Saving the ABC

For anyone missing the context: despite promises made before it was first elected in 2013, our Liberal/National (ie, conservative) government has been cutting the funding of our national broadcaster, the ABC. The Liberal Party national council has voted in favour of privatising it. It is subject to constant sniping from the governmnent minister responsible for it who belongs to a mysteriously-funded right-wing think-tank which has just published a book advocating the removal of any state support for it, ie its sell off.

The minister in question denies that the Liberal party resolution is government policy, but on current projections, it’s not so hard to see a not so distant future where the ABC has been so deprived of funding that it will be in such a poor state that people will be ready to see it put out of its misery or no longer bothered to defend it.

I’ve previously written about how the cracks are starting to show at our national public music broadcaster, ABC “Classic” FM.

If you value public broadcasting in Australia, now’s the time to make a noise about it.


Today with D to the Teachers Federation Auditorium in Surry Hills for what was advertised as a “rally” convened by the Friends of the ABC.

I sold the rally to D as a demonstration. That was probably false advertising given that it was billed to take place in an auditorium, and they even asked you to RSVP.

I RSVP’d on Friday. On Sunday morning I saw in my email inbox a message sent on Saturday asking me not to come!

Due to the overwhelming response received we have filled our capacity three times over.
Unfortunately your RSVP arrived well after we had reached our capacity.
Thank you for your concern and willingness to give up your time in support of the ABC.
Please write or contact your Federal member and voice your concern and inform your MP that you were going to go the rally only to find it three times or more oversubscribed.

Blow that for a lark! Surely for any kind of political demonstration the numbers are the point. D and I resolved to go. Even if we were turned away that in itself could make a point.

“There’ll be a lot of older gents with beards,” I joked to D. I was thinking of the late Walter Bass and that kind of beard without a moustache which tend to be favoured by sixties-plus men of a left-wing or scientific/technological persuasion. I spotted the first on the front steps.

They had set up a second room with a video feed but D and I managed to squeeze in and stand right at the back. When we left, it became clear that the foyers also had been packed with sound piped out to them.

It seemed to me the model was more one of a public meeting. We had some musical items (violin and electric keyboard), speeches and the meeting culminated with a resolution. As you can see from the picture, the ABC Friends are a bit of a “grey army.” A real rally might have been a bit tough for them.

The speakers were:

Philip Adams (has a beard but with a moustache)
Sinddy Ealy (CPSU)
Kerry O’Brien (speaking in the picture – text of his speech is here)
Katelin MacInerney (MEAA)
Ebony Bennett (Australia Institute)
Tom Kenneally (who has one of those beards)
Julian Morrow (most recently EP of the just-axed ABC TV program “The Checkout”)
Magda Szubanski.

You can see the whole thing here.

Generalising a bit here, I’d say there were three strands.

First, the old-fashioned advocates of the public good, hearkening back to a possibly semi-mythical golden age of the Argonauts and before the Commonwealth Bank (and other public assets) had been privatised. I’d put Adams and Keneally in here. Whilst they got a warm welcome and both made some good points eloquently, I suspect their message would be largely water off a duck’s back for the anti-ABC agitators in the IPA and the Liberal Party. If it’s just about privatisation, they may well think, we’ve won that battle before and we will win it again.

The next strand, embodied by union reps Ealy and MacInerney. was about the effect and magnitude of the cuts on the ABC since the LNP were returned to power in 2013. It was good that E and M were there, but there are no surpises in employees of a government organisation speaking up in support of its funding.

Julian Morrow was in a strand of his own and for my money – a bit too specific to the recent fate of his particular program.

The third main strand first emerged as the audience began, in a pantomimish manner, to hiss some a reference to Malcolm Turnbull announcing cuts to the ABC. KO’B stopped them (it’s at about 51:50 into the video; his speech, which was the best and most tightly argued, starts at about 50:30). “I don’t like hissing.” he said. His point was that if the ABC was to gain the benefit of its broad support it had to reach out to those who value the ABC across the political spectrum, including people who would normally vote for the Liberal or National parties.

To me that was the real take-out lesson of the rally/meeting. That was why Magda was there (starting at 2.10 – they saved her til last) and it was the moral she drew from the Gay Marriage “survey” victory.

As they both put it, in their own ways, you have to distinguish between the hard-core antis (in this case, the Liberal Party and the IPA, say) and the reasonable people who look as though they are their supporters (ie, people who vote for those parties).

After all (this is my thought; nobody said this) if you thought (as the audience in the TF auditorium noisily demonstrated they mostly thought) the yes result in the gay marriage “survey” was a great result, not to say a resounding victory, there’s a good chance that the ABC could rustle up a better number than the “survey”‘s 62%.

Ebony Bennett from the Australia Institute made a similar point.

It’s just a simple practicality that if you value something from, in broad terms “the left,” you’ll need to speak towards the middle and even the right to muster the support you need. Maybe it’s not so different from the way that the right wing corrals the left into supporting (sometimes grudgingly) more conservatively favoured institutions such as the military, police and prisons.

At last the meeting ended, the resolution was passed and we streamed out. The poor young violinist was drowned out in the hubbub in the way that people talk over the organ when they leave a church. This was a pity because ‘Peter & the Wolf’ was livelier than the Rhachmaninov Vocalise and the Meditation from Thais she played earlier.

D was ready to march and disappointed that there was no sign of it. “You need the visibility” he said.

I don’t think we were the crowd for that. For one thing we were too conspicuously old and middle class. For another, the turnout obviously exceeded the organisers’ expectations. But I wouldn’t rule it out further down the track.

Projected behind the speakers from time to time was this image:


My first bemused thought was that someone was intending to invoke “The Argonauts.” Surely that would be a bit obscure? There cannot be many former Argonauts younger than 60. (I am, though not by much; most children of my age cohort had switched their allegiance to TV and the program dwindled to an end in 1972.)

In fact it’s the logo for an online campaign that the Friends of the ABC are mounting called “ABC Defenders“. So I suppose it’s a nod to video-gaming aesthetics and a reach-out to the younger generation.

Which is probably not a bad thing.

(As one person commented on the facebook video feed of the meeting: “Great rally. But such a pity that very few younger people attended. You really need to reach out to them if you want to be seen as fully representative voice. Go the ABC!”)

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2 Responses to “Saving the ABC”

  1. Andrew Says:

    For most of my adult life the ABC has been under threat to a greater or lesser degree. I was in F o t ABC in the 80s and was quite involved. I’ve seen older middle class folk protesting against Adani on the street so I would not write off public protest.

    • marcellous Says:

      Well, Andrew, we haven’t reached the endgame for Adani yet.

      As for the ABC being under attack, F of the ABC was founded in 1976 in response to Fraser Govt post-Whitlam attacks.

      The claim by the speakers at the meeting was that present attacks are worse than previous ones. Union reps said staff down from 4,000 to 3,000 – though it may be that some of the lost positions are made up (for the time being) by casually engaged staff. If anything, the posturing by the Liberal Party national conference deserves some kind of counter-rally.

      Kerry O’Brien’s speech is a cracker though it is a shame he kept going too close to the mike so the sound quality is a bit annoying.

      There is a “rally” at Melbourne Town Hall you could go to next weekend if you wish, but I’m a bit with D in wishing that things spill out into the street – with less TALKING!

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