Federation Chamber

The ABC is a highly efficient and greatly trusted community service. Both a 2018 Roy Morgan survey and a 2019 study by the University of Canberra found the ABC is Australia’s most trusted media brand. Most of just know this.

  • Today I will briefly share a local story to highlight the crucial role ABC Goulburn Murray played in keeping the North East of Victoria safe and informed this summer.
  • I will highlight the need for smart funding for vital communications infrastructure to ensure the resilience of rural communities’ vulnerable to natural disaster.
  • Finally, I will add give voice to so many constituents of Indi who ask me to call for a reversal of the three-year, A$83.8 million indexation freeze on ABC funding, which was contained in the 2018 budget.

There were three major fires in Indi (in January 2020): the Green Valley or Walwa fire, the fire around Dinner Plain and Falls Creek, and the fire which started near Abbeyard. Collectively, these fires burnt nearly 600,000 hectares.

In what was a tense and frightening summer, it was the ABC whose emergency broadcasts calmly, and clearly kept us all up-to-date on what was an ever evolving and frightening situation.

On behalf of my constituents, I would like to thank all of those at ABC Goulburn Murray who worked tirelessly for weeks to keep us informed. I would also like to thank all the emergency services communications personnel working across the various ICC s who liaised with the ABC to ensure the broadcast information was current, concise and accurate.

So in times of trouble we know that come what may, Keep calm and tune in to the ABC. We all know the importance of maintaining a radio and fresh batteries in our emergency kit because when the power goes down and the phones stop working we have the ABC to keep us up to date.  It’s just there. Always. Right?

During the peak of the fires the people of the Upper Murray recently experienced what life is like when the ABC is not there.

Shortly after the Walwa fire began on New Year’s Eve, power and mobile phone reception was lost. Soon the local ABC radio transmitter was also damaged by fire. This left much of the surrounding area, including the Corryong and Walwa valleys, without their local ABC station. No fire updates, no communication of evacuation orders, no localised road closure information. No phone reception, no power. No ABC.

Silence, stillness, disquiet.

Eventually ABC radio broadcasting was restored thanks to the efforts of our New South Wales neighbours at ABC Riverina who picked up the mantle – your ABC became our ABC.

Pronunciation of Victorian town names by ABC Riverina left some residents scratching their heads – and while many found this initially humorous – it also underscored the importance of local knowledge in emergency broadcasting.

Many people listen to emergency broadcasts out of the corner of their ear, tuning in only when they hear the name of their town or towns nearby. Without local broadcasters and their knowledge of the area crucial information can be lost in translation.

This outage demonstrated the precarious nature of the reliance of our most important infrastructure on mains power. Infrastructure such as the ABC transmission tower and mobile phone base stations.  It highlights the vulnerability of the most fundamental services in rural and regional areas. A vulnerability that is made all the more obvious now by the warnings of longer, hotter drier summers and more intense and frequent bushfires. Vulnerability brought home with a knockout punch this summer.

Adaptation to what is now an inevitable 1.5 degrees of global warming means we must prioritise and fund additional transmission distribution services. Services which can ensure the ABC transmitter can operate with renewable energy technology. The technology is there. It could be done immediately. No need for back-up diesel-fuelled generators with all the problems they entail in an emergency situation. No need to wait for the mains power to be restored.

It is undeniable that the ABC has been successful in achieving the efficiencies governments have demanded of them since the 1980s. This is epitomised by the fact that while previously costing 8 cents per person per day in 1987, by 2018 this had halved to 4 cents per person per day.

But, the ABC receives no additional funding for emergency broadcasts. Maybe that was OK in times when an emergency announcement was a rare event. But situation normal is now a new normal and we must not expect the ABC to divert funds intended for regular programming to cover these costs. The ABC emergency services broadcasting must receive specific funding as part of our National Disaster Framework. But more than that the role our ABC plays in the very fabric of our culture is of such importance to our very way of life as we recover from the hideous Black Summer of 2019 that  the time is long  overdue for a reversal of the three-year, A$83.8 million indexation freeze on ABC funding, which was contained in the 2018 budget. The potential health and wellbeing role that  properly funded ABC could develop through new and innovative programing for all age groups has never been of more importance.

Whether it be preparing for, surviving or recovering from a bushfire – local ABC emergency broadcasts are a beacon of current, reliable information and hope.

As the people of the upper Murray know, we are literally lost without it.

[March 2, 2020]

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