Speech to ABC Friends Victoria
Acknowledgement of country
I want to begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people – the Traditional Owners of where we meet.
We pay our respects to First Nation’s Elders, past, present and emerging.
And to First Nation’s people who join us here today – a very special welcome to you.
And I take this moment to affirm the Albanese Government’s commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement in full: Voice, Treaty and Truth.
I also want to acknowledge the ABC as an important voice for First Nations Australians.
Indeed, a voice for all Australians
Thank you for inviting me to speak at your annual dinner.
It is wonderful to be here as Communications Minister, amongst so many friends of the ABC.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of Margaret Reynolds as founding President of ABC Friends National.
During her tenure, Margaret worked tirelessly to advocate for a stronger ABC.
Her experience in politics, education, and advocacy has enriched many successful public awareness campaigns for the organisation.
Campaigns that have highlighted the impacts of years of cuts and attacks on the ABC, held politicians to account on key issues of importance to the ABC, and focused minds on the essential role of the independent national broadcaster in our democracy. I wish you – Margaret – well in your new ventures back on the Apple Isle.
You are an inspiration to myself, and the friends and audiences of the ABC, Australia-wide. A true ABC Friend.
I should also point out that I can’t remember the last time I was at an ABC Friends event where we had a Labor Minister. But of course, the last Labor Minister for Communications before me is now the Prime Minister.
I did enjoy – particularly during my tenure as Shadow Minister – the engagement I was given with ABC Friends.
I think it’s also important to note that we have a number of very distinguished people in the room and that this is a diverse group. Not everyone here voted for my party, as is your democratic right. But I think we all are here because we believe in a strong and independent public broadcaster.
To that end, I acknowledge Zoe Daniel MP, the Member for Goldstein. I acknowledge all the distinguished persons here. I know that previously before I arrived there were some presentations from some young students, and it’s so great to see young people very keen to continue the protection of our ABC and keep it strong.
I want to acknowledge the many people that have been involved in campaigns and continue to bring that experience and expertise to this organisation.
As Brave New World said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.
That was 90 years ago in 1932 – the same year the ABC was launched.
As the ABC Friends appreciate, a well-funded and independent public service media significantly contributes to an informed and engaged citizenry, which is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy.
Studies from around the world confirm this point.
In the words of ABC Chair, Ita Buttrose, in her address at the ABC 90th Anniversary:
“People often underestimate the importance of public broadcasting to democracy. It’s a fact, confirmed by European Broadcasting Union research, that in countries where public service media is well-funded and enjoys a high market share, there is more political stability and corruption is under control.”
They are the facts, ladies and gentlemen.
There’s also comparative research from the US and the UK that the very presence of well-resourced public service media vitally contributes to a more impartial and pluralistic news environment. By building the political knowledge of citizens so that they can have informed public debates, well-funded public service media is also one of the most effective tools to counter misinformation.
So, to all the office holders and volunteers of ABC Friends around the country, your passion for the ABC evinces your support for a healthy, representative democracy and your ongoing vigilance is understood and respected.
Building back a better ABC
Your organisation has a proud history of advocating for the ABC on behalf of the millions of Australians who tune-in every week.
It was established as Friends of the ABC in 1976 in response to federal funding cuts by the former Fraser Government.
For more than forty years, your mission has been to promote a well-funded, transparent national broadcaster, free from political interference, and accessible to all.
I can assure you this mission resonates with the Albanese Government and myself as Minister.
Labor understands the invaluable contribution of the ABC over nine decades in shaping our national identity.
Governments change – but the ABC is a mainstay of national life.
The last time I addressed the ABC Friends was six months ago in Sydney, just days out from the Federal election.
There I said that, depending on the outcome, I’d either have a lot more to say to you, or a lot less. I’m glad it’s a lot more.
With our nation saddled with a trillion dollars of debt, I was genuinely fearful about what another term of a Coalition Government could mean for the ABC.
I know that those in the auditorium that day felt the same because they said so.
A better approach to funding
When Treasurer Jim Chalmers handed down his first Budget, Aunty was at the forefront.
We reinstated $83.7 million worth of funding cuts.
Cuts the ABC said could not be met by efficiencies alone.
The ABC must be funded to a level that ensures it can fulfil its Charter to provide high-quality, accessible, and diverse programming.
And deliver public-interest journalism that holds people in positions of power to account, exposes corruption, injustice, and counters dangerous mis and disinformation campaigns.
On Budget night, I was pleased to see the ABC welcome that funding commitment, issuing a statement that said the increase in funding will mean:
- greater capacity to deliver emergency broadcasting services to provide crucial information;
- increased investment in ABC Education to support literacy, numeracy, STEM, media literacy and Australian history learning outcomes; and
- enhanced digital services, including the further development of iView, ABC Listen and ABC News Digital, and production of more content for younger audiences.
We welcome the ABC’s plan to invest this returned funding into local content, educational services, and the emergency broadcasting function.
And we welcome its commitment to reach more people in Australia, and beyond.
Our public broadcasters must be safeguarded from political interference and arbitrary cuts.
That is why Labor is establishing five-year funding terms for the ABC and SBS.
Taking funding beyond the electoral cycle – irrespective of the government of the day – will provide greater stability, more time to plan and greater innovation.
Both national broadcasters support diverse ecosystems, including across education, screen production and international broadcasting, and greater certainty supports stability in these areas as well.
And it helps to promote sound management and decision-making by the Board.
As part of this commitment, Labor also will review options for delivering a greater level of financial stability and certainty to the national broadcasters, to safeguard against funding cuts and political interference.
Work by my Department is well underway to prepare for this review and I’ll take this opportunity to say a few things about what the review is and what it is not.
The review will be conducted by my Department via public consultation in the new year, inviting the public, including you good people, to engage on a targeted set of issues.
The review will not be an opportunity to debate the quantum of funding for the national broadcasters.
The Review will not review the efficiency of the national broadcasters, or consider proposals to merge the ABC and SBS. That is out of scope.
Nor will the Review be an opportunity to consider the Charters of the national broadcasters.
The review will look at measures to support the stability and independence of the national broadcasters.
I will have more to say on this in the new year as this is developed, and I look forward to your participation.
A lifeline in disaster
For nine decades, the ABC has been a trusted source of news, education and culture.
It is no surprise that in 2022, ABC News remained the most popular news brand in Australia for television, radio and online.
And with one of the largest, and growing, rural reporting workforces in the world, the ABC does a great job keeping local communities informed.
This service is critically important during such emergencies when staying connected can mean the difference between life and death.
Australians rely on the ABC during bushfires, floods, and the pandemic. As natural disasters become more frequent and more severe, the need for these services grows.
We welcome the ABC’s commitment to expand emergency broadcasting services and to engage with local communities in resilience and post-disaster recovery.
To further assist, our Government has set aside $20 million to improve towers that broadcast ABC AM emergency updates.
This compliments measures outlined in the Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia to improve connectivity and coverage, and
to keep communities safer during emergencies.
Labor is also boosting the Community Broadcasting sector, which, like the ABC, keeps communities safe, engaged, and informed.
We have set aside an additional $4 million per year for community broadcasters, taking their sector’s annual funding to over $20 million.
This additional investment will see more local content production and the upskilling of staff – many of whom are volunteers.
We are also supporting local journalism and local jobs with a $15 million lifeline for regional news publications. More than 200 publications will benefit.
And we have announced the News Media Assistance Program to secure the evidence base needed to inform longer term news media policy interventions.
This is because our Government understands that a strong, diverse and independent media is vital to the future of our democracy.
In the public interest
Journalism holds people in positions of power to account.
The ABC has a long and proud history of delivering journalism worthy of the fourth estate.
Journalism also helps to promote diversity and inclusion.
For example, the 2021 Walkley Award winning investigation ‘Price of Convenience’ on the ABC’s 7.30 exposed the real-world tragedy of the fast-food industry and the lack of legal and industry protections for delivery riders.
The judges said “the research and commitment to find and tell the story of heart-wrenching case studies, and push for better protection and support for an often underrepresented part of Australian society, is second to none.”
Now, more than ever, Australia needs trusted, high-quality investigative journalism.
And the ABC must be adequately funded to continue to deliver reporting like this.
Enhanced digital and educational services
The ABC informs, educates, and entertains people at home and abroad.
Audiences will receive more great content across digital platforms such as ABC iview, ABC Listen and ABC News Digital.
More Australian comedy, drama, and services for younger audiences.
We know, when it comes to children’s programming, the ABC punches well above its weight.
The Wiggles, those talking Bananas in Pyjamas, and Bluey and Bingo who joined us at the ABC Parliamentary Showcase last week.
The adventures of Bluey and Bingo have not only captured the imagination and curiosity of Australian children, including my own two girls.
But those of children, and adults, worldwide.
Seen in more than 60 countries, Bluey is one of the most watched and downloaded kids shows of our time.
And did you know? In 2021, the top 75 children’s programs watched by Australian kids up to 14 years on free-to-air TV were broadcast on ABC Kids.
As well as entertaining our children, the ABC is educating them.
The new ABC Education initiative, made possible with our Budget funding, will see new and unique interactive content developed to further support learning in the classroom, and at home.
We are boosting connectivity through a $2.4 billion investment in a better National Broadband Network.
This investment will see an additional 1.5 million premises get full-fibre access by late 2025, including 660,000 in regional Australia.
Thirty thousand families with no home internet will also receive a free NBN service for 12 months.
And children will be safer online thanks to free media and digital literacy programs through school.
In the 21st century, every Australian and every Australian child, regardless of postcode or circumstance, should be able to take full advantage of the digital economy.
And have access to the wealth of ABC programming online.
Expanding Double J
The ABC is the home of Australian music.
People turn to the ABC to hear the songs they love and discover new artists. Just ask the Prime Minister, who is a keen listener of Triple J and Double J.
In a bid to help more Aussie artists reach more ears, we have asked the ABC to conduct a study into expanding Double J onto FM Radio.
Currently, Double J can be accessed through a range of digital platforms but not radio frequency.
Missy Higgins, Kasey Chambers, Kate Miller-Heidke, Sarah Blasko, Vikki Thorn and Deborah Conway have vocalised this call to action.
According to this talented line-up, it will particularly benefit emerging female artists through increased exposure on FM radio.
Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy
I also want to say something very important about our Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy.
Across the radio waves, on TV, and online - the ABC connects our vast continent. It also connects us with our neighbours across the Indo-Pacific.
The ABC has a Charter responsibility to promote Australia’s story internationally, including throughout our region.
Our Government is providing $32 million for the ABC to expand transmission, content production, and capacity-building in our region.
This will further grow Radio Australia’s FM footprint across the Pacific and Timor Leste, and tailor ABC programming to better suit local time zones.
The ABC will establish a new pan-Pacific weekly video news program, foster a network of local journalists and run professional development activities, including on specialised subjects such as election and emergency coverage.
The Government will also provide $5.7 million for FreeTV to deliver content from Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters to the Pacific.
This will help to promote Australian culture in all its diversity throughout our region.
A more inclusive tomorrow
Closer to home, the ABC is getting ready to open its new Sydney headquarters at Parramatta Square.
In my first speech to Parliament in 2010, I spoke of the richness in diversity of the constituents I represent. And I’ve watched this area bloom into one of our most diverse and fastest-growing communities.
Our national broadcasters, much like our governments, must strive to reach and represent all Australians.
The ABC’s relocation to Parramatta reflects this.
It is part of the ABC’s Five-Year Plan to move three quarters of its Sydney-based content makers away from the inner city.
The relocation will not only serve Parramatta and surrounds.
It will also serve all Australians who will be tuning in to see and hear their favourite presenters, journalists, shows and characters.
I had the opportunity to visit the purpose-built state-of-the-art studios only recently.
Our Government has also commissioned a feasibility study into the relocation of our multicultural broadcaster, the SBS, from Artarmon to western Sydney. And western Sydney is a fast-growing multicultural corridor. To build the inclusive Australia of tomorrow, we need to start planning today.
Our national broadcasters have an important role to play in promoting Australian culture and diversity.
In order to do this, they need financial stability and they need to be free from political interference.
I have outlined some of the ways the Albanese Government is supporting this.
Please know that as ABC Friends, you have many friends in Canberra.
I look forward to continuing work on this important agenda to deliver on our election commitments just as we delivered in the recent Budget, and together with partners like you, good Friends of the ABC, we are all in good company.