MARK BUCKLEY. The ABC is their new target

In 2018 two researchers from the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) wrote a book, entitled Why We Should Privatise the ABC and How to Do It.

The main thesis of the book, and the “How to Do It” part, is that the Turnbull Government should privatise the ABC, by giving it away for free, either to the ABC’s employees, or if that was not acceptable, to random Australian citizens. They could write off the purchase in tax credits.

One has to wonder, firstly, where they got the idea that ‘giving something away’ equates to privatising it. On reflection, during the neo-liberal boom in the 1970s, many state owned enterprises were sold, at knockdown prices, all around the world. Many of those transactions would not stand up to scrutiny nowadays, as so many of them discounted taxpayer value, and essentially gifted valuable utilities to party donors. Russia, the United Kingdom and Australia, amongst other countries, created whole suburbs of ‘kleptocrats’ from transactions like that, and we are still paying the price.

Professor Sinclair Davidson and Dr Chris Berg are the two researchers who came up with this idea. They are both experts in Blockchain Innovation, and they work at RMIT. They also work for the IPA. Presumably their positions are part-time.

Blockchain has been described as a system for validating transactions, between people who do not trust each other. The innovation part is perhaps just a fancy tag for something about as interesting as devising train timetables.

And yet here they are, experts in an obscure technology that is really just another accounting tool, deciding that one of the most treasured assets still left in the national purse, is only fit to be given away.

They acknowledge that the ABC is popular, but in remaining true to their neo-liberal beliefs, they argue that there is no value in something merely because it is popular. It is a drain on the public purse, and must be divested. The reasons they use to justify their position are contradictory.

Firstly, they argue that the ABC is now an anachronism, past its use by date. How they came to this position is peculiar. They state that when the ABC was founded, in 1932, there was a shortage of media available, and so the ABC was designed as a stop-gap measure, until the ‘media’ on offer became sufficient to serve the Australian public. At that point in time, where media maturity was achieved, the ABC would pack up its tent, and quietly slip away.

Secondly, they argue that the ABC is cannibalising media opportunities, by competing too well with the media professionals, and shrinking their market. Global monopolies like the Murdoch empire cannot compete, and feel that the government funding gives the ABC an unfair advantage. This is the actual position put forward by the free marketeers, with access to seemingly unlimited funds, being unable to compete with ‘the luvvies’ of the ABC.

So on one hand the ABC has become redundant, as their charter is now being performed adequately by the corporate media; on the other hand they are too good at their job.

What does the ABC do?

In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is legally required to ‘encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia’ and ‘broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity’ with specific emphasis on regional and rural Australia’. Wikipedia

The ABC Charter, set down by Parliament, requires the Corporation to provide informative, entertaining and educational services that reflect the breadth of our nation. That summary is taken from the ABC’s own website.

This year they have covered the bush-fires, peerlessly. Their staff were spectacularly committed, professional and pushed to their limits. Of course there were some who accused the ABC of committing too many resources to the coverage. That is easy to say, after the fire-storm, but I live in regional Victoria, and there is no other place I would trust to provide me with accurate, up-to-date information.

Take a look at their corona virus coverage. During the darkest days of April they provided us all with straight, professional, uninterrupted coverage of a once-in-a-century pandemic situation.

When researching this article I went back in time. They were there in the 1930s, broadcasting by wireless about the death of Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, and the declaration of war, by Robert Menzies, in 1939. Cricket broadcasts began.

During the 1940s the ABC provided war reports from various overseas offices. It attempted to provide an independent news service, however, in a precursor to today’s problems, it encountered some early government interference and censorship, by way of the newly formed Department of Information, run in 1940 by newspaper proprietor Sir Keith Murdoch. He was Rupert Murdoch’s father. So it seems that the Murdochs have always had a thing about public broadcasting.

The list of disasters, triumphs, royal weddings, funerals, bush-fires and floods is too long to recount, but there is not a time when Australians did not know where to look, if they wanted fearless honest reporting. We remember that the ABC is always there, and it is not swayed by the views of their advertisers, because there are none.

And if the ABC continues to outshine the so-called ‘professionals’, then the professionals need to lift their game. Stop asking the umpire for favours, and get on with it. The ABC does.

Who wants to get rid of the ABC?

It is part of IPA dogma to de-fund the ABC. The idea is not new, nor is it home-grown. It is directly taken from the Atlas Network, The Atlas Network is an American neo-liberal organisation, dedicated to packing legislatures world-wide with believers. Check out the link above, to confirm that the IPA are among their partners.

Roughly they all believe in small government, less regulation, less taxation, less welfare, and something of the ‘survival of the fittest’ mind-set. Except when they have to compete against quality competition. They do not believe in climate change, and they are supported by Big Tobacco, somewhere in the mix.

There is a very simple test which can be applied to our parliamentarians, to see whether they are fit for office. It works for the general population as well, but it is in the political context where the test is crucial, and necessary. The test shows whether they respect the wishes, and the needs, of the people. The test asks whether they want the ABC privatised, or do they want it preserved in its current form. See this page for a list of who, and how, they voted




Mark Buckley is a writer based in regional Victoria. He has a particular interest in politics, history and ethics in public life. He blogs at

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10 Responses to MARK BUCKLEY. The ABC is their new target

  1. Avatar Steven Howard says:

    It is an inevitable fact that the ABC must act as a propaganda arm of the Australian establishment. Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model applies no less to government owned media than it does to the corporate owned, much the same drivers dictate conformity to the approved narratives. The benefit of ABC brings is propaganda is presented somewhat less flamboyantly and more in the nature of lies of omission or subtle distortion of truth. As with the BBC, the aura of authority and independence is belied by the way these organisations actively promote and support the approved government narratives on subjects like the wars on Syria, Iran, Russia and China. That said, the IPA is clearly a client arm of US hegemonic and corporate power acting to maintain and further US elites’ influence over Australian political and economic policy. Anything they say must be taken with this in mind.

  2. Avatar Andrew Glikson says:

    To an extent the IPA has already reached its goal, since the ABC is increasingly populated by conservative to distinctly right wing journalists and at the same time depleted in journalists who dare to express views at the centre or to the left of centre. There is no lack of examples.

  3. Avatar Gavin O'Brien says:

    I grew up in country New South Wales in the 50’s & 60’s.While we had a locally owned and operated commercial radio station, whose company also owned one of the two local newspapers, the ABC Regional radio service from 2 CO was first rate .They provided very important service to the farming/grazing community over a vast swathe of southwestern New South Wales that the commercial stations, 2 RG, 2 WG and 2 QN could / would not provide. In times of disaster (all too frequent in the bush) the warnings were timely and accurate . The news bulletins, weather information and other services ; morning , lunchtime and evening, were comprehensive.The ABC had reporters /bureaus worldwide so their news was informative and detailed.
    Over the last few decades we have seen the ABC gutted and its budget slashed, yet it tries to continue to provide quality programs. My biggest gripe is the “Ultimo centrist” nature of today’s radio. We are losing local programs, even here in the National Capital.
    The overseas produced nonsense on commercial Television is almost at trash level. We watch ABC and SBS as much as possible, even though we have access to FOX Pay TV.
    The last thing we need is a privatized ABC and SBS which will then just dish up more of the same rubbish and reflect the views of the owners, (most likely foreign) like SKY, not the ordinary Australian citizen.

  4. Avatar Frank Alley says:

    Chris, I read it as suggesting that you worked part-time for the IPA and not part-time for RMIT.

  5. Another legal role for the ABC is to run an international TV service, now called ABC Australia and seen in 46 countries. It’s a dreadful mishmash and given minimal attention. Ranked against other international offerings (VOA, Deutsche Welle, France 24, NHK World and more) it’s such an embarrassment I’m surprised DFAT and our various ambassadors haven’t urged more spending. Or maybe they have and no-one in Oz cares and they don’t watch. Conspiracy theorists might suggest the idea is to run down the service and then get a commercial operator to take over. Fox?

  6. Avatar Chris Berg says:

    Thank you for your interest in our book. Please however could you correct your claim about our employment. Sinclair Davidson and I are both academics employed full time by RMIT University. We have honorary adjunct fellow positions at the IPA, which is a common engagement for academics.

    • Avatar Steven Howard says:

      Honorary position with the IPA is surely an oxymoron.

    • Avatar Frank Golding says:

      That last sentence of Chris Berg’s would not pass a Year 5 grammar test. Chris Berg and Sinclair Davison are the only academics I know of who have honorary adjunct positions at the IPA. “Common engagement” it is not, thankfully.

    • Avatar Peter Donnan says:

      I understand, Chris, that you believe the ABC “is a billion-dollar government program that lacks any coherent justification for its existence.” If one has a background in Economics and Finance, it is generally the case that price, money, people needlessly subsidising the ABC etc are the critical benchmarks. You cite, for instance, the research income that you have brought to RMIT – not just you personally, but that is how many academics are measured on their KPIs today. Where there’s cash, there’s no lash.

      But there are contrasting values and philosophy. Eva Cox has noted that “Universities are no longer funded as repositories of knowledge and debate…[and continues]: “it would be exceedingly hard to find a university that can deliver independent advice on food and nutrition without jeopardising existing and future research funding.”

      She also writes of the ties that binds us: “the ties that we call society and community; the links which define how we see ourselves and how we act towards each other. Why these links are omitted from public debate raises the question of who sets the public policy agenda….concerns about the current dominant fashion of macho, competition-driven ‘progress’ and the intensity with which these economic frameworks are promoted…

      During these Covid-19 days one has a chance to reflect on the ties that bind us: they’re not always about money, competition, freedom, liberty etc. Malcolm Turnbull, no stranger to money, believes that “in Australia, as in the U.S., this issue[climate change] has been hijacked by a toxic, climate-denying alliance of right-wing politics and media (much of it owned by Rupert Murdoch), as well as vested business interests, especially in the coal industry.”

      The IPA and News Corp would prefer a non-ABC world. Just imagine living in a Murdoch, Sky/Fox&Friends world – living without contested viewpoints or genuine richness of thinking. It would be an impoverished, brutish environment but probably hard to put a cost on that. But why not put it through a cost-benefit analysis?

      I can’t state my view forretaining and subsidising the ABC any stronger than this:

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