Only partial restoration of ABC funding and function
The budget has restored the $83.7 million that Australia’s national broadcaster lost as a result of the Coalition government’s 2018 freeze on annual indexation, and provided additional international services funding for the ABC to expand its Indo-Pacific content. This, together with a commitment to five-year funding for the ABC from 1 July 2023, signals that the new government values the contribution of the ABC to the quality of public debate domestically and abroad. The ABC is currently funded on a three-year cycle, although the Australia Institute has found that in practice the cycle was “unsteady”, and not always adhered to by governments.
The gains will permit greater investment in emergency broadcasting, particularly valued by Australians, as well as in enhanced educational, and digital services. Return of an Australian voice to the Indo-Pacific as part of a government push to step up engagement in the region, will be enabled by the increase in funding of international services.
This falls a long way short, however, of fully restoring ABC funding.
The ABC told a Senate Estimates Committee in February this year that an additional $41.6 million per year would be needed to fully compensate for the loss of indexation alone. This higher figure takes into account the fact that indexation losses compound over time.
In an answer to a question on notice, the ABC said that its cumulative funding loss since 2013-14 amounted to $526 million and there had been a reduction of 640 in average staffing level (ASL) from its 2013-2014 figure of 4,704. The current budget allows a modest increase of 19 in ASL to 4,213 in 2023 but this is still more than 10% below the ABC’s ASL of 4,704 in 2013-14.
Australia Institute polling research found that a majority of Australians (52%) supported restoring the $84 million cut from the ABC just over the last three-year cycle, compared with only a quarter (25%) who opposed it. More than six in ten Australians (61%) agreed that a strong, independent ABC was critical to a healthy democracy, with only 19% disagreeing.
The ABC remains one of Australia’s key accountability institutions. It functions include informing Australians about themselves, their government and their place in the world. By strengthening its ability to transmit emergency information and providing quality broadcasting information and training overseas, the ABC contributes to national security. The Australia Institute encourages the government to restore and expand the ABC’s budget to so that it is better able to perform its role.
Tanya Martin Office Manager
Jake Wishart Senior Media Adviser