MUNGO MACCALLUM: The Liberals' public enemy number one — the ABC

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(Meme via @jjjove.)

The Liberals and their allies have always favoured the private over the public, whether in hospitals, health, schools — and broadcasting.

“They don’t hate us for what we do, but for who we are.”

THIS WAS THE FORMULA developed by various prime ministers in the days of defending the indefensible Australian policy of hanging on to the coattails of American troops in the Middle East.

It was nonsense, of course. Not only the terrorists themselves but even one brave federal policeman, Mick Keelty, made it clear that the idea of Australians invading Muslim countries (as they saw it) was bound to produce a backlash that made terrorist incidents in Australia more likely.

Nowadays, of course, it hardly matters; the damage has been done and the course established. But the old line has been refurbished and reversed in the latest episode of the Hard Right’s culture wars.

The problem with the ABC, the Liberal Party zealots insist, is not what it is, but what it does. If only it wasn’t so big, or if it would butt out of the internet and leave the field to the commercial stations, or if it were less leftish and more mainstream, it would be perfectly acceptable.

Except that it wouldn’t; the latest mantra is equally bullshit. Certainly, the Right loves to bash up "Aunty" for its largely imagined Green-Labor agenda, but that is little more than a convenient excuse for its loathing. The ABC’s real sin is not what it does but what it is: a public broadcaster, the key word being “public.”

This becomes clear whenever the interests of its private competitors become nervous, which is why the trolls of the Murdoch media have become so frenzied in their campaign to bring back their master’s voice to its rightful supremacy.

It just isn’t fair, they rail: the ABC gets a billion dollars a year from the taxpayer and we have to stand on our own smelly feet — unless, of course, we can bully a complaisant government into a handout or two, which is not all that uncommon. Unfair competition, free enterprise rules, this is what society (or at least the secretly-funded swamp-dwellers of the Institute of Public Affairs, both in an outside the Parliament) is all about.

And it was ever thus: in the dim dark ages, then Health Minister Earle Page devised the private insurance system to make sure Australia should never emulate the United Kingdom in implementing a genuine public national health scheme. And he inveighed against the establishment of public hospitals, which he regarded as unfair competition for private hospitals — of which he just happened to own several himself.

The Liberals and their allies have always favoured the private over the public, whether in hospitals, health, schools — and broadcasting. The Liberal Council decision to privatise the ABC to privatise the ABC was neither new nor surprising. It was just more honest than the (private) musings of their Parliamentary peers, most of whom would do it like a shot if they thought they could get away with it.

And as for Malcolm Turnbull? Perhaps not so enthusiastic — which is why the party room still regards him with suspicion. Perhaps there is hope for him yet.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery. This article was published on 'Pearls and Irritations' and is republished with permission.

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