MIL-OSI Australia: ABC 90th Anniversary

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Source: Prime Minister of Australia

It is a true honour and pleasure to come here as Prime Minister and congratulate you on your 90th anniversary.

Through nine decades, the ABC has brought us closer together as a nation.

You’ve added to our identity. You’ve added to our voice.

You’ve brought us laughter and tears.

You’ve exposed hard truths and celebrated triumphs.

You’ve brought sunshine into dark corners.

You’ve sought out the bright moments in order to share the light.

As one of the mainstays of Australian life, the ABC has woven so many great strands into the fabric of our nation.

And no one should ever diminish the sheer scale of your achievement in cementing a pair of talking bananas in our national consciousness.

Trust and truth

As the ABC has added to Australia’s collective voice, you’ve done it in part with voices we knew instinctively we could trust.  Among them:

James Dibble. Geraldine Doogue. Mark Colvin. Andrew Olle. Caroline Jones. Kerry O’Brien. Liz Jackson. Chris Masters. Norman May. Alan McGilvray. Bill Peach. Richard Morecroft. Leigh Sales. Laura Tingle. Tony Jones. Fran Kelly.

I could list them all night. They have slotted perfectly into the ABC, because the ABC has never been afraid to treat issues with the seriousness they deserve.

Even the briefest rollcall of programs over the years is testament to that: Four Corners. PM. This Day Tonight. Foreign Correspondent. 7.30. And of course Lateline – which I still miss, by the way.

What they have all offered is journalism worthy of the fourth estate.  Quality analysis and real reporting. Investigation determined to uncover facts and extract hard truths.

Anyone can skim a quick opinion off the top of their head in a beautifully lit echo chamber.

Not everyone can shine a light so brightly that it burns away the darkness.

Not everyone can report a truth that changes the course of events.

And certainly not everyone is still willing to devote the time and the resources that make such an essential public service possible.

The ABC does. Why? Because it matters. Truth matters. Accountability matters.

If they ever cease to matter, we’ll be left with very little that does.

Confidence in our democratic system is underpinned by strong public organisations contributing accurate information and well-informed, carefully reasoned analysis.

That has to be delivered in an atmosphere of independence, without any form of intimidation – no matter how subtly applied.

And one of those public organisations has to be the ABC.

Democracy is not something we can afford to take for granted.

As we look around the world, we see democracy under sustained attack – either through direct assault or a more insidious erosion.

A strong ABC is an insurance policy against the misinformation and disinformation chipping away at what we hold dear.

Amid the rising tide of social media, the ABC is a beacon of trust. Trust takes a long time to establish – and it takes energy to maintain.

A lifeline in disaster

It is in no small part due to that trust that the ABC has been invaluable during the pandemic. So many Australians turned to you, safe in the knowledge they could rely on the COVID-19 information you made available online.

And you were absolutely crucial during the bushfires and the floods. Commercial broadcasters and community radio have played an important role, but times of disaster have seen our treasured national institution really shine.

When mobile phone towers have been knocked out, or Telstra exchanges submerged, when the power’s gone and people are down to a handful of batteries in a radio …

… you’ve been there, ready with critical information in some very fast-moving, often desperate situations.

There have been moments when you’ve been the difference between life and death. Ponder that. There are people still alive right now because of the ABC.

Keeping the nation connected

As I crisscrossed the country during the election campaign, I was reminded again just how vast our continent is.

There’s something especially comforting about knowing that this great space is humming with voices thanks to the ABC – whether it’s TV, the internet or, especially important, local radio.

If the ABC doesn’t entirely defeat the tyranny of distance, it certainly softens it.

Just as the ABC keeps regional Australia in touch with metropolitan areas and other parts of the country, it also provides important insights from regional and remote Australia to those in the suburbs and inner cities.

There’s nothing quite like sharing our stories to stop us becoming strangers to each other.

We’ve all heard the mantras about the ABC as a haven of inner city elites, repeated with straight faces by critics based … in our inner cities.

I hope those commentators take note of the 48 regional ABC bureaus spread in a great constellation across the country, and the continued existence of Landline.

Likewise your announcement in December of 50 new journalist roles and a trial of five new mini-bureaus across regional Australia.

The ABC has one of the largest dedicated rural reporting workforces in the world. It’s all part of your commitment to being a truly national broadcaster.

Comedy and beyond

As part of our great national conversation, the ABC has also provided a great haven for comedians and satirists and purveyors of absurdity.

Sometimes it’s laughter wrapped around a great truth. Sometimes it’s just laughter.

And sometimes it feels mainly like an exercise to keep the members of the complaints unit in gainful employment.

The Gillies Report. Wendy Harmer. The Doug Anthony Allstars. Elle McFeast. The Late Show. Mad as Hell. Roy and HG. John Clarke and Bryan Dawe. The perfection of Frontline. The confronting accuracy of Utopia.

And I’ll mention my friend Andrew Denton, because he has my phone number.

The thing about the ABC is just how ubiquitous a presence it is in our memories, whether it is drama so compelling it becomes part of our dialogue, or the massive earworm that is the Majestic Fanfare. Or memories of Backchat.

Or Richard Glover’s and Peter FitzSimons’s world-record, 24-hour, one-on-one radio interview – congratulations, Richard, on getting a few words in.

The sheer electricity of Phoenix and Redfern Now.

Richard Roxburgh creating menace in a cardigan in Blue Murder.

Every minute we spent in the garden with Peter Cundall and Costas Georgiadis.

Every back road Heather Ewart has ever taken us down.

The great Energiser Bunny that is Australian Story.

Aunty Jack bringing colour to Australian TV a couple of minutes before any of the commercial stations.

Tony Armstrong reacting to the Socceroos qualifying for the World Cup.

And more reruns of Doctor Who and The Goodies than we ever really knew what to do with – except to just keep watching.

Fire up the amps

Then there’s the ABC’s many years building our national soundtrack.

I believe the fact I am a Triple J fan has been detected along the way. Even before I got into Parliament, I was campaigning for it to become a national station. A truly righteous cause.

Look at what Triple J’s Unearthed alone has achieved in discovering fresh Australian talent. You could put together a pretty solid playlist from the galaxy of Unearthed artists, from Montaigne to Thelma Plum to Gang of Youths.

Imagine the great Australian jukebox without all those voices.

Think of every time Molly Meldrum implored us all to do ourselves a favour.

Think of the night TISM hosted Rage.  And for that matter, the night I hosted Rage – an absolute career highlight.

Then of course there’s your role in the birth of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. You’ve made classical music accessible to a bigger audience and strengthened its place in our nation’s cultural life.

The kids are all right

I don’t want to get on Jemima and Big Ted’s bad side, so I’d also like to talk about the powerhouse of your children’s programming.

As ABC Kids has grown into one of the nation’s most trusted babysitters, you have been capturing hearts across the globe, whether it’s Bananas in Pyjamas, the juggernaut that is the Wiggles, and, of course, Bluey.

There’s an ABC story for you. A family of dogs, one of them voiced by the lead singer from Custard, going out and conquering the world.

Bluey has the second-highest rated TV episode on the International Movie Database, beaten only by Breaking Bad.

Imagine a crossover episode. Things would have turned out better for Walter White if Bandit and Chilli had got involved.

It’s fun, but it’s also important. Without it, an important aspect of the development of cultural identity in young Australians’ formative years would be lost to a tide of imported programming.

Just as in drama, we need other voices and all the perspectives they bring, but not at the expense of our own.

It’s also important that our notion of ourselves has become broader and more inclusive – with the ABC as a driving force.

One example is Little J & Big Cuz, a great SBS and NITV-initiated kids’ show available in a host of Indigenous languages, including Warlpiri and Noongar.

A voice in region

You also help us to share our voice in the region. That was undervalued by the previous government, even trivialised. That was a mistake.

If we don’t have our voice out there – if we cut programming or drop out of shortwave frequencies – others are only too ready to fill the gap.

The ABC is a crucial part of our ongoing conversation with our regional neighbours.

That is why my Government is committed to delivering an Indo-Pacific Broadcasting Strategy that includes increased funding to the ABC to boost Australian content and to project Australian identity, values and interests to the Indo-Pacific region.

On top of every other consideration, it is a prudent investment in our security and national interest.

Amid it all, the ABC has been powered by a spirit of innovation. You were the home of some of the earliest podcasts. You jumped into social media when it was still a novelty. And where would we be without iView? 

Pillar of democracy

The health of our democracy is underpinned by truth, and by the strength of our cultural identity – how we see ourselves as a people and what unifies us in all the splendour of our diversity.

A government that chooses to attack a public broadcaster does so motivated by either ideology or fear – or a toxic cocktail of the two.

No government should fear the ABC – unless it fears the truth.

A government of integrity and transparency should welcome the accountability that a strong, properly resourced public broadcaster brings.

There is little that is so at odds with who we are than an ideology that demands a tame public broadcaster, debased to the status of government mouthpiece.

The ABC must always be a public broadcaster, never a state broadcaster.

A government confident of its own ideas and principles should embrace independent questioning as crucial to the democracy it purports to uphold.

But just as the Government should welcome scrutiny from the ABC, so the ABC should welcome scrutiny from the Government. Accountability is a two-way street.

However strong our affection for the ABC, it cannot be blind. No organisation is infallible, and we can all freely admit that Aunty is no exception.

National government and national broadcaster can both share the goals of transparency, accuracy, effectiveness, diversity, and value for money.

When it comes to your money, which of course is from the taxpayers we all serve, the only condition that should be attached is accountability.

I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my Government’s vow to provide the ABC with 5-year funding terms …

… restore $83.7 million in funding to the ABC …

… and review options for delivering greater financial sustainability to safeguard against political interference.

Conclusion

I want us to be a country at home with our own identity. And a part of that is cherishing the ABC and respecting the ABC.

Our ABC.

Our celebration of your nine decades is a celebration of Australian voices, Australian culture.

Our drama. Our music.

Our struggles. Our triumphs.

Our lives. Our society. Our truth.

And just as you help us see ourselves, you let us see the rest of the world through a lens of our own making.

Put it together and it’s something we can all take pride in.

Thank you for having me. It’s always good to come to Ultimo.

I look forward to celebrating your 100th anniversary – as Prime Minister – up the road in Parramatta.

MIL OSI News