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A clear picture of how the ABC fared in the current Federal Budget

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The Federal Budget revealed that the ABC is set to face ongoing cuts (Image by Dan Jensen)

The recent Federal Budget reflects the Government's attitude towards the ABC with further cuts in funding, writes Ranald Macdonald.

TO SHOW WHAT the future holds for the ABC, I have rounded the funding commitments and “estimates” to 2023/24 so it is absolutely clear what the Government is doing. Otherwise, we get involved in the minutiae of the odd dollars and cents.

It is (as I wrote some years ago) a continuing and very clinical and deliberate death by a thousand cuts.

We have already seen the appalling impact of the Tony Abbott cuts and DFAT taking its funding away from the Australia Network — and thus the loss of so many talented and experienced staff members.

The three-year “freeze” imposed by the current Morrison Government was from 2019/20 through to 2021/22. 

These are the yearly amounts the ABC has to spend on programs, general costs and staff as set down in the just-released 2020 Federal Budget:

  • 2019/20 — actual $879 million;
  • 2020/21 — budget $879 million;
  • 2021/22 — forward estimate $881 million;
  • 2022/23 — forward estimate $867 million; and
  • 2023/24 — forward estimate $873 million.

Costs, of course, go up each year and in the area of production recently some 4% per annum — the wage increase negotiated was 2%.

Even if you accept as a done deal the freeze which has cost up to 250 jobs, then allow 2.5% a year for 2022/23 and 2023/24 over the $881 million 2021/22 figure as a minimum for overall cost increases (and to claw back just a little on emergency service expenses), the further two-year freeze (or cut) imposed in the latest Coalition Budget will cost $67 million on top of the $87 million lost funding over the earlier freeze.

Of course, those inside the ABC are very coy about criticising the Government publicly as they hope for more special funding (such as the enhanced news funding program) and, at worst, hope that the Government actually delivers on its projected estimates.

So, it is up to ABC Friends and the ABC Alumni Association to make a noise.

And, for the recalcitrant Ita Buttrose and her Board to actually live up to their statutory responsibilities in fulfilling the ABC’s Charter by, as is required of them:

  • ensuring...that the functions of the Corporation are performed efficiently and with the maximum benefit to the people of Australia' and
  • ‘...to maintain the independence and integrity of the organisation’.

It is clearly stated that the chair and directors only need (being statutorily independent under the 1983 ABC Act) to ‘give consideration to’  – in other words – not slavishly accept ministers’ statements of policy.

I think it has reached the stage of us all saying to Buttrose and the ABC Board that they all need to put up or get out after this further cut in funding.

Ranald Macdonald is the founder of the Australian Press Council and former CEO and editor in chief of The Age.

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