Insiders host David Speers has grilled Communications and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher over funding for the ABC as well as the arts and entertainment industries.
In a fast and sometimes heated interview with Mr Fletcher on the Sunday morning edition of the ABC-TV current affairs program, Speers first attacked the Federal Government’s claims it hadn’t cut ABC funding.
“You’ve been arguing that point this week that funding is rising and the Prime Minister even said ‘There is no cut’,” Speers told the minister.
“Let me read from the 2018-19 budget which talks about the saving that was being made in the ABC budget of $83.7 million.
“The budget paper says, ‘This measure reduces funding to the ABC by $14.6 million this financial year. $27.8 million next financial year and $41 million the next year.
“It sounds like you’re arguing that the funding is increasing when the budget paper says it is being reduced.
“Even if you include the dollar figures here, it is not a real funding increase?”
Mr Fletcher replied that in the current three-year funding period “funding is going up every year during that period. The ABC receives more funding now”.
Speers cut in, saying, “Not in real terms, though, minister.
“Let’s not be tricky here, the funding increase is so small, less than 0.3 per cent in real terms.
“That’s not an increase, is it?”
Mr Fletcher claimed the ABC had “stable and growing funding, which no other media organisation in the country has”.
“So while we can debate the technicalities, let’s focus on the big issue here,” Mr Fletcher said.
“There is significant funding for the ABC because what it does is important.
“That’s why we back it. I welcome the ABC’s five-year plan this week which said that there will be a greater commitment to outer urban, suburban and regional areas.
“I welcome the commitment that 75 per cent of employees will be outside of Ultimo [the ABC’s Sydney-based headquarters]. because Sydney is not Australia, and Ultimo is not Australia.”
Speers also asked why the government was taking a different approach to the arts package, which has a capped number of grants, compared with JobSeeker, JobKeeper and HomeBuilder.
Asked why grants in the arts sector had been capped, but in the construction sector, Mr Fletcher said it was “perfectly standard to allocate an amount of money for a particular policy outcome”.
“But it’s not standard,” Speers shot back. “You’ve done a very different thing with HomeBuilder, that’s my point?”
Mr Fletcher replied that HomeBuilder and arts and entertainment addressed different sets of issues, and the government had widely consulted with the sector and “a whole range of bodies’.
“Sorry,” Speers interjected, “did they say that the funding should be capped?
“Did any of them tell you it should be capped? I’m wondering why you capped it?”
The minister countered by saying the government believes that “the amount of funding provided will stimulate new shows, new events and new production and get new
“We’ve carefully calibrated it and consulted across the sector.”
After further debate, Speers challenged Mr Fletcher again, saying the caps of some grants meant “there are winners and there are going to be losers. That’s the whole point … you have to pick the winners”.
Mr Fletcher said the level of funding to the arts and entertainment sector was “very substantial” and is “going to have a significant impact in restarting activity in the arts
Speers then mentioned news of redundancies at the Australian National Gallery and the current efficacy of efficiency dividends, the cost savings government asks departments to make to save money.
“Thirty jobs will go,” Speers said.
“We’re now in a recession – first time in 30 years
“Is the middle of a recession the right time to be continuing with an efficiency dividend for cultural institutions like the National Gallery?”
Mr Fletcher replied that the efficiency dividend had been “a long standing part of how governments, both Liberal and Labor, manage public finances.
“It is a long standing tool of public policy management, and it is there because
we need to be careful with taxpayer money.
“And it’s appropriate discipline, through the budgetary process, that applies right across-the-board – not just to arts and culture, but applies across just about the entire suite there.”
Originally published as ‘Tricky’: Host attacks government’s ABC claim