By Kath Gelber and Liam Mitchell
SYDNEY — Staff from every department of ABC TV and Radio held stop-work meetings here on July 17, after planned budget cuts were announced by the federal communications minister, Senator Richard Alston. The meeting voted overwhelmingly in favour of a 24-hour strike as part of an ongoing campaign.
The cuts, 2% in 1996-97 and a further 10% in 1997-98, amount to $66 million and would mean the loss of up to 20% of ABC jobs nationwide, translating directly into reduction of services.
A rally of 1000 ABC workers on July 18 marched from Town Hall to Prime Minister John Howard's office, demanding that the federal government maintain funding to the ABC and not politically interfere with the broadcaster.
ABC Radio Late Night Live presenter Phillip Adams told the crowd that the government had promised it would protect the ABC during its first term in office, but that it had just made its biggest political blunder in attacking the popular broadcaster. "They are simply trying to camouflage political interference as fiscal responsibility", Adams said.
Radio National presenter Peter Thompson said that the government "had been getting negative feedback from the public for 13 years and it was the ABC that so often delivered that message. What we are getting now is not policy but poison and hatred."
The rally decided to pursue a community, media and lobbying campaign to oppose the proposed cuts and defend the role of the ABC as a comprehensive, independent national broadcaster.