I also want to draw to the attention of the House…a disturbing trend within the ABC to substitute for its own news services that of Al Jazeera when reporting about Middle Eastern affairs—in particular, conflicts between Palestine and Israel.
Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (21:24): I rise tonight to address some of the recent commentary that has been circulating about reductions in funding to the ABC. Indeed, it is illuminating to examine many of the circumstances between the ABC and the SBS and the ways they operate and the efficiencies of both organisations to understand what is going wrong with the ABC at the moment. Recently in the Australian, on 26 November, in an article by Darren Davidson, there was a breakdown of the costs of both organisations—the ABC and the SBS—as well as free-to-air television stations. People who are interested in these matters will see there that wages comprise 46 per cent of the ABC’s budget, compared with 31.2 per cent of the SBS’s budget, and that it is just 10.7 per cent for free-to-air commercial networks. That is, there are great efficiencies that can be obtained within the ABC simply by examining a simple breakdown of their budgets.
But then when you examine matters like the Asian Cup bid, where we have two government-owned broadcasters effectively bidding against each other for the same rights, and the ABC being in a position to offer double the amount of the SBS, with no way of recouping any of their money—unlike the SBS, which of course has the ability to advertise—it does belie greater problems with the ABC than have been given airing in recent times. It is interesting to note that Mark Scott responded to the challenge about the Asian Cup bid—where the ABC bid doubled SBS’s bids for the rights—by saying that the only way this could be solved and the only way he would pick up the phone to Michael Ebeid from the SBS would be if the organisations were merged. And there are no plans at the moment to do that.
Well, given the ABC’s record versus that of the SBS—and the ABC has a budget of about $1.2 billion, versus the SBS’s $300 million—there would be no way that the government or any other rational person in society today would propose a merger of the ABC and the SBS, because the SBS is a lean organisation that delivers good content. I do not believe that anybody has any problems with it; I do not hear any complaints about the SBS from my constituents. I do not hear any complaints from commentators about the operation of the SBS. In fact, it is a respected news channel that provides a great service, completely meeting its charter—unlike the ABC.
I also want to draw to the attention of the House not just my own observations about bias within the ABC, on Q&A—we will leave that to one side—but a disturbing trend within the ABC to substitute for its own news services that of Al Jazeera when reporting about Middle Eastern affairs—in particular, conflicts between Palestine and Israel. This has come to light in recent times, such as in July this year. Because of the way that many of the ABC’s news feeds are only partially archived, it is sometimes difficult to understand the precise nature and the number of times that Al Jazeera has been used by the network in this conflict. Recently there has been an escalation in the conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. However, it is of the utmost importance that the publicly funded broadcaster in Australia reports accurately and fairly and that it does not use other, international, news services that are fully noted for the absolute bias against Israel. And Al Jazeera in Arabic is completely and utterly anti-Israel. Al Jazeera in English is more careful but is, again, a biased news service. It is its right to be so, but for the ABC to use it as its news broadcaster of choice in reporting on Middle Eastern affairs is, to me, unacceptable and against its charter, and it is yet another example of the ABC being out of control in relation to its charter.
That is why I fully support the government’s stance in relation to the ABC. In fact, not only are there efficiencies to be made in relation to the operational matters of the ABC but there is a need for a rethink about the way the ABC operates, and the SBS provides a great model of a lean and efficient organisation where a broadcaster can be made to deliver great, high-quality content at a relatively low price without any controversy about its content and yet deliver fundamentally on its charter principles. There is a lot of work to do in this space, but the ABC needs to be on notice, not just that it has to find efficiencies but that it has to rethink its method of operating and get back the support of the people it is losing across this nation. And it is losing many people, who are sick and tired of the ABC being out of control.
The SPEAKER: It being 9.30 pm, the debate is interrupted.