Unions representing staff at the ABC have condemned the federal government’s funding cuts to the national broadcaster after new ABC managing director David Anderson said on June 24 that more than 250 jobs would go as part of its five-year plan.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which covers a majority of the ABC staff, wants the $84 million funding freeze halted and has called on the government to commit to a consistent five-year ABC funding model.
Since 2014, the ABC has cut more than 1100 jobs because of funding cuts. These latest cuts are not related to COVID-19, but are a direct result of an indexation freeze on the ABC’s operating revenue imposed by then Treasurer Scott Morrison in the 2018 Budget.
They will affect technology, news, entertainment, content makers and specialist and local teams.Gone will be the ABC comedy channel, the 7.45am radio news broadcast and the ABC Life website. Local content will also be affected with a $5 million cut to independent production, meaning there will be less locally-produced drama and other content.
The CPSU ABC Section secretary Sinddy Ealy described the jobs cuts as “utter madness”. “The ABC has already endured over 1100 staff cuts, and today’s announcement will have real implications for remaining staff and workloads … The ABC has delivered through all major crises of this year. The ABC has provided in some cases lifesaving information throughout the droughts, fires and now a health pandemic. It is clear that Australia needs a strong ABC now more than ever,” she said.
By 2022, the Coalition government will have cut more than $783 million from the ABC’s budget since 2014.
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) spokesperson Paul Murphy described the cuts as “ideologically motivated” to undermine the “ABC’s independence and its news gathering ability” which had proved essential during the bushfire crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. He said the ABC’s funding from government is now 30% below what it was in the mid-1980s.
Murphy said Reuters Institute Digital News Report released a report last week that found the ABC was Australia’s most trusted news brand with a 72% trust rating.
MEAA media federal president Marcus Strom said members were concerned that management was selecting staff for forced redundancies.
“These cuts have a real human cost with 250 people facing unemployment in the middle of a recession and a constrained job market for media professionals,” he said, describing human resources and management’s approach as a “return to the shoulder tapping and Hunger Games-style pooled redundancies of the past”.
Margaret Simons, writing in the June 26 Sydney Morning Herald, rejected Prime Minister Scott Morrison's claim the government has not reduced the ABC budget: “Scott Morrison is being fancy-pants in saying there are no cuts. Announced in 2018, a pause in the indexation of the ABC’s funding has reduced the budget by $84 million over three years and resulted in an ongoing reduction of $41 million a year from next year. This is on top of $64 million of ongoing cuts imposed in 2014. Operational funding will be more than 10 per cent lower in 2021–22 than it was in 2013.”
"Why have an ABC?" she asked. "It was established in 1932 as an act of nation building — of a piece with all the other commissions and government-owned enterprises of its time. Significantly, unlike those other bodies, it survived the economic rationalism reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. There is no room here for the history lesson, but collectively society decided it was too important to abolish."
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