The cut­ting wedge

The Saturday Paper - - Letters & Editorial -

What this govern­ment hates is scru­tiny. That’s what th­ese cuts are about.

This is the govern­ment whose com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter is a card-car­ry­ing mem­ber of the In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Af­fairs, a body that lob­bies for the ABC to be pri­va­tised. It is a govern­ment that hates, deeply hates, the pub­lic broad­caster.

Its first big lie, Tony Ab­bott’s last prom­ise be­fore he won govern­ment, was that there would be no cuts to the ABC. Since then, it has made the per­se­cu­tion of the ABC a run­ning ob­ses­sion. The most pow­er­ful min­is­ter in the govern­ment, Peter Dut­ton, mocks its re­porters as “crazy left­ies”. He says: “They don’t re­alise how com­pletely dead they are to me.”

This bud­get is about fin­ish­ing that project.

The mar­ket has al­ready done its work on the big news­rooms, on the en­gines of democ­racy that were News Corp and Fair­fax Me­dia. It halved the re­port­ing staffs, cleared out the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The ABC re­mained an ir­ri­tant. Its fund­ing al­lowed it the ex­pen­sive work of break­ing news. The govern­ment’s an­swer is a cut of $84 mil­lion over three years.

Since the first Ab­bott bud­get, the ABC has lost

$254 mil­lion in fund­ing. Th­ese cuts are on top of that.

This is the govern­ment that gave Fox Sports a

$30 mil­lion handout. It is the govern­ment that has

$50 mil­lion to li­onise Cap­tain James Cook. It is not about money, it is about re­mov­ing accountability.

The di­rec­tor of news at the ABC, Gaven Mor­ris, has con­firmed there will be job losses. There will be fewer jour­nal­ists break­ing fewer sto­ries. “Make no mis­take, there is no more fat to cut at the ABC,” he said. “Any more cuts to the ABC cut into the mus­cle of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

That suits the govern­ment fine. Cuts like this are about dam­age. They are about re­venge.

The Coali­tion’s part­ner in this is One Na­tion. It is a grotesque al­liance. One Na­tion has black­mailed the govern­ment over ABC fund­ing. Last year it said it would op­pose all bud­get mea­sures un­less the ABC’s fund­ing was cut by $600 mil­lion a year. The party whip, Brian Burston, con­ceded this could be in­ter­preted as “pay­back”.

Pauline Han­son was an­gry about a Four Cor­ners episode that de­tailed pe­cu­liar­i­ties in her party. The anger in­ten­si­fied when de­tails of a trip to Afghanistan were re­vealed by the broad­caster. The party ac­cused the ABC of col­lab­o­rat­ing with ter­ror­ists for the story. “The ABC are warped and dan­ger­ous. Ter­ri­ble. Hor­ri­ble. Sad.”

This is the mad­ness the Coali­tion now in­dulges. The dam­age be­ing done to the ABC is dam­age that will harm the en­tire coun­try. The pet­ti­ness of this is ex­tra­or­di­nary. It is the ac­tion of a failed democ­racy.

There are no votes in cut­ting the ABC. Not di­rectly. This is about the votes you hold onto when the coun­try doesn’t know what you are do­ing. It is about con­duct­ing govern­ment in dark­ness. In an ugly and unimag­i­na­tive

• bud­get, th­ese cuts are some of the ugli­est.

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