ABC QLD with Sheridan Stewart > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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15-June-2018

Interiew with Sheridan Stewart
ABC QLD Statewide
5.15pm
13 June 2018

E & OE

STEWART: 

We have Communications Minister Mitch Fifield on the phone with us. Good afternoon Minister.

FIFIELD:

Good afternoon Sheridan.

STEWART:

Did you have a chance to listen to what Ms Rowland had to say?

FIFIELD:

I heard a bit of what she had to say.

STEWART:

How do you respond to her comments?

FIFIELD:

What our objective is, is to help the ABC to be the best possible steward of taxpayer dollars that it can be. Now, Michelle Rowland said the ABC has basically achieved a state of administrative perfection. I’ve yet to find a Commonwealth-funded agency that has achieved that. The last efficiency review into the ABC was about four years ago; and in the fast-evolving world of media, that is an eternity. So we think that it’s prudent and good practice to have an indexation pause, and to pair that with an efficiency review of the ABC, to make sure that it is doing the best it possibly can with taxpayers’ dollars.

STEWART:

So after this recent review of funding, we’re looking at another $84 million cut to the ABC. Do you think that will be the last funding cuts? Or do you feel there’s still fat to trim?

FIFIELD:

The ABC is funded on a triennium, or three-yearly basis, and we aren’t altering the funding to the ABC in the current triennium, which still has a year to go. What we have flagged a year out from the commencement of the next triennium is that we are going to have an indexation pause. So the ABC have a year’s notice of that. We’re going to support the ABC with an efficiency review, to help the organisation identify how they can realise those savings. But it’s really important to recognise that the ABC will still receive in excess of $1 billion dollars each and every year. And what that means is the ABC has greater funding certainty than any other media organisation in the country. So there’s absolutely no reason why the ABC shouldn’t be able to continue to support and deliver the 54 local radio stations around the nation; which do great work and are very close to their communities. The ABC has four national radio networks; no reason why those shouldn’t go from strength to strength. And the ABC obviously has its TV and online operations. It performs important work for the community and we will always ensure that the ABC is well-resourced so that it can fulfil those functions. 

STEWART:

Should funding to the ABC be comparable to the editorial operating costs of commercial media?

FIFIELD:

The ABC operates in a way that is similar in many respects to other media organisations. But it also operates in ways that are very different. There is no comparison in commercial media to the radio footprint that the ABC has. The ABC, according to its Charter, has a particular obligation when it comes to covering the arts and science, which is something that it does incredibly well. I also really value the fact that the ABC pays a lot of attention to issues such as disability and aged care; which mean a lot to me as a former minister in those areas. So the ABC’s remit is very different to commercial media organisations. We want to see the ABC continue to be strong. And I have no doubt that it will be.


STEWART:

 

How important do you think ABC’s role is in regional Australia?

FIFIELD:

Incredibly important. Which is one of the reasons why I have legislation before the parliament to further reinforce that role and that responsibility for rural and regional Australia. In the legislation that I have before the Senate, we want to put particular reference to rural and regional Australia in the ABC’s Act for the first time. That’s something that people assume is already there in the ABC’s legislation. It’s not. We want to put it there. We also have in that legislation a requirement that the ABC Board always has two members from rural and regional Australia. Now, we would already meet that criteria because of the appointments that I’ve made including Georgie Somerset, who you probably know: Vice President of AgForce, a beef producer from Kingaroy. So the role is important that the ABC has for rural and regional Australia, but we want to further reinforce that. 

STEWART:

Do you feel that there are particular services within the ABC that should be sacrosanct, like the emergency broadcast role?

FIFIELD:

Well I think that’s sacrosanct. Also, the ABC’s local radio stations are absolutely sacrosanct. These are things that are part of the fabric of community life in regional Australia. But the ABC has laid out in its charter what its obligations are and that is to entertain and inform and to reinforce a sense of national identity. And also, as I said, to put a particular focus on the arts and science. That’s what we all want the ABC to do. And the measures that the government has before the Parliament, and also things such as the efficiency review; they’re all focused for the objective of helping the ABC be as efficient as it can be, as transparent as it can be, and as accountable as it can be.

STEWART:

It’s 24 minutes past 5. ABC Radio Queensland. Sheridan with you. I am speaking to Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, and we’ve been talking about the recent announcement in the budget of a further $84 million to be cut from the ABC. Minister, we do hear complaints from commercial news media from time to time about competition from the ABC, particular online. Do you think the ABC should still be providing a free news service?

FIFIELD:

Well the ABC is free and that’s what Australians expect. You’re right, a number of commercial media organisations have said that they believe that there are areas where the ABC competes unfairly with them. So what I’ve done is to institute what we’re calling a competitive neutrality inquiry, which is really just a way of saying, that we’re going to have a mechanism so that the ABC can put their views forward, the SBS can put their views forward, commercial media can put their views forward on the subject of: are the public broadcasters competing in ways that are not fair with the commercial broadcasters. Let see the evidence, let everyone put their case forward. But what will never change is the important role that the ABC plays in being one of the underpinnings of media diversity in the nation. And being one of the critical underpinnings of civic journalism.

STEWART:

Depending on the outcome of the efficiency review would the Federal Government consider reinstating all of, or some of that funding cut?

FIFIELD:

We have announced our decision in the Budget to pause indexation in the next triennium. It’s important that all portfolios across the Commonwealth not only are the best possible steward that they can be of taxpayer dollars, but that also, they make a contribution to helping repair the Commonwealth budget. And because of that, we will have the national Budget back in balance by 19-20, which is a year ahead of what we originally forecast. Because all of us have to live with our means. My portfolio has to live within its means. The government as a whole has to live within it means. And that’s what we’re going to do.

STEWART:

Thank you very much for your time this afternoon Minister. I know it’s a busy one and we appreciate you joining us on the program.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Sheridan.

[ends]


Authorised by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Party of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra.