Startling new research from the Swinburne University of Technology has spelled out what could certainly become an excuse to drastically attack the ABC’s budget should the coalition be returned at the next election.
Although it is federal Liberal Party policy to sell the ABC, successive coalition governments have opted, instead, to kill the ABC through a “death by a thousand cuts” so that they can avoid the political fallout of completely ending a service with more than 80% public support.
But, if it wins another term, the coalition government will be handed an opportunity to severely undermine the ABC once again, thanks to the fact regional commercial television services will become unviable and are likely to close during the next term of government without a massive public subsidy.
Indeed, the fact the government has been ignoring the desperate pleas of the regional commercial industry for a response may indeed point to the possibility that the coalition is deliberately not addressing the issue until they have a new mandate after the next election.
The Swinburne report says:
Let us imagine that no action is taken to support the regional industry and that it becomes consistently unprofitable around 2024. The initial result would be the elimination of all local production and journalism, followed by growing difficulties in paying transmission and content costs.
The report outlines the rapid death of regional commercial television by 2024, which has become unviable due to competition from video-on-demand services, and the streaming and catch-up services being offered by the three national commercial broadcasters online.
People are no longer forced to watch the local commercial TV stations to get the same (or better) content elsewhere.
The report says:
One conclusion, perhaps the most important, is that the Federal Government is highly exposed to any crisis on regional television broadcasting. The Government is no bystander, and has significant policy interests tied up in regional service delivery. The destabilisation of regional television will inevitably involve the Government in difficult tradeoffs about direct support for service delivery in regional Australia and the scope for structural reform.
The upshot is that within the next five years, regional commercial television will need an injection of at least $160m to keep operating.
At a time when the government will argue that we can’t afford to spend any more money on communications policy, the ABC’s shrinking budget may very well be cut to pay for it.
By 2026, this could amount to $160m per annum, and this quantum could be expected to increase as regional revenues continued to fall. This would expose the Federal Government to an open-ended financial commitment that might ultimately be comparable to running another SBS. There is a real risk that this rising cost would put pressure on other parts of the Communications portfolio, including national broadcaster budgets.
There is no fat left to cut from the ABC, and the government’s ongoing budget cutbacks since the election of Tony Abbott in 2013 have resulted in a swathe of service and programme losses.
Another $160m deduction, so as to bail out regional commercial television, might be just the excuse the coalition wants to see our ABC collapse entirely.
This handy document summarises the savage budget cuts endured by the ABC under the coalition.