Tony Burke addresses the ABC Excellence Awards 2024

Tony Burke addresses the ABC Excellence Awards 2024

ABC Friends NSW&ACT hosted the ABC Excellence Awards, in Sydney, Saturday 4 May. We were very fortunate that the keynote speaker was The Hon Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister for the Arts, Leader of the House in the 47th Australian Parliament and member for Watson.

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In his keynote address, Minister Burke agreed that the arts are very important for the ABC referencing the National Arts Cultural policy: Revive. ‘The soul naturally gravitates to imagination … this helps us think about what has been and what could be. It captures our emotions. It is part of being human - that's what the arts are all about. The arts in Australia have a huge automatic advantage because we share this continent with the world's oldest living culture.’ We could not agree more, Minister Burke!  

The recipients of the 2024 Excellence Awards were: Laura Tingle (individual) and The Newsreader (program/series/documentary).  

Laura Tingle attended the event to accept her award personally accompanied by her sister, Sally. In her reply, she reminded us of her long personal connection to the ABC. "My parents met in the ABC newsroom in William Street in the 1950s … My dad was a radio journalist and my mum, Pam Chivers, worked for the chief-of-staff in the era of the legendary Wally Hamilton”. Commencing her journalism career as a cadet with Fairfax in 1981, Laura moved to the ABC in 2018 as chief political editor for the ABC’s 7.30 program. She has an impressive 40-year career of excellence in journalism, won two Walkley Awards, the Paul Lyneham Award for Press Gallery Journalism and is a published author. She is also President of the National Press Club, and the staff elected director on the ABC Board.  

Congratulations, Laura Tingle.  

Marg Downey, who plays Evelyn Walters in The Newsreader, accepted the award on behalf of The Newsreader team. During her reply, read the following message from Michael Lucas, screen writer and producer: “‘The Newsreader’ is a show that could only reach its full potential on the ABC. Yes it’s a drama, but we’ve also worked closely with the news department, we’ve drawn on the memories of dozens of ABC journos, and we’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours trawling through the national treasure that is the ABC news archives. We told the archivists we were looking for 1980s nostalgia… But the footage they delivered revealed so much about Australia then, and also now. So as much as we wanted to make a fun show about big hair and bigger shoulder pads… we ended up making an exploration of who we are as a nation, in all our complexity and contradiction. At times it’s felt like we might have bitten off more than we could chew… But the entire creative team have chewed as hard as possible, for three seasons now, and we are truly thrilled you found the work meaningful, and that you selected it for this inaugural honour. Thank you”.    

Congratulations, The Newsreader. We look forward to viewing Season 3 at the end of the year.  

Two people with a tote bag with a slogan on itIn my introduction to Minister Burke, I also referenced the new National Cultural Policy: Revive. As the foreword states …  “This National Cultural Policy is not a conclusion. It is the next chapter in a story that stretches back to the first sunrise on our continent. The story starts with art, dance, narrative and songlines”. There are several positive references to the ABC in Revive therefore recognising that the ABC has extensive capacity to deliver Australian stories, science, arts, religion, and education programs - however in order deliver excellence across these areas the ABC must be funded appropriately. Revive also promised to deliver five-year funding terms for the ABC and SBS and reinstate indexation for ABC funding” (pp.89,105). Although these promises have been delivered, the funding was established on a decimated base and needs to be urgently reviewed.  

I reminded the Minister that funding for the Arts at the ABC is at an all-time low and two senior arts specialists were made redundant last year. This sorry state of affairs was explored in the previous edition of Latest News by Ross McGowen, Central Coast, ‘Arts coverage absent from ABC news and current affairs programs’. Our collective call to action to the Minister for Arts therefore is to increase the funding to the ABC so that it can continue to deliver excellence in news and current affairs, children’s programs, drama, and the arts.  

Person addressing a crowd from a lecturn

All the current ABC challenges can be linked directly to the ongoing funding crisis. In terms of the next steps, I am arranging a meeting with the Minister to explore some practical ways ABC Friends, and our marvellous ABC, can contribute to the implementation of Revive. I would like to urge all our members and supporters to sign our petition demanding the government fund more original content on the ABC. As the survey states: The ABC is part of our cultural heartland. It must be fully funded to tell our stories. The current funding crisis is ‘code red’ critical - we need to act before it becomes terminal.  

Please keep your activism strong and help us support our marvellous ABC in a very difficult media era.  

Dr Tess Howes
ABC Friends NSW & ACT President