Speech - Community Broadcasting Association of Australia Conference

Acknowledgement of Country

I begin by acknowledging the Kaurna people, the Traditional Owners of the land we are meeting on today.

I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I also acknowledge First Nations people attending the conference, and recognise the important role First Nations media plays in truth-telling, representation, and reconciliation.

Introduction 

Thank you for the invitation to address the 2023 CBAA Annual Conference.

Last year, I was in Canberra for the Albanese Government’s first budget while this conference met in Cairns, at the Shangri La.  
It’s great to join you in Adelaide today – Australia’s Coolest City, according to the Wall Street Journal – and it was a pleasure to visit the South Australian Film Commission with Lauren Hillman from C44 yesterday.

It’s been an exciting 18 months since the last Federal Election, and I’ve appreciated the strong engagement I’ve had both with CBAA and community radio stations across the country.

I love visiting community broadcasters; so much so that it has become a staple on any visits I take in an official capacity.

From our cities – with City Park Radio in Launceston with its radio museum, Channel 31 and 3KND in Melbourne, Noongar Radio and Radio Fremantle, ARDS Radio in Darwin, Radio 4EB FM in Brisbane and Alive 90.5 in North West Sydney.

All the way to our regions, including to Braidwood FM in NSW, OKR FM in Kilmore Victoria, 2MCE FM in picturesque Bathurst – and just this week, Eurobodalla Access Radio (2EAR) on the beautiful NSW South Coast.

At every stop, I’ve left feeling inspired by the passion, expertise and advocacy of the staff and volunteers who keep these local stations on-air.

And you’re well-represented by an industry organisation in CBAA that not only understands the sector and what you need, but works constructively with Government to get results.

It’s great to be with you in person, one year since the Government announced that it was backing the community broadcasting sector with:
•    funding in the Federal Budget;
•    the commencement of a review into the sustainability of the community broadcasting sector; and 
•    the introduction of legislative amendments to provide greater regulatory clarity.  

Significant progress has been made since then, and much of this is a direct result of the efforts of many in the room here today.

I thank you for your contributions, your energy and the enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers of community broadcasting stations, right around the country.

Today I’ll provide an update on the status and next steps of the sustainability review, but first I wanted to mark some notable milestones that have already been achieved, including in relation to policy development impacting the sector.

Firstly, additional funding of $4 million per annum to the Community Broadcasting Program was delivered in our very first Budget, commencing in 2023-24.  This funding is indexed and ongoing – and delivering funding certainty.

Then the Broadcasting Services (Community Radio) Amendment Bill 2022 passed into law, providing greater certainty and regulatory clarity for community radio broadcasters, and quality programming for listeners. 

Next, Minister Burke launched Australia’s new Cultural Policy, Revive, which acknowledges the role of community broadcasting in delivering local news, telling local stories, and providing a platform for diverse voices and Australian music. 

Following that, Minister Burney and I have welcomed and released the initial report of the First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group, as a positive step towards narrowing the digital divide.

This report recommends practical measures to support greater digital inclusion, in line with Target 17 in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. 

This is a deeply complex issue, with access, affordability and digital ability all playing a role in the extent to which First Nations people and communities are digitally included.

This report acknowledges that the First Nations broadcasting and media sector contributes directly to a range of outcomes under Closing the Gap, including Outcome 17, which includes measures relating to the number and location of community broadcasting services, content diversity, audience growth and employment in the media sector. 

And its next steps are to develop a roadmap for First Nations digital inclusion in consultation with communities and stakeholders to better understand needs and priorities at the local level.

This report will be considered by our Government as we continue to work in partnership with First Nations people to remove the barriers to full participation in our digital society.

Naomi Moran, here in the audience today, is a member of the First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group and I understand Naomi will present later in this conference on the role of community broadcasting for First Nations digital inclusion, so I encourage you to attend. 

Across Communications, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs, these are some of the policy building blocks that will help drive and realise better outcomes for community broadcasting, as well as First Nations broadcasting and media.

And they inform the Government’s work, in the ongoing review of community broadcasting, as well as the sector’s own thinking.

Roadmap 2033

As you heard from Jon Bisset and Jo Curtin this morning, the community broadcasting sector has developed its long-term strategy for the sector, known as Roadmap 2033. 

As I mentioned earlier, I attended the launch of the Roadmap at SWR FM a fortnight ago at an event in Western Sydney.   

As a current MP and former Deputy Mayor in Western Sydney, this event brought my two great passions – Communications and Western Sydney – together.
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Roadmap 2033 is an impressive ten-year plan which contains a shared vision for the future where:

“Community broadcasting is at the heart of every community – where informed, connected communities are strengthened by trusted, creative, independent media.”

One of the more impressive aspects of Roadmap 2033 is how strongly the sector is backing it and beginning to work to deliver strategic goals. 

I understand that support from Government will be required to deliver the outcomes sought from the Roadmap 2033.

We will work to ensure the sector is funded and recognised as a critical asset in helping all Australians to engage with free, independent media.

And it is important that we do, as community broadcasting plays an important role in promoting the diverse identities of - and providing a voice for - communities that are underserved by other media.

Government support for community radio

Through the Community Broadcasting Program (the CBP), we fund community radio and television organisations to support a range of activities.

These include industry training and skills development, new content development, and transmission and equipment costs. 

Under this Program, almost $22 million has been provided to the Community Broadcasting Foundation this financial year.  
This funding certainty has allowed the Community Broadcasting Foundation to award 235 grants under a new funding round.

Community Broadcasting Sector Sustainability Review

And we are evaluating the CBP as we work with the sector to identify a sustainable funding basis for the future. 

In October 2022, I announced a Community Broadcasting Sector Sustainability Review. 

The first phase of this Review - an evaluation of the existing Community Broadcasting Program, or CBP - is now complete. 

The evaluation found the CBP is having a range of positive impacts but that improvements can be made.

I’d like to share some of the key findings with you – in regard to the utility, impact and delivery of the CBP.

Key Findings of the Evaluation

On ‘Utility’ the evaluation found that:

•    The existing grant making processes were found to be mostly efficient and effective, but opportunities to better address sector diversity have been identified. 

•    Overall awareness and engagement with the CBP was high, though some areas of the sector still had low awareness. This related to organisational capabilities and indicates a need for ongoing outreach to raise awareness. 

•    Further, grant assessment could be enhanced through a more representative peer-assessment process and the incorporation of professional expertise for sector investment funding.

When it comes to ‘Impact’:

•    The evaluation found the CBP had a range of positive impacts for broadcasters. 

•    91 percent of successful CBP applicants agreed the grant funding they received made a meaningful difference to the operations of their organisation.  

•    These related to the continuation of operations, support to achieve organisational priorities, and community engagement activities. As well as the delivery of diverse and representative, local and national news, information and content.
 
•    However, it also found that funding has not significantly contributed to sector sustainability. 

•    There have been minimal increases in the capacity of organisations to undertake these types of activities without reliance on CBP funding.

On ‘Program Delivery’:

•    Overall, it appears the CBP has partially achieved its objectives of addressing the sector’s issues and needs in relation to program delivery. 

•    The evaluation found that funding continues to be important for the production and broadcasting of accessible, diverse, locally relevant content of a high quality.

•    Indeed, funding has supported the maintenance of diverse     programming, with some increases in online content production. 

•    It also shows there is a significant reliance on funding to maintain core operations. Particularly for smaller organisations and those without sources of consistent, significant revenue.

Finally, on ‘Future needs’:

•    The evaluation also looked at the future needs of community broadcasters, which vary according to their organisational health, capacity and level of resilience. 

•    There is a need for CBP grants to be inclusive and targeted to different needs among applicants. 

•    Of greatest importance is the need to secure operational costs, to increase resilience and foster sustainability.

•    It also seems that reliance on volunteers may be unsustainable for the sector with the decline in volunteerism and the transition towards increased professionalisation. 

•    Targeted investment is needed to support capacity building and training, as well as revenue development for stations with lower resilience and self-sufficiency.

Evaluation is just the start

This evaluation is a useful first phase of the Community Broadcasting Sector Sustainability Review.

I would like to thank all of you who participated in it. Your participation ensures that the findings are robust, providing a strong foundation for the next phase of the review.

We are working closely with the sector on this review.

Both the Community Broadcasting Foundation and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia are currently considering the report and my department expects to publish the evaluation in due course.

Sustainability review – next steps

My department will soon begin consulting on potential sustainability support options, which take into consideration both the evaluation of the CBP and Roadmap 2033, as part of the second phase of the sustainability review.

The scope of this consultation includes: 

•    How to increase sector sustainability, capability and capacity;

•    Identifying emerging priorities, for example, local news and disaster response; 

•    A shared outcomes framework to help measure impact and inform decisions; and

•    Consideration of any regulatory changes. 

This consultation process will be extensive, with a range of different ways for you to engage over the next six months. 

This will allow for government consideration of detailed options by the end of 2024.

Community TV 

Alongside this, my department is working to keep community television stations, Channel 31 in Melbourne and Channel 44 in Adelaide, on air. 

These stations provide valuable services and should remain on air until there is an alternative use for the radiofrequency spectrum. 
 
Currently, my department is looking at the best approach to extending licenses through legislation. We are working towards the introduction of a Bill to secure this outcome.

First Nations community radio 

We will also consider First Nations funding alignment across government to increase its impact. 

Let me explore this area in a little more detail…

First Nations broadcasting helps give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a strong voice and increases their social and economic participation in society.

In 82 regions, it is the only radio service available, promoting connection to culture and language through the production of local stories, news and information in more than 25 languages.

It is a trusted source of information for health, education and community services.

I heard this first hand when I was in Darwin in July, visiting ARDS Radio.

The local team explained to me that during the pandemic, they dedicated significant resources to translating rapidly changing health information into Yolngu for First Nations communities in North-East Arnhem Land.

It was incredible work – and shows the passion that exists for community within this wonderful sector.

I am certain that ARDS helped to save lives during the pandemic.

The Australian Government not only supports First Nations broadcasting through the CBP but also runs the Indigenous Broadcasting and Media Program. 

In providing over $20 million annually, 49 organisations are supported in the delivery of broadcasting and media services. 

Government funding is essential for the sustainability of this sector which has limited opportunities to generate commercial or philanthropic income – particularly broadcasters operating in remote locations.

So, there is much being done, and much to do, in supporting community broadcasting in Australia, and together our efforts right now will set the sector up for a sustainable and thriving future.

Moss Cass

As we look to the future, it is instructive to look back.

In 2025 it will be 50 years since the former Labor Minister for the Media, the great Dr Moss Cass, announced the expansion across the nation of what were then called ‘experimental radio licences’ , putting in place the foundations of the community radio sector that serves so many, so well, today.

Dr Moses Henry Cass passed away just last year, and the many tributes to his life and work, including his political career as part of the Whitlam Government acknowledged his vision for local community broadcasting, including ethnic broadcasting. 
It is my great honour and privilege to be in a position to carry on his legacy, with each of you. 

In his words: 

“the health of a community depends on the health of its communications media… It is in the community’s own interests to have open and diverse media and to participate fully in using them”. 

Importantly, there was bipartisan support at the time, and the Liberal Minister for Post and Telecommunications from 1977-1980, the Hon Tony Staley MP, who passed away earlier this year, went on to put in place the legislative framework supporting community broadcasting licences.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the Albanese Government understands the importance of community broadcasting and is delivering on our election commitments in consultation with the sector.

We have provided funding certainty, and are working to identify a sustainable funding basis for the future, through the Community Broadcasting Sector Sustainability Review.

We will continue to work with you to realise this, working towards our shared aim of building a strong, diverse, inclusive and sustainable landscape for community media.

I wish you an enjoyable and successful conference.

Thank you.

[ENDS]