The Liberal Party has not been a friend to the ABC in recent years. The government-funded public broadcaster has been publicly criticised and attacked increasingly in 2018, and incoming Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s track record on the ABC doesn’t indicate we’re likely to see that ease up under his leadership.
One of the most damaging moves the government has made was the unprecedented early announcement of its funding cut for the next triennium — made in the new Prime Minister’s 2017-18 federal budget announced in May, when he was still treasurer. That cut, as Crikey wrote at the time, was a vindictive singling out of the broadcaster to be punished by the government in that budget.
The cut, or funding freeze, amounted to $84.7 million taken from the ABC’s budget over three years, resulting in dozens of job cuts. ABC news director Gaven Morris and managing director Michelle Guthrie responded saying there was “no more fat to cut” in the ABC budget.
Morrison did promise that, contrary to the Liberal Party’s vote to privatise the ABC in June, the ABC would remain in public hands: “The ABC will always be in public hands. It will never be sold … It is a public broadcaster. It always has been and it always will be.”
But, discussing that promise on the ABC’s AM program with Sabra Lane, he made clear that while he wouldn’t privatise the ABC, he certainly wouldn’t support it either:
It’s not for me to defend the ABC or promote the ABC. I fund the ABC as the treasurer and we do that every year and I think there are concerns out there in the Australian public about that and I think it’s for the ABC to demonstrate to the Australian people that they are not doing that. Now, I’m not saying they are and I don’t think you do, Sabra, and I don’t think you do on this program. I think this program is a good example of the unbiased nature of the ABC.
Earlier in the year, Morrison’s office was also one of those agitating against the ABC and its chief economic correspondent Emma Alberici. He sent an official complaint to the ABC over the corporate tax cuts analysis piece that was later taken down and edited.
The letter from Morrison’s adviser reportedly said Alberici demonstrated “limited understanding” of company tax, and was “riddled with inaccuracies”.
Like many conservative politicians, Morrison is also a critic of the ABC’s Monday night panel show Q&A. The Australian’s Media Diary noted earlier this year that neither Morrison nor the man he was facing in today’s ballot, Peter Dutton, had appeared on the show in years:
Diary hears Morrison was asked on to Q&A the Monday after last month’s budget but instead fronted up that night for a ‘town hall’ forum hosted by Paul Murray on Sky News. Diary asked several senior government staffers what was going on, and it seems the Q&A absences are deliberate. In fact, there is open hostility in some government quarters towards the show. One senior staffer simply said: ‘Why would we?’ Another said: ‘From the perspective of a conservative member of the government, you’re talking to the converted. You’re bashing your head against a brick wall. They often claim the audience is more Coalition than anyone else. But from our observation, we just don’t believe it.’
Morrison’s complaints to the ABC extend beyond his time in government. As opposition immigration spokesman in 2012 he complained about comments Stephen Long made on The Drum about his party’s policy on immigration. Long said Morrison’s position was “a cynical manipulation of an underlying prejudice in the Australian community and that it has very little policy merit”. The comments prompted an apology from the ABC, which said the comments were “without evidence”.