By the time Australia goes to the polls on July 2, the ABC will have lost more than $100 million a year in base funding, tied funding and other government contracts for services since the Liberal government first came to power in September 2013.
During last Tuesday’s budget, the ABC’s core funding was left alone at $1.1 billion a year (or $837 million a year in in 2016-17 for content, once you exclude transmission funding paid directly to Broadcast Australia). But the ABC’s budget was cut to the tune of over $6 million a year in real terms because the $20 million-a-year “enhanced newsgathering” budget was only partially renewed. The ABC also lost another $30 million over three years, as its tied funding to cover the costs of digital transmission was not renewed. Meanwhile, requests by the ABC to secure further tied funding — for regional broadcasting, for example, for which the ABC asked $30 million — have fallen on deaf ears.
All up, the ABC got off relatively lightly this time. But the cuts come on top of several larger funding reductions that began in the 2014 budget.
In the May 2014 budget, the ABC’s funding was cut by 1%, or $9 million a year, for a total of $45 million over the forward estimates. This was quickly followed by the loss of the Australia Network contract the ABC held with DFAT, which reduced funding by $100.6 million over the next five years. This meant a $10 million funding loss in 2014-15 that ramped up to $23 million in lost yearly funding by 2018-19.
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Later that year, in November 2014, a further $207 million over four years was cut from the budget. The cuts started off slow before ramping up in future years — 2016-17 will bear $62 million of this $207 million cut. The 2015 budget did not include any fresh cuts to the ABC, though it formalised the cuts already announced seven months earlier.
In a pre-budget submission to a parliamentary inquiry, the ABC set out what its funding reduction had been since 2014-15. In the 2016-17 financial year, it was expecting to operate with $93.8 million less than it did under the last Labor budget.
The cumulative cuts to the ABC since 2014, according to the ABC in a February 2016 parliamentary submission
To this figure we can add the reduced funding from this year’s budget. In 2013-14, the enhanced newsgathering grant gave the ABC $17.6 million to spend — the 2016-17 budget allocates just $13.5 million. The last Labor budget also gave the ABC $3.8 million in 2013-14 for digital content delivery — that funding, which ramped up in later years, is now entirely gone. The loss or reduction of these two tied funding arrangements means the ABC will be $7.9 million worse off in 2016-17 than it was in 2013-14. All up, we can add that to the $93.8 million calculated before the budget, to conclude the ABC is $101.7 million worse off in 2016-17 than it was in 2013-14.
The ABC’s total budget is $1.1 billion a year — a base funding figure that’s decreased slightly courtesy of the 2014 trimming — but more than $200 million of this goes to transmission. The ABC has only $837 million in discretionary funding budgeted for 2016-17 — a $101 million cut is well over a 10% cut to this.
Shortly before former prime minister Tony Abbott was elected, he promised no cuts to the ABC or SBS.