ABC gets budget relief as Morrison government extends ‘enhanced’ news-gathering funding


The broadcaster has warned that 80 jobs around the country would be in peril if the funding was cut. Acting managing director David Anderson recently wrote to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield appealing for its extension.

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“We have journalists on the ground in Parramatta, Ipswich, Bunbury, Geelong, just to name a few places that that funds. It is important that we maintain that funding, particularly when it comes to local coverage,” Mr Anderson told a Senate committee hearing last month.

He said the demise of the grant would have a “significant” impact on the ABC’s 48 regional bureaus.

Approached on Tuesday, a spokesman for Senator Fifield declined to comment about the extension of the funding in this year’s budget.

The ABC is funded in three-year funding cycles. Mr Anderson and some of the broadcaster’s advocates have called for this cycle to be extended to five years to improve operational stability.

A parliamentary inquiry into claims of political interference at the ABC recommended on Monday that a five-year cycle was “worthy of serious consideration” to help the broadcaster meet its charter obligations.

The ABC has absorbed $254 million worth of cuts unveiled in 2014 and the enhanced news-gathering fund — first supported by the former Labor government in 2013 — was shrunk from 2016 onwards.

Under a further measure announced in last year’s budget, the broadcaster’s base funding will be frozen at 2018-19 levels for three years from July, saving $84 million. Unchanged in this year’s budget, this gives the ABC $3.16 billion in base funding from 2019-20 to 2021-22.

The cut will be phased in, worth $15 million in 2019-20, $28 million in 2020-21 and $41 million in 2021-22.

The ABC had warned that the indexation freeze combined with the end of the enhanced news-gathering fund would have meant a total cut of $127 million from its budget over three years.

Labor has promised to end the funding freeze should it win the May election and has called for the enhanced news-gathering program to have funding certainty.

A government-commissioned efficiency review of the ABC and SBS, intended to inform how they deal with the funding cuts, was handed to the broadcasters last month but is yet to be publicly revealed.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed the review suggested some content is not “core” to the broadcasters’ charter obligations, pointing to ABC Life and SBS Food initiatives.

Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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