut to the ABC’s forward funding, with money to be redirected within different portfolios, including communications and the arts, which is spending $24m on a memorial to Captain Cook in Scott Morrison’s electorate.
Before a solo appearance on ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night, Shorten announced Labor would reverse the latest funding cut as well as “guarantee funding certainty over the next ABC budget cycle”.
“This will ensure our public broadcaster can meet its charter requirements, safeguard jobs at the ABC, adapt to the digital media environment and maintain content and services that Australians trust and rely on,” he said in a statement.
The government, which gave $30m to Foxtel in the 2017-18 budget, said the funding cuts were about the broadcaster “living within its means”.
The latest round of cuts, which will come in the shape of an indexation freeze over the next three years, have arrived on top of the $254m cut in 2014 and $28m in 2016. It is estimated the broadcaster has lost more than 800 jobs since the Coalition’s first budget was handed down in 2014.
Shorten flagged Labor’s intention to reverse the cuts in a speech to parliament on 31 May, where he outlined the complaints Fifield had made to the broadcaster since the beginning of the year.
“This year he is averaging one complaint a month: in January, he complained about Triple J moving the date of the Hottest 100, in response to a voluntary national survey – how dare they?” he said.
“He then complained about an Emma Alberici article on corporate tax. He complained about a Tonightly sketch insulting John Batman. He complained, because nothing escapes his stellar gaze, about a sketch on Black Comedy, on the ABC Indigenous Facebook page.
“Then of course it was Emma Alberici again and the prime minister’s blockbuster: ‘11 things I hate about the ABC’.
“I have to say, we do question his priorities as minister for communications but you can’t fault his commitment to letter-writing and keeping Australia Post in business.
“Now, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the last time a communications minister referred a complaint about the ABC to the regulator was in 2003 when Senator Richard Alston complained about their coverage of the weapons of mass destruction in the Iraq War.”
The latest complaint came after the senior ABC political staff, including Laura Tingle and Andrew Probyn, and by extension, Barrie Cassidy and two Insiders panellists who work for commercial media, described the decision to hold five byelections on the same day as the Labor national conference as ‘political’.
Speaker Tony Smith had told parliament he would be consulting with the party leaders on the byelection date, however Fifield, in his complaint, claimed the journalists had repeated a “Labor lie” by describing the date decision as a political one, in their analysis.
The ABC is still working Fifield’s latest missive through its established complaints process.