Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (17:05): We have long known that many within the coalition secretly harbour a desire to teach our kids that the Australian alphabet starts with the letter D, so hostile are they to the letters ABC. That was revealed to all last week when the Minister for Communications flew to the electorate of the Leader of the House to announce an egregious set of cuts to the ABC's budget.

Not everybody thinks the same way as those in the coalition. Many of us believe that the ABC has a critical role in telling the Australian story—our culture and our history—and examining civil society. It is made up of professional, independent men and women who produce news and stories free from the bias which may be extant in other news outlets. It is a truly national broadcaster. It covers the country from coast to coast with over 1,000 journalists in 60 newsrooms across Australia, along with around 12 foreign bureaus. In times of emergency, particularly in rural and regional communities, people turn to the ABC as the emergency broadcaster providing reliable information about what is going on and keeping its audience up to date.

The ABC is a part of Australia as we would like to see ourselves, but it is also about Australia as we truly are. It has been observed, including by the communications minister himself, that, despite the incessant attacks by the conservatives, particularly those amongst the coalition, the ABC is more popular than any political party in this country and certainly more popular than any individual politician. That is why the coalition made a promise going into the 2013 election. It was the Prime Minister who looked down the barrel of a camera and said, 'There will be no cuts to the ABC, no cuts to the SBS, no cuts to Medicare and no changes to pensions,' but the reason he made those commitments in relation to the ABC is that he knew how popular the ABC is amongst the Australian community. Indeed, Liberals were out there, particularly in regional and rural Australia, campaigning on the importance of the ABC as our national broadcaster, but we know, and the Minister for Communications has told us, that this was a promise that they never intended to keep. He was at pains to explain last week that, whilst the Prime Minister was out there promising one thing in the headlines, in the subtext and in the footnotes you had the Treasurer and the communications minister trying to send off whispers to cover themselves when their full plans were revealed—and revealed they were. Immediately after the election, they commissioned the Lewis review, which is the blueprint. It is the track back to the minister's office for everything that is going on within the ABC today. They promised a government of no surprises, but week in, week out and month in, month out Australians are astounded by what they are doing.

The $254 million cut to the ABC means that they are going to be closing the Adelaide television production studio, along with its partner studio in Perth. That means cuts to sports coverage, shutting five local radio outlets, including in Wagin in Western Australia, Morwell in Victoria, Gladstone in Queensland, Port Augusta in South Australia and Nowra in my own Illawarra. They will be selling off property and they will be introducing over 400 job cuts. This amounts to around 10 per cent of the total workforce of the ABC. They are going to be axing popular and important programs like 7.30, Stateline editions and even Bush Telegraph, an iconic program which is loved by thousands of Australians. They are going to be exploring charging for their digital downloads and of course there will be restructure after restructure.

In regional Australia, the ABC really matters. It is often the only source of local news and stories in a region, stories that the city based networks simply do not focus on. In regional Australia, these cuts are going to hurt and they going to hurt communities very deeply. It is why we need MPs from regional Australia to be standing up and defending the national broadcaster. I thought we saw a hint of this when we saw the member for Sturt, Chris Pyne, set a land speed record in his rush from the cabinet room, where he voted in favour of the cuts to the ABC, to his own electorate, where he started an ill-fated campaign against cuts in his own electorate. He was effectively saying, 'Cut the rest of Australia but leave my electorate alone.' He is the Liberal Party's very own answer to GetUp! It did not go so well.

In politics they say you can be a lion in your electorate but a lamb when you come to Canberra. The member for Sturt and many other members on that side do appear to be lions in their own electorates but lambs in their own party room. They defend the ABC in their electorate, but, when it comes to voting in their party room or in the cabinet, they are found wanting.

So it is with the member for Gilmore. I was quite bemused when I saw an open letter to the ABC managing director from Mrs Sudmalis, the member for Gilmore. It is quite a poison pen job. She makes the observation that, if this closure goes ahead, it would be almost geographically impossible to cover, in person, local news events between Nowra and Moruya and on the New South Wales coast. I would add to that the entire Illawarra region. This letter is a little bit late in coming. We needed the member for Gilmore to be voicing these concerns when the Commonwealth government issued its budget in May this year or when the secret Lewis report was provided to the minister. Where was the member for Gilmore defending the local ABC bureau in Nowra when the decisions were being made in her own party room? What we have seen from the member for Gilmore—as we have seen from so many other members in this debate—is that she is a lamb when she comes to Canberra but an absolute lion in her own electorate.

There is another saying in politics—and it is this: you cannot barrack for both the fire and the fire brigade. The member for Gilmore, the member for Sturt and so many others are doing exactly that. They are out there barracking for the fire when they vote for the government's egregious budget cuts to the ABC. When they are day-in and day-out lambasting and launching their cultural wars against the alleged bias of the ABC, they are barracking for the fire. But, when they go back to their own electorates, they are cheering on the fire brigade—saying, 'Put this fire out. We cannot afford to lose the ABC from our local electorates because it is absolutely critical to covering the stories of our local region.'

When you barrack for both the fire and the fire brigade you end up getting burnt. That is what is going to happen to the member for Sturt and that is what is going to happen to the member for Gilmore—because the people are not buying it. This absolute fop of a letter that is rushed out after the axe has already fallen so that you can put out a local press release saying, 'I am out there championing the interests of the local staff of the local ABC'—nobody is buying it. They can see that, when the member for Gilmore had her opportunity to stand up for her electorate, to stand up for the ABC—or over the cuts to Medicare or over the cuts to pensions or over the cuts to local school education funding—she was found wanting.

She would be there for the opening of everything, even when she had argued against it in this place. She would be out there in the electorate saying, 'This is terrible; what are we going to do about it?' But she had the opportunity; the member for Sturt had the opportunity; and all of those other National Party members, who were thumping the table in Senate committees, were going to give thunderous speeches in this place about how the ABC is so critical to their communities. They have barracked for the fire, and they have barracked for the fire brigade; they are going to end up getting burnt. But the really sad thing about this story is what they are doing to their own communities in the process. Australians should rise up and reject it. (Time expired).