COMMENT

Flying the flag for local comedy: Darren Gilshenan as Terry Moody.

Flying the flag for local comedy: Darren Gilshenan as Terry Moody.

I was relishing the return of the marvellous Moody family and the fun, games and priceless mishaps that plagued their Australia Day celebrations when I started thinking about how, for the last few years, the ABC has been a lone welcoming home for locally produced narrative comedy.

Elsewhere, it's been a lamentably puny genre. I'm not talking about rows of comedians at desks riffing about current affairs and Kardashians, but original creations, written and carefully crafted productions, with distinctive perspectives and actors playing roles.

Beyond The Moodys, consider the recent line-up on the ABC: Lowdown, Woodley, Laid, Angry Boys, Please Like Me, Upper Middle Bogan, It's a Date, Ja'mie: Private School Girl, The Strange Calls. It's quite a collection, indicating support of an impressive range of homegrown talent. Then think about the offerings elsewhere. Think hard. Maybe Small Time Gangster, commissioned for one season on pay TV and then bought by SBS. Or Housos.

A crop of applaudable presenters ... <i>ABC News Breakfast</i> hosts Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli.

A crop of applaudable presenters ... ABC News Breakfast hosts Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli.

The Prime Minister might be displeased about the national broadcaster being insufficiently supportive of Australia, but it's certainly been a lone and valiant champion of local comedy development.

And when you think about other areas in which the ABC displays its own talent, or commissions independent producers to provide it, the results are also pretty impressive. I'm not an uncritical cheerleader for Aunty - and, for the sake of balance, it's reasonable to note that its record of late with documentaries and arts programming has been lamentable - but it's appropriate to recognise achievement and pay credit where it's due.

In children's TV, which would be ignored by commercial networks if they weren't legally obliged to invest in local content, the ABC gives us Play School and Bananas in Pyjamas for pre-schoolers and innovative series for older kids, like My Place, Dance Academy and Nowhere Boys.

Local drama ... <i>The Broken Shore</i> starring Claudia Karvan as Helen Castleman and Don Hany as Joe Cashin.

Local drama ... The Broken Shore starring Claudia Karvan as Helen Castleman and Don Hany as Joe Cashin.

The TV news and current affairs area features some of the best programs and practitioners in the country. People such as Tony Jones, Leigh Sales, Virginia Trioli, Kerry O'Brien, Emma Alberici and Chris Uhlmann, as well as a substantial and seasoned corps of foreign correspondents. And programs such as 7.30, Lateline, Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent, Insiders and Media Watch. And to that group, you might also add Australian Story and Q&A.

As the truly impressive current affairs shows on commercial TV - Sunday, Witness, The Times - have come and gone, the ABC has maintained a line-up of firm and journalistically classy fixtures whose only real competition comes from SBS.

The Prime Minister's recent attack on the ABC inevitably raised the spectre of funding cuts in the coming budget: he was indicating his displeasure with the organisation and, more likely than not, setting up a punitive tightening of the purse-strings.

That would be a disaster and it is in drama production that the necessity of adequate government support really makes its importance felt. Drama is risky, expensive and time-consuming to produce. It's also one of the jewels in the crown of any self-respecting network and the first thing to suffer when funding is cut.

In 2005, with its funding frozen by the Howard government, came the dark days when the ABC produced a pitiful 15 hours of drama. The subsequent renaissance can be directly attributed to a $70 million boost from the Rudd government in 2009, which paved the way for the bountiful crop we've enjoyed since, everything from the groundbreaking Redfern Now to The Slap, The Straits, Crownies, Rake, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Serangoon Road, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, the Jack Irish telemovies, The Time of Our Lives and The Broken Shore.

Some of the country's best actors - Richard Roxburgh, Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, David Wenham, Claudia Karvan - repeatedly refer to the pleasure of working on drama productions in their home country for the national broadcaster.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's recent criticism of the ABC as not sufficiently supporting Australia is nowhere challenged more directly than through a survey of its output. It has clearly afforded an array of local talent opportunities to grow, create and develop, and to entertain and challenge us.

Governments often operate under the misapprehension that, because they allocate funding to the ABC, it's their money to spend or withhold. It's not. It's ours. And we are best served by a properly resourced national broadcaster.

There's a maxim that says that unless the government is unhappy with the national broadcaster, it's not doing its job properly. It shouldn't exist to keep them happy.

I reckon it's fair to say that Our ABC is doing fine and to urge the government to help it, not hinder it. Because when the ABC is starved of funds, we are all the poorer for it.