In the third attack on the ABC by a government minister in the last month, Defence Minister David Johnston said on February 7 that reports that asylum seekers had their hands burned by navy personnel warrants an investigation into the national broadcaster.
"If ever there was an event that justified a detailed inquiry, some reform, an investigation of the ABC, this event is it," he said.
This follows comments by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on January 29 when he said the ABC “appears to take everyone’s side but Australia’s and I think it is a problem”.
Likewise, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on January 1 she has “concerns about the promotion of Australia's interests overseas” and “by the level of negative feedback she receives from overseas”.
Is the ABC to be blamed for reporting these stories? According to the Australian Directory, the function of the ABC is: “to provide public broadcasting services within Australia and overseas and to encourage and promote Australia's musical, dramatic and other performing arts”.
After five months of Abbott's government, the main line of communication could be summarised in one word — silence.
The rest of the world sees Australia as a prosperous country that escaped the last economic crisis. But signals sent by the country are difficult to understand. When 195 countries made an agreement on climate change in Warsaw, there were no representatives of the Australian government to explain why the world’s most polluting country has ignored calls to reduce its emissions.
The United Nations is still concerned about Australian Indigenous people who remain the worst treated indigenous population in the world. The UNHCR wants answers about why immigration minister Scott Morrison refuses to comment on asylum seekers.
The government might like to avoid critical questions from the media but it will not hide the reality Australians face.
Australia faces the end of the mining age and the balance shift left by the focus on mining for decades is alarming. Australia's economy is the perfect example of a maladjusted economy, combining the decline in wages, a bubble in the housing sector and an increasingly uncompetitive industry with more than 40% of the labor force in part time shift work and casual positions.
Further, the financial sector is extremely dependent on overseas funds and the federal debt has multiplied by five between 2008 and 2012. It is the perfect combination of everything that generated the last world financial crisis in 2008 and it will be even worse if China reduces its investment in Australia.
In that context, no doubt Abbott will serve the classic rhetoric of deregulation, flexibility, freezing wages and cuts in government funding and benefits.
Deregulation has affected all sectors and reconfigured the Australian economy with a huge impact on the cost and access to services. Deregulation is limited now to selling off the country’s assets.
Flexibility is pushed to the extreme. Part-time and casual work impacts on federal revenue by a slump in income taxes. In terms of working conditions, flexibility as experienced in the mining industry implies scrapping working conditions, which impact directly on safety standards.
The end of Holden's production in Australia has demonstrated the limit of using the leverage of frozen wages and reduced benefits and working conditions, despite the support of workers. Increasing the profitability of a company has never led to job creation or the maintenance of an unprofitable factory.
Reducing wages combined with cuts in government funding and benefits, as experienced by other countries, is not the answer either. The result of that policy is to isolate vulnerable people and exclude them from the community.
Also, long-term unemployment could cause a fundamental mismatch between employer's needs and employee's skills, resulting in the unemployability of one part of the work force that is slumped into long-term poverty with huge social impacts.
To face the oncoming crisis Australia needs first an industrial vision and an understandable policy. The ABC is not responsible for the government's choices and it is the role of a prime minister to be able to explain those choices and decisions.
Silence has never made any issues disappear. Abbott, Bishop and the government should stop their attacks on the ABC.