Is Australia’s national broadcaster up for sale?
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Is Australia’s national broadcaster up for sale?

WHO can speak better for Australia’s commitment for a cleaner and more sustainable future than a reputable public broadcaster? Not anymore if the private sector buys it.

The ruling centre-right Liberal Party’s peak council voted to sell the nation’s public broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) at a national convention in Sydney over the weekend. Some have labelled the organisation biased against conservative politics.

The move was backed by a free-market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), and has suggested it be sold to a media mogul, a mining magnate or simply the “people of Australia who already owns it.”

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High-profile delegates who attended the event included Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Treasurer Scott Morrison and the state of New South Wales’ Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The motion, supported by a majority of the 110 delegates, called for the full privatisation of the ABC, except for services into regional areas that are not commercially viable.

Many on Australia’s right-wing have long advocated for the privatisation of the ABC, but now the issue has come to a head in time for the federal election in 2019.

Back in 2014, the IPA denounced the ABC as a “green activist” and has accused the broadcaster for its “bias” in reporting on fossil fuels and renewable energy. It has commissioned iSentia to conduct media analysis of ABC’s reporting on Australia’s energy choices.

The iSentia data showed that the ABC depicted renewable energy industry highly favourably, the coal industry unfavourably, and the coal seam gas (CSG) industry highly unfavourably.

ABC-coverage

Source: Institute of Public Affiars

Backlash

The result of the vote did not come without a backlash. The Australian Greens said in a statement the Liberal Party Council has finally opened a can of worms exposing the Turnbull government’s secret plan to sell off the ABC.

Prior to the vote, Greens media spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young claimed that the PM had struck a secret deal with Pauline Hanson from the far-right One Nation Party, in which he agreed to ‘whack off’ money from the ABC’s budget.

The Greens called the sale of ABC electorally toxic and completely out-of-touch with the Australian people.

“If the ABC is privatised, there will be no going back. The media landscape in Australia will be worse off, and The Greens will be fighting this move with the community every step of the way between now and the next election,” said its statement.

Community organisation Friends of the ABC is set to march in the streets nationwide to stop the impending sale, while left-wing lobby group GetUp! has re-commenced a campaign to thwart any privatisation plan.

“Australian public broadcasting has an eighty-year history, and is supported by more than 80 percent of the community,” said ABC Friends National President Margaret Reynolds in a statement.

“It is not a plaything of the extremists who have dismissed public opinion in pursuit of their preoccupation with private profits.”

Playing Defensive

Following a public outcry, the Turnbull government has scrambled to rule out privatisation of the public broadcaster.

“The ABC will always be in public hands. It will never be sold. That is my commitment. It is a public broadcaster. It always has been and it always will be,” the Prime Minsiter told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Government frontbencher Josh Frydenberg backed Saturday’s assurance from Treasurer Scott Morrison that the government had no plans for privatisation. Finance minister Mathias Cormann went further, saying: “let me reassure you, the government will not be privatising the ABC.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, of the Liberals’ political allies the National Party, has distanced his party from the Liberal Party peak council. “The Nationals does not, and has no intention of ever supporting the privatisation of the ABC,” McCormack said in a statement.

Communications Minister Fifield – who is a member of the IPA – also quickly distanced himself from the book and tried to convince the public ABC would remain in public hands.

2018-06-18T040937Z_229845766_RC1C08D16F60_RTRMADP_3_AUSTRALIA-POLITICS-TURNBULL

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks at a news conference after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium April 24, 2018. Source: Reuters/Francois Walschaerts

Promises Fulfilled

Back in 2014, Tony Abbott was swept to victory on his promise to abolish the carbon tax put in place by his predecessor, Julia Gillard, to tax companies responsible for producing large amounts of pollution.

He was swift to fulfill his other promises of abolishing the national Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Fund, which the IPA had staunchly opposed.

The IPA claims itself to be the world’s oldest right-wing think tank representing big businesses with close links to the Business Council of Australia and elements of the Liberal Party.

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It advocates free market economics, privatisation, deregulation, limited government, and a free market approach to environmental problems.

It is accused of being an instrument in forming Liberal Party policy and is a fundraiser for the party, with major donors such as ExxonMobil, Telstra, WMC Resources, BHP Billiton, Caltex, Esso, Phillip Morris, and British American Tobacco among others.

In May it launched the book Against Public Broadcasting at the largest free market, pro-liberty conference in Asia Pacific, making the case for selling off the ABC.

It seems unlikely, however, that the IPA will get its way in the near future.