Malcolm Turnbull has rushed to distance himself and the government from any unpopular decisions by the ABC board to axe popular programs such as Lateline. “Suggestions that popular programs or services are at risk because of Budget savings are not credible,” Turnbull declared in a blog post last night.

The Communications Minister has accused ABC management of choosing the “laziest” option to slash costs and called on the public broadcaster to act more, well, commercial. “The ABC may choose to cut programming rather than tackle back office and administrative costs — but that’s the ABC’s call,” he wrote.

(This sounded rather familiar, and a quick Google search revealed why. Turnbull is using exactly the same talking points as former communications minister Richard Alston when the Howard government’s budget cuts forced the ABC to cut important news programs 11 years ago. The ABC “should look first at back-of-office, structural spending,” Alston told the broadcaster, before it thought of cutting popular news programs like the World At Noon. Did Turnbull’s department accidentally send over an old ministerial brief from 2003?)

What Turnbull isn’t saying is just how those back office cuts could add up to as much as $100 million. And for all the bluster, he is yet to publicly release the full Lewis efficiency review, which would allow everyone to see the reasonableness or otherwise of the proposed savings.

Today hundreds of supporters and staff rallied outside the ABC’s Ultimo studios to send a message to the public broadcaster’s board, who are meeting today, that they need to come clean about the scope and design of the proposed cuts.

It’s time that Turnbull, and the Abbott government’s expenditure review committee, did the same.

Peter Fray

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