Privatisation and cuts to respected public services might be the agenda of the Coalition government, but it’s certainly not that of the Australian people
My dad used to make us watch the ABC news every night. As a child, I hated it. It was always with a certain amount of resentment that I watched afternoon cartoons give way to the “youth programming” I could bear, if not understand. But the news was a step too far into a bleak space. Dad was stern on this point. “If you don’t watch the news, Van,” he’d admonish me, as I wriggled and whined, “you don’t know what’s going on”.
In the wake of the extraordinary cuts to the ABC and SBS this week, I can only imagine that the architects of this savage attack on our national broadcasters – the Coalition government, its supporters in the Murdoch press and the conservative “free market” think tanks – were told by their own ideological papas the exact same thing.
My dad plonked me in front of the unbiased, articulate and meticulous news reporting of the ABC because he was educating his daughter in how to be a good citizen. By closing ABC news outlets, firing journalists and nobbling independent journalism, the Coalition affirm not only their preference for corporate news but destroy alternatives to the corporate news worldview. Citizens “knowing what’s going on” in the era of climate change, expenses scandals and “on-water matters” is precisely what the Coalition are trying to head off.
Independent and autonomous by charter, the ABC is consistently recognised as a trustworthy brand. Relentless academic scrutiny of the national broadcaster shows that, even with former Liberal party staffer Mark Scott as director, its journalism is balanced and responsible. The Coalition’s neurotic sensitivity to political criticism have tempted them to believe their own propaganda, decrying responsible journalism as “ABC bias”.
Their language game is the dead giveaway that this is no mere budget cutback: according to Malcolm Turnbull, ABC journalists “who work hard every day to report the news objectively and without partisan bias or self-interest will feel very let down” by Quentin Dempster’s appearance at the weekend’s rally to defend those very journalists’ jobs. Andrew Robb chipped in, too: “The ABC … has been a protected species for a long time, has to make its share and its contribution”.
Their rhetoric is so egregious because they know the ABC can’t engage in its own political defence.
Of course, the Murdoch papers are cheering on the Coalition’s attacks: Rupert Murdoch’s media baron father Keith was complaining about the competition a national news service provided to his corporate interests as far back as the 1930s. Corporate media serve corporate interests, which are indivisible from the Abbott government’s interests under their “open for business” mindset. They’ve been happy to shed the Australia Network to create a market for a new Sky-owned “Australia channel”, because national broadcasters – like state enterprises, welfare, environmental protection, universal healthcare or accessible education – are founded in community values the Abbott government doesn’t share and is isolating, starving and weakening.
The “budget emergency”, like so many other Coalition campaign slogans, was long ago exposed as a fairytale. The Coalition flagrantly spends on its own preferences: the useless Direct Action pay-the-polluters scheme, the derided school chaplains program, the diesel rebate to wealthy corporations. All are of greater priority to this government than autonomous journalism and sanctioned, independent critique.
It might be the agenda of the Coalition, but it’s certainly not that of the Australian people. Australians oppose the privatisation of services like the ABC. The Coalition’s work is not popular: as we watch the shredding of beloved programs and the sacking of trusted journalists – let alone what’s happening in healthcare, climate policy and universities – the internecine carnage of the Gillard and Rudd years will increasingly look like a bygone golden age.
Bill Shorten needs to articulate the rage and betrayal felt in the electorate. If Labor and the Greens can rise above their inner city gang wars and share a respectful stage the way that Shorten and Adam Bandt did at the weekend’s “save the ABC” demos, there is a chance not only to remove Abbott’s government at the next election, but to serve the interests of the vast majority of Australians. At this point, Shorten barely needs to get out of bed in the morning to provide a more cohesive alternative to the government. With a policy platform that articulates what the Australian community actually wants, he’d be unbeatable.
Abbott lied about cuts to the ABC, SBS and everything else because he would have been unelectable had he campaigned on his true agenda. To pretend otherwise is as disingenuous as the prime minister himself. Save the ABC.