If you are wondering why James McGrath decided to pull his little stunt in the Senate on Wednesday, I have some ideas for you.
Did you miss his blunder?
McGrath, 45, a Queensland Senator for the Liberal Party, embarrassed himself on Wednesday when he said: "The ABC must show how it can manage its existing budget before asking for a bigger one. Remember its existing budget is over $1.1 billion, $1.1 billion of taxpayers money."
Since July 1, 2019, the ABC has been on high alert (and not only from inept politicians). Since that date, there have been over 900 emergency broadcasting events. For the entirety of the 2018-2019 financial year, there were only 371.
There is no good time to call for cuts to the ABC but this was impossibly hamfisted. In McGrath's state alone on Thursday, there were 24 emergency warnings and alerts, all of which were communicated to listeners. That's just one day. Not all require the full-on coverage of a catastrophic bushfire but all take time, care and concentration.
McGrath, for far too long a career hack, could not come to terms with work such as that of the ABC emergency broadcast. It's not just the broadcast itself, it's not one department alone. The master control room, the transmission team, the folks in IT, the journalists, the presenters. Every single part of the ABC came together to keep Australia safe (actually keep them safe, unlike the jokers who think we should ban everyone from coming here). ABC Emergency did an incredible job and so many staffers forsook their holidays, came back early, to be part of the crew. Champions, all of them.
Instead, this politician is vomiting up ideological slogans. He told Sky's Chris Kenny in December that he was a fan of the ABC. He said in that interview that the ABC is "failing to effectively be the national broadcaster and it's become the unAustralian broadcaster".
McGrath is just playing to his base, full of bluster, in the genuine belief that's how you win an election these days.
In June 2019 he said all the inner city properties of the ABC should be sold and the broadcaster should be situated in the suburbs (because you can imagine how many business people and politicians would want to commute for interviews). In his maiden speech in 2014, he called for an immediate sell-off of triple J and an instant sell-off of the rest of the national broadcaster if it failed to fix its bias.
He's been playing the same pointless song for years (which triple J never does) and only a handful of his mates and his fake Facebook friends agree with him. He whined about the ABC failing to broadcast the Tokyo Olympics without once acknowledging that this was an effect of the cuts to its funding, cuts driven by the Coalition.
But maybe his most recent outburst is because he's feeling miffed the chair of the ABC Ita Buttrose doesn't respond instantly to his requests for affirmation of his three-point plan for reform of the ABC (another December confession to Chris Kenny). Apparently he wrote her an email and she didn't respond instantly. She's no time waster.
Alan Sunderland, formerly the ABC's editorial director, said on Twitter on Thursday that 30 years ago the ABC had 2,000 more staff than it has now. Then it had only one TV channel, not three. Less radio, no apps. It has all that and what now seems like a 24/7 emergency broadcaster.
Here's the short version: 30 years ago the ABC had 2,000 more staff than it has now, but it only had to operate 1 TV channel instead of 3, much less radio and NO online or mobile services. ABC is one of the most efficient value-for-money public broadcasters in the world. FUND IT!— Alan Sunderland (@asunderland) February 12, 2020
So what's McGrath's real agenda? Might he be wanting to shore up his conservative credentials with Queensland Liberal preselectors although it's a bit early for that and our northern neighbours have to get through council elections (a big deal in Brisbane) and then the state elections (with the nigh unelectable Deb Frecklington in charge).
Political scientist Paul Williams of Griffith University says he can't imagine why McGrath would be carrying on like this. He says McGrath is a formidable party warrior who is unlikely ever to be booted from the top of the Senate ticket, not even for the younger, fresher Amanda Stoker, who got George Brandis's spot. They are in the same senatorial rotation.
Williams says of all the parties, Liberals are the least transparent when it comes to preselections. Unlike the Labor Party, where factions are clearcut, in the Liberal Party, an arm around the shoulder can be a blade through the heart the next minute. He says McGrath is probably working "at a subterranean level cultivating support and building networks".
A more depressing analysis comes from Pollbludger's William Bowe who says McGrath is just playing to his base, full of bluster, in the genuine belief that's how you win an election these days.
And what about McGrath's comments? "An Exercise in brand management and it's not the first time he has said this kind of thing. He doesn't really give a stuff how well the ABC manages its budget, it's just part of an ideological attack on public broadcasting."
Great to catch up with @ABCaustralia Chair @ItaButtrose this morning. Joined also by Minister @PaulFletcherMP and ABC MD David Anderson. Rural and regional services were a key focus of our discussion. So pleased Ita took on this job. pic.twitter.com/VaoXSAYcYX— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) February 12, 2020
Honestly, these folks are so utterly depressing. It's no wonder the ANU's Australian Election Study shows trust in politicians has never been lower, only 25 per cent trust the government. Trust in the ABC? Just seven per cent of Australians don't, according to Roy Morgan's MEDIA Net Trust Survey.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister met with the chair of the ABC. Rural and regional services were a "key focus" of the discussion. Just give them the money.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.