Bill Shorten vows to reverse the Turnbull government's $84m cut to the ABC
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Bill Shorten vows to reverse the Turnbull government's $84m cut to the ABC

Labor has pledged $83.7 million to reverse the Turnbull government’s latest funding cut to the ABC amid a growing fight over claims of political “meddling” with the national broadcaster.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten made the commitment on Monday after weeks of doubt over his stance on the cuts, which were unveiled in the federal budget last month and have triggered warnings of more ABC job losses.

The Labor promise comes after a series of government moves to challenge the ABC on editorial judgments, with Communications Minister Mitch Fifield making six complaints so far this year.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at an ABC rally in Melbourne in 2014.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at an ABC rally in Melbourne in 2014.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Mr Shorten accused the government of mounting an attack on the ABC with years of funding cuts despite former prime minister Tony Abbott’s declaration at the 2013 election that there would be “no cuts” to the ABC.

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“This year alone, this out of touch government has cut $83.7 million in ABC funding, launched two damaging public broadcasting inquiries and has three bills before Parliament to meddle with the ABC Charter,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.

The new promise comes almost two weeks after Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland sent mixed signals on the issue, attacking the government’s cuts without revealing an alternative policy.

The government made the saving in the May 8 budget as a freeze on the usual increases in ABC funding every year, saying "back-office efficiencies" would be found to cover the indexation pause.

"This will result in savings to the budget of $83.7 million over three years from 2910-20 to 2021-22," it said.

The government added that this meant the ABC would be exempt from a wider efficiency dividend and would still receive total funding of $3.16 billion over the three years to June 2022.

The decision triggered a political storm after the budget, which outlined relatively modest savings of $1.9 billion over four years across the public sector but singled out the ABC for a special cut.

ABC figures provided to a Senate inquiry last month showed there had been 939 staff redundancies over the past four years.

In addition, the ABC announced 37 job cuts in its technology division on June 1 in the wake of 22 job cuts at its national newsrooms last month.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has made six complaints about ABC editorial decisions so far this year.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has made six complaints about ABC editorial decisions so far this year.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

ABC News director Gaven Morris said last month the ABC had been subject to $254 million cuts since 2014 but the additional budget measure this year would "cut into the muscle" at the broadcaster.

The Labor pledge is restricted to reversing the cut in last month’s budget and does not bind Mr Shorten to an overall spending figure if Labor wins the next federal election.

“A Shorten Labor government will reverse Turnbull’s $83.7 million unfair cut to the ABC, as well as guarantee funding certainty over the next ABC budget cycle,” he said in a statement.

“This will ensure our public broadcaster can meet its charter requirements, safeguard jobs at the ABC, adapt to the digital media environment and maintain content and services that Australians trust and rely on.”

Senator Fifield said the Coalition was a “prudent steward” of taxpayer resources and took this approach to all Commonwealth agencies.

“The ABC’s current funding triennium remains unaltered and the organisation has a year before the indexation pause comes into effect,” he said in a statement to Fairfax Media.

“The ABC will continue to recieve more than one billion dollars each year and has greater funding certainty than any other media organisation in Australia.”

David Crowe is the chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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