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07 May 2008

Kevin Rudd on Funding for the ABC

Half way through March last year, I wrote to Kevin Rudd - the, then new, Labor Leader - about funding (or the lack thereof) for the ABC... your ABC.

He wrote back.

Well, someone from his office, with official access to his email wrote back, anyway.

He (or they) did the classic politician's thing of rewording the answer to suit the question he wanted me to ask. Some of his response is about the process by which the ABC board is stacked. To be honest, I think this is an important issue as well... and I agree with Kevin Rudd's assessment of the situation. It makes my original letter sound more broad ranging than it actually was, which is fine by me.

Click here to see a list of the statistics on funding for the ABC that I sent in my letter to Kevin Rudd.

Not only did I get Kevin to say he thought the ABC was underfunded, he actually mentioned a figure ($100 million), which is more than I ever expected to get in response to my original letter (not the amount, but the fact that he mentioned a specific figure at all).

I realise that there is little chance of the government announcing extra spending for the ABC in this up-and-coming "tight" budget, on May 13 - and, to be honest, Mr Rudd does say "over the next triennium", so he's got a full 3 years to come good on his offer here. (Isn't that now quartennium? What happened to Kevin's promise to make Australian political terms a fixed four-year affair... I should do a post on that sometime soon...)

Here is the email I got, from Kevin:

Dear Nicholas

Thank you for your letter highlighting the importance of adequate funding for the ABC and the need for the ABC to be free from political interference.

Labor shares these principles.

The Howard Government has starved the ABC of the funding it needs to produce decent public broadcasting services. After coming to power the Howard Government cut ABC funding by $66 million over two years. This funding has never been fully restored. In real terms, the ABC has less money to make programs than when John Howard came to office. As a consequence, the production of Australian drama has fallen to record lows.

The Howard Government has also has repeatedly sought to stack the ABC Board with its political mates.

Labor is deeply concerned with the Howard Government’s attempts to bully the ABC and undermine its independence. This is a worrying threat to Australian democracy.

Labor is committed to ending the practice of Governments making political appointments to the ABC Board. Under Labor, appointments will be based on merit, not mateship.

Since 2003 Labor has argued that there should be an open and transparent process for making appointments to the ABC board. Vacancies should be advertised and there should be clear merit based selection criteria. Labor's policy provides for an independent selection panel to undertake a proper shortlist selection process.

Most importantly the selection of the shortlist would be independent of the Minister. If the Minister does not appoint a short listed candidate he or she will have to table a formal statement of the reasons for departing from the shortlist to the Parliament.

This process will make it virtually impossible for a political crony to be short listed for an ABC Board appointment.

Labor's policy will enhance our democracy. It will foster an environment where the ABC can be fearless in its approach to news and current affairs, and critical of both sides of politics whenever necessary.

Labor is committed to a better, stronger and independent ABC. During the last election campaign, Labor pledged to begin to restore the ABC's finances by injecting an additional $100 million over the next triennium. Labor will review the funding requirements of the ABC in the lead up to the next election. ABC must be properly funded so that it is able to fulfil its charter to inform, educate and entertain all Australians.

Kind regards,

Kevin Rudd
Federal Labor Leader
Member for Griffith

So where to now? I guess we see how the next few budgets treat the ABC. To see the statistics I sent Kevin in my original letter, see here. They're quite enlightening, still, I think.

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