The days of chummy selfies and mutual public backslapping are finally over for PMScott Morrison and ABC chair Ita Buttrose. As recently as February, a proud ScoMo tweeted out a photo with a beaming close-up of himself and Ita, and the caption: “So glad Ita took on this job.” A year earlier, in first announcing her appointment, Morrison stated: “Australians trust Ita. I trust Ita and that’s why I have asked her to take on this role.”
Source: Nick Tabakoff, News Corp
ABC’s Ita Buttrose rounds on her old mate Scott Morrisson
But as of last week, the feeling definitely isn’t mutual. Late on Friday, Buttrose, ScoMo’s own “captain’s pick” as ABC chair, viciously turned on her backer. She used a crowd-pleasing 600-word diatribe to simultaneously rally her ABC internal stakeholders and smash the government.
Ita’s statement piece, which turned up on the ABC’s own website later, was titled: “What would Australia look like without the ABC?”.
Reading between the lines, the outburst was motivated by comments from ScoMo on Thursday that there had been “no cuts” to the ABC’s budget, despite the broadcaster’s 250 redundancies.
“The ABC’s funding is increasing every year,” the PM said. “The ABC would be the only media company or organisation in Australia today whose revenue, their funding, is increasing. It would be the only one in the country.”
But his “no cuts” assertion prompted an icy Ita put-down. “Let me clarify the cuts because there seems to be some confusion in government circles about them,” she said.
No prizes for guessing who that was aimed at!
Ita went on to claim that government savings measures for the ABC “reduce funding” by $84m over three years. “These funding cuts are unsustainable if we are to provide the media services that Australians expect of us. Indexation must be renewed.”
By now, Ita was on a roll. She even invoked the prospect of a dystopian future where “a Balkanised and parochial bunch of broadcasters … compromised by profit” roamed wild, with the ABC no longer around to keep them in check.
Pointedly, Ita’s statement was bookended at both ends of the statement by a specific pointed rebuke, directly aimed at the government: that a lack of funding for the ABC was an assault on Australia’s “democratic culture”.
Your move, ScoMo.
‘Not nervous at all’
Last week’s ABC cuts would have stung Ita Buttrose because, only a year ago, she was very confident of avoiding them.
The ABC chair was asked by one of her own employees, Rafael Epstein, on ABC Radio Melbourne in May last year if Aunty’s staff should be “nervous” about losing their jobs. Ita’s reassurance in reply back then appeared absolute. “No, I wouldn’t be nervous at all … There are many ways of achieving savings, you know. It’s not just people.”
Here is what Buttrose fed to her followers:
What would Australia look like without the ABC?
Posted 26th June 2020
The ABC has not only helped shape Australia, we are the national voice that unites us.
It’s about democracy. Without the ABC we would have a balkanised and parochial bunch of broadcasters that are in danger of being compromised by profit and more intent on dividing than unifying.
Imagine what it would be like during the bushfire season if we had to rely only on state-based or even regionally based media outlets. When we are in the middle of bushfires, don’t we want to know that they are being covered by a knowledgeable and experienced network of journalists with all the supporting infrastructure of a large national network?
The ABC, funded by all of us, regardless of our creed – race, age, political beliefs – is us. It’s the way we build cross-cultural understanding, the way we help each other in times of need. It’s who we are collectively. Why would anyone want to diminish that and make us less than who we are?
This has been a devastating week for the ABC. With unemployment at an all-time high to have to inform up to 250 people they no longer had a job has been an incredibly difficult task.
Cuts to services caused by the ongoing reduction in our budget forced this action upon us and although we knew what had to be done, our hearts were with our employees.
Let me clarify the cuts because there seems to be some confusion in Government circles about them. The 2018 Budget papers clearly state that the Government’s savings measures reduce funding to the ABC by $14.623 million in 2019-20, $27.842 million in 2020-21, and $41.284 million in 2021-22. This reduction totals $83.75 million on our operational base.
It is true that over the three years the ABC budget does still increase but by a reduced amount, due to indexation on the fixed cost of transmission and distribution services. Previously, it was rising by a further $83.75 million over the same three years for indexation on our operational base. This is the funding that has been cut and considered a saving by the government.
These funding cuts are unsustainable if we are to provide the media services that Australians expect of us. Indexation must be renewed.
The strength of the ABC and its relationship with the nation comes from the very people who work for us. They are passionate about public broadcasting and are prepared to work for less than they would be paid by commercial media to deliver it. The creativity in the programs they produce, the dogged and independent journalism they pursue and the connection with communities everywhere they provide through conversations is at the very heart of what the ABC delivers to our audiences.
The ABC has a statutory requirement to operate as efficiently as possible. We have a strong track record in identifying savings and reinvesting them in services. This is how we created ABC News 24, ABC iview and a range of packages to boost services in rural and regional Australia.
There is no other authority better placed to manage the ABC than the ABC itself. We know our business and we are determined to honour our commitment to independence. All Australians expect this of us just as they expect the Government to provide the appropriate funds to allow us to do so.
The ABC is essential in generating and preserving Australia’s democratic culture. An independent, well-funded national broadcaster allows Australians, wherever they live, to connect. It is how we share our identity, how we tell our stories, how we listen to each other, how we ask for help and how we give it.
Ita Buttrose AC OBE