"Dismantling the ABC"
"Steady as she goes, dismantling the ABC", that's how Terry Laidler, a Friends of the ABC spokesperson described the government's Budget allocation to the ABC for the next three years. Shortly after its election in 1996, the Coalition Government cut the ABC's triennial funding by $66 million (12 per cent) per annum. The current budget has failed to restore ABC funding, let alone give it the boost it needs to meet new challenges. "The Budget is in surplus. Concessions have been promised to multinationals and high-income earners. Precious public funds have been returned to ordinary Australians in tax cuts so tiny they are meaningless. Yet the Government has failed to properly fund the country's most significant provider of information and culture. "It is difficult not to believe the Government is seeking to undermine the national broadcaster and interfere in its independence. "The Government was warned by the ABC's managing director. In full knowledge there will be cuts to ABC programs if the ABC is forced to continue with insufficient funding, the Government has refused to grant even a moderate increase. "The Government has even failed to commit the funds required for the ABC to continue its increased regional production and programming, an initiative which resulted from one-off funds the Government targeted to regional audiences for political advantage prior to the last Federal election", said Mr Laidler. One-off funding of $17.8m per annum over four years, announced shortly before the 2001 election, is due to expire in the funding period covered by the current Budget. The ABC is funded on a triennial basis and 2001 is not a year in which ABC funds would usually be addressed. At the time of announcing the National Interest Initiative, Senator Alston said: "This additional $71.2m (for four years) should enable the ABC to increase local production and programming in regional Australia significantly. This will generate jobs and stimulate the growth of new media in regional areas". The government's provision of a one-off targeted grant instead of adequate triennial funding highlights the dangers of such practice for the proper, ongoing maintenance of the ABC. As Terry Laidler points out, "the Government is holding an axe over the ABC' s head. Starved of adequate ongoing funds, it would be impossible for the ABC not to be concerned about whether or not the Government will feel favourably disposed to it when the funds for regional services expire. "If ongoing funds are not granted, will the ABC abandon its increased services for regional audiences, or will another area of the ABC be cut, as funds are transferred to cover the loss? "In its Budget, the Government has failed in its responsibility to ensure the country's independent national broadcaster will thrive", concluded Mr Laidler.