OPINION

Labor will reverse this government's cuts to the ABC

The ABC is an essential service. We should support it like one. Picture: Shutterstock
The ABC is an essential service. We should support it like one. Picture: Shutterstock

This summer, when the bushfires ravaged Australia, lives were on the line.

As telecommunications infrastructure failed, people relied on the ABC.

Australians turned to the ABC to tell them whether it was safe to stay at their property, or if was time to go. In some cases, the ABC and its reporters, many of them working weeks on end without time off, literally saved people's lives.

In communities from the North Coast to the South Coast of NSW, through north-eastern Victoria and in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, the ABC provided information that allowed people to make life-or-death decisions.

In addition to its status as the nation's emergency broadcaster, the ABC is also a critical source of news across the nation, particularly in rural and regional areas where commercial media coverage is limited. It is also a significant provider of jobs for Australians.

In that context it is hard to understand why Scott Morrison has cut $83.7 million from the ABC's budget.

Last week Mr Morrison told a media conference that "there is no cut".

But the cut is clearly identified in Scott Morrison's own budget papers, in black and white. It has cost 250 jobs.

It will mean fewer journalists asking hard questions at a time when commercial media organisations are struggling in the face of the financial pressure of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Labor government will reverse the $83.7 million cut to stop this government's damage to the ABC.

Every week, 71 per cent of Australians - more than 17 million people - watch, read or listen to ABC content.

A strong, independent ABC is critical to a healthy democracy - even more so now in this age of disinformation where rumours and falsehoods spread unchecked on social media.

Confidence in our democratic system is supported by strong, factual reporting and well-informed, reasoned analysis, delivered free from interference and intimidation.

We also know the ABC is becoming increasingly important across regional Australia.

During this coronavirus crisis, we've seen the acceleration of the demise of many local newspapers. Over the coming years, more than a hundred newspapers will no longer be printed.

Communities around Australia will feel the loss of these local media institutions, some dating back decades.

It's even more important in places that are losing local news sources, that people can rely on their ABC.

A former National Party leader, the late Tim Fischer, knew this. He understood how important it was to have a strong national broadcaster delivering for Australians in regional areas.

Speaking in November 2018, Tim called on the ABC's critics to back off and declared: "Regional Australia would be Siberia without the ABC."

It's a shame that many modern-day members of the Liberal and National parties don't share Tim's passion.

Instead of supporting the organisation that supports their own communities and provides jobs, many Coalition ideologues occupy their time conducting a culture war against the ABC for cheap political gain.

Millions of Australians are accustomed to waking up to the 7.45am news bulletin. It has kept us informed. For many of us, it has kept us on time.

Now the 7.45am news will be no more - a telling reminder of the neglect of this government.

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ABC chair Ita Buttrose called last week "a devastating week for the ABC". Ita is right.

It was a sad week for all Australians who turn to the ABC for news, information and entertainment. It was a sad week for those who will lose their jobs, many of whom worked tirelessly during the bushfire season to help protect lives.

Labor wants to ensure the ABC can continue to deliver for all Australians.

We want to ensure that the ABC is strongly resourced to deliver for Australians in regional areas who depend on it.

We want to ensure that the ABC can continue to keep Australians informed during bushfires, floods and other natural disasters - which we know are on the rise as a result of climate change.

Confidence in our democratic system is supported by strong, factual reporting and well-informed, reasoned analysis, delivered free from interference and intimidation.

That's something that the ABC has always excelled at, and it's in all of our interests that this tradition continues.

The ABC is an essential service. We should support it like one.

  • Anthony Albanese is Opposition Leader and leader of the federal Labor Party.
This story Labor will reverse this government's cuts to the ABC first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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