Funding for the ABC has been cut by $84m with the treasurer, Scott Morrison, saying the reduction is justified because “everyone has to live within their means”.
The ABC’s managing director, Michelle Guthrie, told staff she was “very disappointed and concerned” about what amounted to a substantial budget cut and it would impact audiences.
“This decision will make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations,” Guthrie told staff.
The cut comes on top of the government’s decision not to continue a further $43m targeted grant to support news gathering and after cuts of the magnitude of $254m since 2014.
While the ABC will be forced to make savings, SBS has been given an additional $14.6m over two years.
Operational funding for the ABC will remain at 2018-19 levels over three years in what the government has called an “indexation freeze”.
The cuts come amid fierce criticism of the ABC from some elements of the Coalition, especially over the economics editor Emma Alberici’s coverage of the government’s corporate tax cut plans. In March the communications minister, Mitch Fifield, expressed his fury at ABC comedy show Tonightly for a sketch in which Australian Conservatives Party candidate Kevin Bailey was called “a cunt”.
In a shock move Fifield also announced a second efficiency review for the ABC and the SBS, echoing the Lewis review in 2014 which recommended a merger of some parts of the two broadcasters and the sale of ABC property assets.
Fifield said the Government is “confident further back office efficiencies can now be found”.
The “indexation freeze” echoes the Coalition’s “efficiency dividend” imposed on the ABC in the 2014-15 budget, which broke Tony Abbott’s election-eve pledge of “no cuts to the ABC or SBS”.
The cut will be phased in over three years, with a $14.6m cut in 2019-20, $27.8m in 2020-21 and $41.2m in 2021-22. Total funding for the national broadcaster will go from $1.131bn in 2017 to $1.122bn in 2018-19.
The secretary of the ABC section of the Community and Public Sector Union, Sinddy Ealy, said the ABC would not survive another term of the Turnbull government.
“The ABCs MD has tonight confirmed the ABC will not be able to meet its obligations to Australian audiences as a result of these cuts,” she told Guardian Australia. “This is extraordinary. The only way we can protect our national broadcaster now is a change of government at the next federal election.”
The SBS boost includes $14.6m which the government says is to replace revenue that SBS could not raise as the legislation needed to allow the further advertising flexibility was not passed. A further $3m will be provided to support the development of Australian film and television content.
Savings from the ABC cuts will be redirected to other spending measures within the communications and arts portfolio, according to the budget papers, including $48.7m for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s landing in Botany Bay.
The New South Wales government will be given $25m of this money for activities at the Kamay Botany Bay national park in Morrison’s electorate of Cook such as exhibitions, educational material and a voyage of the replica HMB Endeavour.
The government has never explained why it handed Foxtel $30m in the last budget.
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