ABC & SBS

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 16:02 :50 ): I move:

That this council notes—

1. The importance of Australia’s public broadcaster;

2. The promise made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott ahead of the 2013 federal election that there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS;

3. That following the election, the Prime Minister said the ABC was on 'everyone’s side but our own' in reference to his g overnment;

4. That the federal government has indicated it will make cuts to the ABC’s budget, estimated at about 9 per cent over the next five years;

5. That more than 500 jobs could be lost before Christmas, including the axing of local 7.30 programs, and cuts to Lateline and foreign bureaus because of federal government cuts to the ABC;

6. That local TV production is under threat as a result of the cuts with more than 150 jobs at risk in South Australia; and

7. Calls on the federal government to reverse its decision to make cuts to the ABC and SBS.

I rise to speak to this motion and I note that the Hon. Tung Ngo will be addressing the cuts, with more attention given to SBS, so I commend him for that and look forward to cross-party support for our public broadcasters and the important role that they play. I move this motion knowing that the ABC and SBS were slated for cuts by the Abbott federal government, yet the night before the poll date of the federal election the then leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, now Prime Minister Tony Abbott, stated that there would be no cuts to the ABC or to SBS.

It is clearly a broken promise. It is one of a litany of broken promises, but it is one that South Australia can ill afford, because the budget cuts here will have far more of an impact not only on our local jobs and economy but indeed on our public discourse and on the fourth estate, which is so important to a civil society and so important to a nation like Australia. The role of the ABC and SBS in our community cannot be underestimated. I have seen, as have other members of this place, the devastating impact on the staff—be they the reception staff or the local production teams of the 7.30 Report—who are going to lose their jobs, and lose their jobs before Christmas.

These cuts are a broken promise, and they rub salt into the wounds of a state which, this very week, had its ability to build canoes questioned. This state can not only build canoes, it can make great television, as anyone who saw the tribute to the Countdown program in the last few weeks will know. It was an outstanding production made here in Adelaide.

The role of the 7.30 Report to expose stories and educate the South Australian community, and tell that South Australian community South Australian stories, to have places like this, the 7.30 Report local program, that is what is being cut here. We are not losing the national Sydney-centric 7.30 Report programs; we are losing the local content. Whether it is New South Wales, Tasmania South Australia, Western Australia or any of the other regions, we are losing local content, local stories and local information, and nowhere does that have more of an impact than in a state parliament. State parliaments are held to account by their local 7.30 Report for in-depth coverage.

Local film production, with the skills, industry support, and the general add-ons to a state that hopes to have and keep a vibrant (to use that much overused word) film community and to be able to make our own stories in these formats, will be impacted. That will be the flow on effect of these cuts, and we have seen people losing their jobs.

We will also see local sport go. I am not sure whether or not SANFL has received protection; I eagerly wait to see whether, in the future, with these cuts to local production, we will see SANFL games under threat, despite the fact that there was an agreement only about a year ago to preserve that. We certainly will see cuts to the coverage of women's sport, and anyone who cares about the status of women in this society should care about that. It is said that the netball may be picked up by pay TV but other coverage, and certainly the W-League and the Women's National Basketball League, look in doubt to ever receive television coverage. What that says to a young girl who consumes media is that women's sport is not important, and that says that women and girls are not important. That is the message given by that.

This lie of a cut will also hurt programs that South Australians love, iconic programs such as The Cook and the Chef and Poh's Kitchen. These are iconic South Australian productions which are now lost. Indeed, it has been said that the South Australian executive producer, Margot Phillipson, told InDaily that programs like The Cook and the Chef and Poh's Kitchen will not and could not be made under an independent production model because that model currently sees the ABC pay a licence fee to an independent production company to make a production or series.

She said it is very much a regional production, made only because there is a local person who can work on it and present it. Both The Cook and the Chef and Poh's Kitchen are South Australian icons that we will lose. The impact this will have on our tourism, on our cultural democracy, will be profound. These cuts will hurt South Australia and hit South Australia harder than they will the eastern seaboard states. They will particularly hit Port Augusta, which is losing its local production capacity as well.

These cuts were lies to the South Australian people and the Australian people. I would say that they are being borne more by South Australian people for political reasons within the ABC, and that is to the detriment of this federal Abbott government and its strategy. Minister Christopher Pyne's petition to save the South Australian components of the ABC is something worthy of Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell.

It is the height of hypocrisy to start a petition to save local programs from cuts that you yourself sat in a cabinet and oversaw being made, that you yourself were part of a team that told the South Australian people would not happen. It is little wonder that the managing director, Mark Scott, is making these cuts in the places that they are most visible. That is the politically powerful thing to do; it is just that between these two political games it will be South Australians who lose out, it will be us as a community who do not have our local stories told and it will be this state parliament that will not be held to account by local production.

The Hon. T.T. NGO ( 16:10 :27 ): I thank the Hon. Ms Franks for moving this motion to the council to condemn the cuts to the ABC and SBS. A few weeks ago, on a matter of interest, I spoke about the termination of the Australia Network, Australia's international television service, by the federal Liberal government. The Australia Network is a division of ABC International, which, along with ABC International Development and Radio Australia, were created to: one, encourage communication across cultures; two, establish and foster partnership within the regions; and, three, build awareness of Australia as a friendly neighbour.

The network successfully broadcasts our contents, our ideas, our language and our world view 24 hours a day, seven days a week, into more than 46 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including India. With the cooperation of nearly 700 re-broadcast partners, the Australia Network reached up to 130 million people. It was a $220 million contract over 10 years (roughly $20 million a year) with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). When the Abbott Liberal government was elected the contract was cut, one year into a 10-year contract. So, the very first year into the contract they cut it.

I found the decision really strange as everybody, including the current government, talks about the importance of engaging with Asia. They also say that we should encourage kids to study Asian languages. So, this decision is even more shocking when we consider that the ABC had worked with leaders of Asian countries for decades to get a licence for Network Australia to show Australian news and culture content to these countries. These countries have very strict media laws. Foreign countries cannot just rock up to these countries and demand that their news content be shown on their TVs.

Honourable members may also know that in doing business in Asia it may take years to cultivate a solid working relationship. The Abbott Liberal government has shut down a key avenue for a mere $22 million a year, when we consider what Australia got in return with tourists, relationships and trust that money cannot buy. Thousands of Australian companies and people go to these countries to do business every year. It is a very odd decision indeed and so far no-one can explain to me why.

Recently, Australia signed a free trade agreement with China, as the Hon. Jing Lee spoke about in her MOI. The government is talking about how it will result in Australia's prosperity for decades to come. As the Hon. Jing Lee said, China is a $10 trillion economy. It is our biggest trading partner, worth about $150 billion per year. Australia's goods and services exports to China amount to around $100 billion a year. China accounts for about a third of Australia's total exports. We import about $50 billion from China.

If we include other countries in the South-East Asia region, Australia exports about $219 billion or 69 per cent of Australia's total exports—nearly 70 per cent. If you combine China and other countries in the South-East Asia region, you have an economy that accounts for 69 per cent of Australia's exports. I have not included India in my figures. India has a population similar in size to China, and it is one of the emerging world economies. If you include India in the calculation too, then the potential for Australia is endless.

That is why everybody has been saying for years that Australia's future and standard of living lie in this region. In my humble opinion, the decision of the federal Liberal government to cut the Australia Network, which broadcasts Australia's culture and language into 46 countries in these regions, including India, is the dumbest decision that has ever been made by this government, just to save $22 million a year. That decision, I believe, will cost Australia dearly in the future.

Recently the government announced $308 million in funding cuts from SBS and the ABC over the next five years. Of that figure, SBS will lose $25.2 million or 1.7 per cent over a five-year period and the ABC will lose $254 million or roughly 4.6 per cent. These cuts are in addition to cuts announced in the May 2014 budget of $43.5 million to both the ABC and SBS. It was about a 1 per cent efficiency dividend in the May budget, which is around $10.5 million for SBS.

Many people are stunned by these cuts, especially given, as the Hon. Ms Franks says, Tony Abbott's promise just on the eve of the last federal election that he would not cut funding to the ABC or SBS. Tony Abbott wanted to be known as the prime minister who keeps his promises and to restore the public's view of politicians. The general public thought, 'Well, finally, we have a politician, a leader, who will keep his word and won't treat us like idiots.'

The Prime Minister has broken a number of promises since the election and now he is breaking another one. It is safe to say that he is not a prime minister who keeps his promises. I feel very sad for those ABC and SBS staff (and their families) who will be losing their jobs in the coming weeks, just before Christmas and into the New Year. I do hope that they find alternative employment soon to support their families.

I would now like to talk a little bit about SBS and the impact of funding cuts to its budget. SBS stands for Special Broadcasting Service. SBS was established in 1978 to provide special multilingual broadcasting services for ethnic communities. The SBS Radio network began in 1975 with two experimental radio stations—2EA in Sydney and 3EA in Melbourne—broadcasting four hours a day in seven and eight languages respectively. It was a three-month experiment in multilingual broadcasting, confined to Australia's two biggest cities.

SBS Radio today broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week on AM and FM frequencies in Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong and Melbourne and is heard Australia-wide on a national signal that reaches all capital cities and many regional centres, as well as on digital radio and digital television, where available, and also online.

SBS TV made its official debut on 28 October 1980. It too started first in Sydney and Melbourne. Gradually, other cities, as well as regional and rural centres, joined the network. Today, the SBS's digital service, which began in 2001, reaches an estimated 96.8 per cent of Australians.

What services does SBS provide? SBS provides media through three platforms (television, radio and online) in more languages than any other broadcaster in the world: 74 languages on radio, more than 60 on television and more than 50 online. The broadcaster also has a dedicated national free-to-air Indigenous television channel, NITV. As a national broadcaster of multicultural and multilingual programming, with an unmatched quality and breadth of service, SBS is unique. SBS television broadcasts in more than 100 languages and is watched by more than seven million Australians each week.

SBS Radio is the world's most linguistically diverse radio network, broadcasting 68 language programs to a potential audience of more than three million Australians who speak a language other than English in their home. I know that many elderly migrants tune into SBS Radio each day to get their daily news in their own language. It is the only source of daily information for many migrant communities.

When I was elected to parliament in March, many elderly Vietnamese here and interstate found out by SBS radio broadcasting in the Vietnamese language. I had friends of my parents who live in Melbourne and Sydney ringing my mum and dad in the US to congratulate them because they had heard the news on SBS Radio. SBS Online also provides audio streaming of all its language programs more than any other website in the world. It includes the popular The World Game football—or soccer—website and our comprehensive—

The Hon. S.G. Wade: It's not The World Game—Aussie Rules.

The Hon. T.T. NGO: Well, they have more players and audience—World News website. SBS now has a second channel called SBS2, which was launched on 1 June 2009. SBS2 complements the main SBS television channel, now known as SBS1. SBS2 provides more of the world's best stories, more in-language and first-run films and extra coverage of sporting events, including football.

The bulk of SBS funding, previously about 80 per cent, now 75 per cent, comes from the government's appropriation. The remainder of the SBS operating budget comes from SBS's commercial activities, which include advertising, sponsorship and sales of goods and services.

Some interesting statistics about SBS in 2013-14 are as follows: 95 per cent of radio programs were in languages other than English; 45 per cent of television content on SBS1 was in a language other than English; 65 per cent of television content on SBS2 was in a language other than English; 3,200 hours of free-to-air television programs were subtitled; and more than two million Australians watched NITV each month.

I have many memories of SBS TV growing up in Australia. It is still one of my favourite TV networks, when I have a chance to watch. As you know, I have a little baby boy now and that seems to be taking up a lot of my time at home. As a child I liked SBS and the ABC because they did not have advertising. I loved to stay up late at night to watch kung fu movies and, when I got a bit older, I started to enjoy the European movies on Friday and Saturday nights.

When I watch SBS it gives me a different perspective of the world, including how different societies and people live. The world is a lot closer now. It reminds me of my roots and furthers my understanding of the many people I represent here in South Australia.

The funding cuts really shocked the staff at SBS. This is what the managing director of SBS, Michael Ebeib, said:

SBS is really an extremely lean organisation and the funding cut of $53.7 million over five years…is sizeable and will naturally be felt by our organisation.

The government will provide $287 million to SBS in 2014-15 which represents 75 per cent of our organisation's total funding, with 25 per cent generated from our commercial revenues. SBS operates on one-fifth of the average budget of other free-to-air broadcasters.

National efforts to unify Australia 's diverse communities go directly to the reasons SBS was established, and it is at a time when our social cohesion is being tested, that having a multicultural broadcaster is more important than ever.

SBS's dedicated role to reflect the changing face of our nation is our point of difference in the Australian media. It is SBS's unique insights and links to multicultural communities that means we are perfectly positioned to help shape a cohesive multicultural future and to explore and celebrate what it means to be Australian today.

Through the ABC and SBS Efficiency Study the SBS board and I have sought to demonstrate S BS is lean and agile with creative employees that are, by necessity, highly-skilled at delivering on our Charter obligations on very tight budgets.

Ordinarily, SBS is funded within a triennial model and this cut has come in the middle of that cycle which is disappointing, as our preferred outcome would have been to retain the stability the triennial model provides, given our long-term supplier agreements.

The managing director's comments that I have just recited could not have been better put. SBS operates under the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 (SBS Act) and has a board of directors appointed by the government. Responsibility for SBS lies within the portfolio of the Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy. However, the SBS Act provides SBS with editorial independence from the government.

Minister Turnbull announced that he will be introducing legislation to amend the SBS Act 1991 some time next year to enable SBS to run up to 10 minutes of advertising in any given hour, so long as it maintains an average of about five minutes per hour per day. It is hoped that this change will give SBS the opportunity to raise some advertising dollars to soften the cut. This sounds very promising. However, with the cut in funding, before SBS is allowed to seek advertising dollars it will figuratively leave SBS operating with one hand behind its back.

The minister should be making changes to the legislation before cutting the funding. If that was the case this would allow SBS to seek other income before the funding is cut. The way is minister is doing it now is really forcing SBS to cut its programs, cut its staff, without having the ability to seek different funding. So, the government's method will force SBS to operate with less funds.

We do not know whether the minister will make these amendments a priority. As members would know, the upper house in the federal system is not like our upper house here, where we could move urgent legislation with a few hours' notice. It could be a year or more before the legislation is passed and comes into operation for SBS. When private commercial media need money they can raise funds by attracting more revenue. They do not face the restrictions that SBS does.

To me, this decision is an attack on public broadcasting. By the time SBS is allowed to seek more advertising dollars, it will be behind the eight ball, so to speak. It is a sneaky way for the federal Liberal government to slowly destroy public broadcasting, as I said before. It is purposely cutting the funding before moving legislation to allow SBS to seek more funding from somewhere else. Before I finish, I would like to quote from the former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who has criticised these cuts:

[This] is part of a whole ideological approach which, to me, is to ultimately to get rid of publicly funded broadcasting. The government does not believe in government activity. They're not prepared to say so, straight out, in relation to ABC and SBS because both are too popular.

I hope the former Liberal MP Malcolm Fraser is wrong about the Liberals' intention to completely privatise the two public networks, although he has been proven correct in many matters before. With the cancellation of Australia's network television into Asia, for no apparent reason as I outlined before, to me it is all about an ideology to weaken and silence the ABC and SBS.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.

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