On 15 July 2018, 2,700 citizens converged on the Melbourne Town Hall for the ABC Friends rally. This was chaired by Peter Greste, the courageous journalist. On the panel were Jon Faine from Melbourne Radio 774; Magda Szubanski, comic, actor, and activist; Professor Fiona Stanley, former ABC board member; and ex-Senator Margaret Reynolds, inaugural Chair of ABC Friends National. All were compelling and inspiring. Yet perhaps the two most significant contributors were not present on the day.
Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition, in a message to the rally, committed the next ALP government to increased funding for the ABC, to its political independence, and, most importantly, to a restoration of funding for the Australia Network. (Tony Abbott, as prime minister, broke the $233 million ten-year contract for the ABC to provide an Australian voice into Asia and the Pacific, to provide the best for Radio Australia, and to ensure reporting of what happens in the region back to Australia. Abbott therefore abandoned Australia’s outlets and a huge audience in China, North Korea, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, and New Zealand.)
Bill Shorten also pledged full support for the Friends’ resolution, which ‘demanded’ increased funding, political independence, and a restoration of the international reporting role of the ABC. This resolution, which also urged the public broadcaster to aim for the highest broadcasting standards, was worded thus:
This meeting of Friends and supporters of the ABC demands the following:
• a clear commitment from all political parties and individual politicians that the ABC will not be sold off or privatised
• that additional funding will be provided to allow the ABC to meet its Charter requirements to service the needs of all Australians
• that the independence of the ABC Board and Management, as set down in the ABC Act of 1983, be adhered to
• that governance of the ABC in the interests of our democratic principles be clearly independent of any political or external interference
• that the ABC resumes its important role as Australia’s ‘voice’ into Asia and the Pacific with sufficient funding to ensure in-depth reporting into the region, as well as coverage back to Australians, of international news events
• and that ‘our’ ABC aims to set ‘the gold standard for quality, ethical, specialist and diverse broadcasting nationally so as to inform entertain and stimulate our robust Australian democratic way of life’
Another absentee was Robert Manne – emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University and a long-time defender of the ABC, but he sent this message: ‘If the ABC is privatised by one means or another, as the Federal Council of the Liberal Party now desires, it will be destroyed – not all at once, perhaps, but gradually and inexorably. For me and millions of other Australians, the destruction of the ABC would be a tragedy, something akin to the loss of a limb ... There are many battles that liberal-minded Australians need to fight. Almost none is more vital and none more winnable than the fight to save our public broadcaster, the ABC.’
Leonie Millar, vice-president of ABC Friends Victoria, ended the meeting by exhorting those who believe the ABC has in important role in our life – politically, socially and in such areas as emergency services and throughout rural and regional Australia – to actively promote the importance of a well-funded, independent, courageous public broadcaster.
Tom Keneally has stated, ‘When I was growing up, the ABC represented my imagination. It is the voice of Australia, and yet its throat is being cut.’
Read Australian Book Review's Open Letter in support of the ABC.