Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (17:22): It gives me pleasure to rise on this motion by the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie. I think the motion is structured in two parts in so much the first half deals with congratulations to the ABC for the fine work they have done over the summer, and the second half, of course, asks for more funding. To deal with the first half—it has been a tough summer. Mercifully, in my electorate, we were spared the worst of the fires—we had some issues—but we did have some very bad fires in South Australia on Kangaroo Island. I did take some time to go down to the island and help a friend there with the mopping-up process and talked to farmers about what should be done to the future and what we can do on a whole lot of issues. I have given speeches in the House on that previously, so I won’t go back over that.
But certainly the most important thing the ABC does during the fire season is transmit the warnings in South Australia issued by the CFS. This is a cut-and-dried approach—the CFS posts the notices and the ABC presenters read them out. Now that is the most important thing because this is the information that warns people not to drive up a certain road, to either head home or it is time to evacuate or whatever it might be. It is one of those things, though, I must say—and a slight criticism here, not of the ABC—is that in South Australia it seems that those warnings are not always current. I think that fault probably lies with the CFS because often we know that grounds are safe and they’re still saying to evacuate and all those kinds of things. That is another issue that I’ll try to chase up in the future.
The second thing the ABC do, of course, is put reporters on to the fire grounds. This is probably not an essential service but it is one that is greatly appreciated by the communities that are affected. I think when you are facing that kind of challenge, you like to know that others can actually share your plight and understand what you’re going through, so it is a very important service they provide, and I congratulate them for that. In terms of resources, these are reporters that are already employed, even though they may well be doing longer hours than what they would normally do. All of that is good.
But then the motion goes to asking for extra resources for the ABC. I checked my figures: the ABC, this budget year, is receiving $1,062 million from the taxpayer and it’s raising another $68 million through other sources for a total budget of $1,130 million. They employ 4,180 full-time equivalent staff. I must say: they are a fairly secretive organisation when it comes to understanding where all those staff are, and certainly how they’re paid, but I don’t think there could be any more than a hundred of those in South Australia. We have the regional radio network and then we have the city radio network. I’m not too sure what the ABC does in television in Adelaide anymore—not too much, I don’t think.
The member for Curtin talked about how the ABC is at arm’s length from government and they make their own decisions. They operate four television platforms nationwide. They run, I think, 10 different radio frequencies. They’re not all original shows. And they certainly run a 24-hour television news service, which uses a lot of resources and is actually competing in the space where already there was a commercial service. But those are decisions for the ABC board to make. When they’re making their decisions, one of the incontrovertible obligations they have is to maintain the services in the regions that actually warn people about these fire set-ups. So I don’t think that you can really make that justification for them needing extra resources.
They have been major beneficiaries of the advances of technology. If we’re making fridges—though we don’t make many of those in Australia anymore—or putting together farm machinery or whatever it is, and we have changes in technology which mean that we don’t actually use as many people to do it as we used to do, that is one of the efficiency gains that industry needs to capitalise on. So it is in the media. If you look at the newspapers, for instance, there’s a fraction of the number of people in the newspapers that there used to be. Maybe they’re not as good as they used to be. But there is certainly room for this productivity increase. I think that’s where the ABC really is. They have to look at the services they provide across a wide range and who they compete with, and stick to those essentials which are the underlying strength of the ABC.