ABC local radio is vital for regional communities and must not be cut further, Nationals Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie told the national broadcaster's Managing Director, Mark Scott in Senate Estimates this week.
The exchange took place as the Senate Environment and Communications Committee questioned Mr Scott and other ABC executives in Parliament House, Canberra on Wednesday.
“As I told Mr Scott, the ABC’s Annual Report section on radio sings the praises of JJJ, Radio National, Classic FM, and News Radio, but local radio, which is so important for rural Australia, does not even rate a mention,” Senator McKenzie said.
“To be fair, Mr Scott did concede in his reply to me that local radio is ‘the lifeblood of what ABC does’.”
“Indeed regional Australians have strong loyalty towards their local ABC radio.”
A 2013 survey showed 85% of Australians believe the ABC provides a valuable service to the community.
“As I told Mr Scott, community support for local radio view must be reflected in the budget which he has prepared for consideration by the board of the ABC.”
“The 2014–15 Commonwealth Budget includes a one per cent saving on ABC base funding but ABC local radio must not be on the chopping block and it is Mr Scott’s job to ensure that.”
The ABC has previously been exempt from Government savings initiatives.
The Senate Finance and Administration Committee heard that this omission had left so much fat in the ABC budget that it was able to start its ABC 24 round-the-clock television news station without seeking further funds from Government.
Senator McKenzie said regional radio was already operating on a shoestring and that savings would be better obtained by looking at the salaries of the broadcaster’s top heavy management and star television presenters.
“The Government wants the organisation to be run as efficiently and cost effectively as possible without impacting on the quality and range of programming.”
“That means services like ABC local radio which are core to charter obligations must take precedence over new digital stations, mobile applications and foreign program acquisitions,” Senator McKenzie concluded.