Unions, Friends of ABC protest cuts

Children drawing on a banner at a rally to stop the cuts in Newcastle.

Carrying signs declaring "Hands off our Aunty", and "Save our local ABC", supporters of the ABC rallied outside the ABC's North Coast NSW studio in Lismore on November 20.

The protest formed one of a series of rallies around the country in support of the national broadcaster over the week of November 18 to 25, called by unions and the Friends of the ABC.

The two main unions representing ABC staff — the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) — initiated the national week of action. The rallies launched a campaign against severe federal government cuts to the ABC, with the theme "Our Stories, Our Future, Our ABC".

After weeks of speculation, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull finally announced details of the federal government cuts to the ABC and SBS on November 19. The cuts to the ABC budget will amount to $254 million over five years.

A November 20 CPSU statement to staff said: "The government says this amounts to a 4.6% budget cut. Your employer has estimated that once redundancy costs, the loss of Australia Network funding and the previously-announced 1% efficiency dividend are taken into account, this will be closer to 8% per year.

"Either way, this budget cut is more than twice the size of the efficiency dividend being imposed on any government department and is a clear sign that the government is targeting the ABC in a politically motivated attack on Australia's independent broadcaster."

CPSU national president Michael Tull said: "Before the election, we were promised no cuts to the ABC. It's proven to be a promise betrayed. We've already seen cuts, the axing of ABC international and talented and experienced staff forced into redundancy.

"Now the government wants to cut even deeper and harder with up to $100 million in cuts, outsourcing and the axing of internal production planned, all of which will drastically reduce the ABC's capacity to respond to changing technology and audience demands. We must oppose these cuts."

MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren said: "Let's be clear — the cuts proposed undermine the ABC's obligations under its charter. They mean a loss of Australian voices, of Australian stories, of Australian performances.

"For years, it has been abundantly clear that the ABC is an efficiently run public institution. With an 84% approval rating according to surveys by Essential Media, it is a much-loved Australian institution.

"Now the ABC is being forced to take a knife to its operations and hack away at content and services. The casualties from this aren't just the ABC jobs that are lost — audiences are being punished because of a government diktat to extract money from the ABC. There is no public support for this decision.”

ABC management had previously estimated that cuts of such magnitude would lead to the loss of at least 500 jobs, a scaling back of Lateline, the closure of foreign bureaus, abolition of some radio programs, the end of the locally produced, state-based current affairs program 7.30, and the slashing of about 100 jobs in Adelaide with the closure of that city's production house.

In an act of breathtaking hypocrisy, federal education Minister Christopher Pyne has launched an online petition calling on the ABC not to shut down production operations in his home city of Adelaide in response to the cutbacks.

Queensland independent MP Bob Katter has predicted that the cuts are in preparation for the government to privatise the ABC in future.

SBS will have its budget cut by $25 million, or 1.7%, over the same five-year period. The government is proposing that SBS run more advertisements in prime time to recoup some of the lost revenue.

SBS managing director Michael Ebeid said in the Sydney Morning Herald that the cuts would have an impact: "National efforts to unify Australia's diverse communities go directly to the reason SBS was established, and it is at a time when our social cohesion is being tested, that having a multicultural broadcaster is more important than ever," the November 20 Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the ABC budget reductions were not in fact "cuts", but "efficiency dividends", so the Coalition had not broken its election promise to not cut funding.

In response, the Friends of the ABC wrote a letter of support for ABC staff.

It said: "No amount of high school debating team tactics or spin doctoring by politicians diminishes what is happening to our ABC. It is suffering the 'death of a thousand cuts', brought about by a secretive minister for communications and his secretive department.

"Cuts of the size proposed by the government cannot be dismissed as 'backroom fat' that can be easily trimmed. We are talking about people, not commodities.

"The ABC is what it is because of its staff. We want you to know that many people in the community support the ABC and its staff and are appalled by what is happening."

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