What this government hates is scrutiny. That’s what these cuts are about.
This is the government whose communications minister is a card-carrying member of the Institute of Public Affairs, a body that lobbies for the ABC to be privatised. It is a government that hates, deeply hates, the public broadcaster.
Its first big lie, Tony Abbott’s last promise before he won government, was that there would be no cuts to the ABC. Since then, it has made the persecution of the ABC a running obsession. The most powerful minister in the government, Peter Dutton, mocks its reporters as “crazy lefties”. He says: “They don’t realise how completely dead they are to me.”
This budget is about finishing that project.
The market has already done its work on the big newsrooms, on the engines of democracy that were News Corp and Fairfax Media. It halved the reporting staffs, cleared out the experience.
The ABC remained an irritant. Its funding allowed it the expensive work of breaking news. The government’s answer is a cut of $84 million over three years.
Since the first Abbott budget, the ABC has lost $254 million in funding. These cuts are on top of that.
This is the government that gave Fox Sports a $30 million handout. It is the government that has $50 million to lionise Captain James Cook. It is not about money, it is about removing accountability.
The director of news at the ABC, Gaven Morris, has confirmed there will be job losses. There will be fewer journalists breaking fewer stories. “Make no mistake, there is no more fat to cut at the ABC,” he said. “Any more cuts to the ABC cut into the muscle of the organisation.”
That suits the government fine. Cuts like this are about damage. They are about revenge.
The Coalition’s partner in this is One Nation. It is a grotesque alliance. One Nation has blackmailed the government over ABC funding. Last year it said it would oppose all budget measures unless the ABC’s funding was cut by $600 million a year. The party whip, Brian Burston, conceded this could be interpreted as “payback”.
Pauline Hanson was angry about a Four Corners episode that detailed peculiarities in her party. The anger intensified when details of a trip to Afghanistan were revealed by the broadcaster. The party accused the ABC of collaborating with terrorists for the story. “The ABC are warped and dangerous. Terrible. Horrible. Sad.”
This is the madness the Coalition now indulges. The damage being done to the ABC is damage that will harm the entire country. The pettiness of this is extraordinary. It is the action of a failed democracy.
There are no votes in cutting the ABC. Not directly. This is about the votes you hold onto when the country doesn’t know what you are doing. It is about conducting government in darkness. In an ugly and unimaginative budget, these cuts are some of the ugliest.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 12, 2018 as "The cutting wedge".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription