Government denies ABC privatisation is on the agenda

Communications minister Mitch Fifield has strongly denied the government has any plans to privatise the ABC, after the Liberal Party federal council voted in favour of the move over the weekend.

The vote comes after the minister defended a freeze of the national broadcaster’s funding last week. Parliament is due to vote on tax reforms this week.

The government has already floated the idea of a digital platforms tax to bring sceptical cross benchers on side.

Senator Mitch Fifield was quick to deny the government is planning to privatise the ABC

Fifield was quick to disavow any motion to privatise the ABC, which is not binding on the government, telling the conference on Saturday: “It’s not the position of the government to alter the ownership arrangements of the public broadcasters.”

Elements of the Liberal Party and its supporters have been agitating for privatisation of the ABC for some time. The influential right wing Institute of Public Affairs think tank, of which Fifield is a member, urged federal Liberal governments to break up the ABC and put out to tender individual functions of the broadcaster in its 75 point manifesto published in 2012.

Last year a similar motion put to the Liberal National Party’s Queensland state conference was soundly defeated.

Opposition spokesperson Michelle Rowland was quick to leap on the motion as confirmation of the government’s agenda to destabilise the national broadcaster: “If Australians needed any more proof that the Liberals are on a mission to destroy the public broadcaster, they got it when the Liberal Federal Council voted to privatise the ABC.

“Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals simply do not support a properly-funded ABC that serves the Australian public and holds the government to account.”

Fifield however did seek to address the Liberal Party delegates’ hostility to the ABC, telling them: “But we do have a range of measures that we’re seeking to implement to enhance the efficiency, the accountability and the transparency of ABC operations which I’ll just quickly go through.

“In the budget, we announced an indexation pause for the ABC funding in its next triennium. We have paired that with an efficiency review to make sure that the ABC is being the best possible steward of taxpayer resources that it can be. Just in reference to Karina’s earlier motion, that efficiency review is also applying to SBS.

“I’ve also initiated something called a Competitive Neutrality Inquiry, which has the purpose of assessing whether the ABC and SBS are using their position as taxpayer-funded entities to compete in ways which are not fair with the commercial broadcasting sector.

“We also have a range of legislative measures which we have before the Senate. One of those, is to put into the ABC’s Act, specific and explicit reference to its obligations to rural and regional Australia. Most people think that the ABC Act states a specific obligation to rural and regional Australia. It doesn’t. We’re going to put that in the Act.

“We’re also going to be legislating to ensure that the ABC board always has at least two members from rural and regional Australia. We would already meet that criteria because of the appointments that I’ve made. I’ve put on the ABC board the Chair of the Minerals Council of Australia. I’ve put the on the ABC board the Vice President of AgForce Queensland, a beef producer from Kingaroy.

“We also have legislation before the Senate to put in the ABC’s Act; a requirement for the ABC to be fair and balanced. Again, that’s something that, it’s assumed, is in the ABC Act. It’s not.

“And finally, we have legislation before the Senate to require that anyone in the ABC organisation who earns more than two-hundred thousand dollars a year has that declared.”

At this stage, the government has a number of media related bills stalled before the Senate following the passage of its media reform bills last year.


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