Prime Minister Tony Abbott has denied he has broken a pledge not to cut funding to the ABC and SBS, telling Parliament his government had “fundamentally kept faith with the Australian people”
The comments were Mr Abbott’s first on budget changes to the ABC since a $254 million reduction was announced by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week.
In question time on Monday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked Mr Abbott about comments he made in an interview on SBS TV on the night before last year’s election, in which he vowed there would be “no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.” The Opposition Leader moved a censure motion against Mr Abbott, saying the Prime Minister had broken his promise.
Much of Labor’s attack centred on Mr Abbott’s commitment there would be no cuts to the two public broadcasters, following an announcement from ABC managing director Mark Scott on Monday in which he detailed the programs and services that would be affected by a $254 million funding reduction.
But Mr Abbott denied he had broken his word.
“This a government which has fundamentally kept faith, has fundamentally kept faith with the Australian people,” Mr Abbott said.
“We are doing what the people elected us to do, to deliver the policies, to make the tough decisions that this country needed.”
Mr Abbott said the Coalition was simply applying to the ABC the kind of “efficiency dividend” it was applying to almost every other part of government.
“Members opposite thought that the ABC was the one institution that shouldn’t be subject to an efficiency dividend. We think it should be subject to the efficiency dividend. The ABC should not be exempted from the kind of measures that are being applied to almost every other part of government,” he said.
“We never promised special treatment for the ABC or the SBS… I should point out to the member who asked the question that before the election the Treasurer, then the shadow treasurer, said very publicly of the ABC, “If there is waste we will cut it.”
Mr Abbott challenged Mr Shorten to promise to restore the funding to the ABC if Labor were to form government.
“If he won’t do that he is a fraud,” Mr Abbott said.
Mr Shorten said Mr Abbott was regarded as “box office poison” in Victoria because he had failed to keep commitments, including not to cut funding for health and education.
The censure motion was voted down along party lines.