Greater ABC funding certainty a positive, but modest increases won’t restore the ABC.
While the government’s second Budget rightly focused on cost-of-living pressures, there was some good news for the ABC – and some cause for frustration. Read our response here, along with statements by the ABC, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and ABC Alumni.
We have also created a table which summarises the budget measures and our response to them. It shows those policies you have helped us campaign for and where there’s more work to be done.
The government’s second Budget includes some valuable measures that will provide the ABC with greater certainty and ability to plan, but it is disappointing that there is no improvement in the ABC’s operational funding after years of cuts.
ABC Friends advocated strongly for the introduction of five-year funding, indexation of ABC funding and the incorporation of the ABC’s enhanced news gathering program into the ABC’s operating grant. The program, which funds around 70 journalists and the creation of content in local communities, has been funded on a three-yearly basis since 2012. The change will give it a secure future and commits the government to extend funding beyond 2024.
We are pleased that these measures have been included in the Budget. And it’s a relief to read positive news after so many years of cuts.
We also welcome the expansion of transmission services in the Pacific, which will build on funding for the Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy and allow greater FM transmission for Radio Australia.
But after years of brutal cuts, we’re looking to the government to do more to repair the harm that was done to the ABC.
The ABC needs around $80m a year to address the structural damage that cuts to its operating budget wrought between 2013 and 2022. The cuts had an insidious effect on the quantity and quality of the ABC’s service – and the damage will continue unless there is a significant increase in operational funding.
And while we applaud the Government’s commitment to ongoing indexation of the ABC’s budget (indexation was scrapped by the previous government in 2019), it is still not clear how the indexation formula will be calculated – and this matters.
In the past, ABC indexation hasn’t kept pace with the CPI, effectively eroding the ABC’s funding base – that’s always a problem but it’s especially acute when inflation is high. Added to this are high production costs, which will continue to increase in the short to medium term.
Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, announced at ABC Friends Victoria’s annual dinner in November that there would be a review to look at ways of guaranteeing the sustainability of the ABC. We will seek to ensure that full indexation is addressed as part of that review. We will also advocate for improvements with the Minister for Finance and the Treasurer.
The ABC has announced another restructure following the appointment of Chris Oliver-Taylor to the newly created role of Chief Content Officer. With minimal improvement in the ABC’s funding, we await that review with trepidation.
Download our Budget at a glance table
ABC Managing Director, David Anderson, said while the Budget acknowledges the ABC’s importance and value and provides greater financial certainty, the broadcaster will be financially challenged as it strives to meet short-to medium term pressures.
“The funding certainty provided by the Budget is vital, as it enables the ABC to plan with confidence. Notwithstanding the five-year funding outcome, the ABC will need to meet the challenge of upward cost pressure, and position itself to continue to be trusted, relevant and valued by all Australians into the future”, he said.
The allocation of annual funding of $1.1 billion, he said, would provide a “solid foundation” as the ABC moves into a five-year period of “significant changes in media consumption, industry-wide cost pressures and increasing requirements to modernise and adapt to new technology”.
Anderson said he would soon announce the ABC’s next Five-Year Plan which will ensure that the ABC remains the “most important cultural institution for all Australians”.
Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, said the Budget would provide stable funding to support media sustainability and safeguard democracy.
“The Albanese Government recognises that a sustainable media sector is central to keeping Australians connected, and to support the resilience of our democracy by holding power to account”, she said.
Delivery of financial stability through five-year funding terms, she said, would ensure ongoing delivery of quality content and services that reach millions of Australians, including children, regional audiences and diverse multicultural communities.
She said that that the ABC and SBS will receive an additional $72 million over four years to extend and roll three previously terminating programs into ongoing funding. These include ABC Enhanced News Gathering, which supports regional journalist positions in regional bureaus throughout Australia and ABC and SBS Audio Description, to make screen content more accessible to audiences who are blind or vision impaired.
The ABC will also receive $8.5 million over four years to expand transmission infrastructure in the Pacific under the Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy. The funding will provide further access to Australian content, boosting media connections in the region.
On behalf of ABC Alumni, Director and former ABC Editorial Director, Alan Sunderland, said while the Government should be recognised for including several positive measures in the Budget, it is “not time to put away the begging bowl”.
Sunderland said it was particularly good news that the Government had finally incorporated the ABC’s enhanced news gathering program into operational funding and would provide $1 million a year for audio description of television programming.
He said, however, the Budget had not made any provision for the extra $80 million of annual funding needed to bring the real level of ABC funding back to 2013 levels, prior to the Coalition’s decade of funding cuts.
This Budget’s commitments, he said would not address the structural damage caused by these cuts. “The bleeding has been stemmed, but the wound remains.”
“Certainty of funding is all very well, but certainty of inadequate funding is a recipe for ongoing cuts, program closures and the all-too-familiar process of ‘getting by with what you have’ rather than building a future-focussed public broadcaster that all Australians can be rightly proud of”.