“No cuts to the ABC or SBS,” Tony Abbott repeatedly insisted before the last election. And he was a man to keep his promises, come what may. “It is an absolute principle of democracy,” Abbott had said in 2011, “that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.” In an election debate with Kevin Rudd last year, Abbott confirmed this approach — he would keep all his promises and delay the return to surplus if need be.
Now the national broadcasters face $300 million in cuts, with the ABC to lose at least $50 million a year for five years, a cut that will wipe out the additional funding provided to the ABC by both the Howard government and Rudd/Gillard governments over the last decade.
That many in the Coalition want to target the ABC for its perceived bias is well known, as is the enthusiasm for the government’s ardent supporter, News Corporation, for the destruction of a public broadcaster that competes very effectively with News Corp across a range of platforms. But the insouciance with which the Prime Minister has broken this promise — along with so many others — in the 14 months since being elected is surely one of the problems behind the government’s poor public esteem and dire polling. Voters’ trust can be a fragile thing for even the most skilful politician, but Abbott seems almost to have gone out of his way to flagrantly breach his pre-election undertakings in a way even the most disengaged voter must surely have observed.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the government’s constant focus on national security and foreign policy has failed to prompt any significant improvement in its polling is because those issues require voters to trust a national leader. And Abbott seems to have squandered whatever trust voters may have ever had in him very quickly indeed.