ABC Friends News

ABC FRIENDS VICTORIA – PRESIDENT’S REPORT BY PETER MONIE

ABC Friends 2017 – A Victorian Perspective

This last year has been very eventful, exciting, challenging and extremely hard work.

Your hard working Committee has worked as a team with all contributing. And many of our partners have contributed big-time, as well. We have also had the benefit of wonderful volunteers who have helped in many ways to get things done. We organized a meeting of volunteers in May with plenty of two-way communication and exchange of ideas.

We have communicated more with our Members and Supporters, improving our website and using Facebook and Twitter.

We have pursued a deliberate policy of setting up or renewing Local Groups. So, we now have the following Groups: Boroondara, Eastern, Geelong/Corangamite, Inner Melbourne, Northern, Southern Bayside. With more to follow in 2018.

At the National level we have consolidated, last December becoming a National incorporated body for the first time as a truly Australia-wide organisation with responsibilities for policy co-ordination, national campaigning, liaison with the Parliamentary FABC (which now has more than 50 members), and engaging with the ABC Board and ABC Management. We were delighted that the Parliamentary Friends had warmly invited the National Committee to meet them for discussions next Wednesday 29 November. However in the last two days, that meeting has had to be postponed, due to the Government cancelling next week’s Lower House Sitting.

The National Committee of 12 Members communicates monthly by Teleconference and once a year in person, most recently at our National Conference in Sydney in October at which Michelle Guthrie gave a feisty address at the Conference Dinner, in which she came out attacking some of the ABC’s critics and gave us cause for increased confidence in her, while continuing to be ready to criticize where required.

One development, announced at the Conference, was Matt Peacock, the current but soon-to-retire Staff-elected ABC Board Member, announcing that he will establish an ABC Alumni group – so that the many ABC people who have retired or been dispensed with over recent years can provide advice and mentoring to current ABC People.

Returning to the activities of ABC Friends Victoria, we held a Birthday gathering on 2 July for the ABC’s 85th, featuring Kerry O’Brien, Jenny Buckland (Director, Australian Children’s Television Foundation) and our own June Factor.

On that day, we launched a Survey, asking you “What Do You Want of Your ABC?” and some 600 responses were received from July to mid-September.

National President, Margaret Reynolds, used the occasion to launch our “ABC Vision Statement” which was published in the August Update and which has been quoted by Michelle Guthrie and other members of ABC Management.

At the July birthday gathering, which many said was technically our best-presented show ever, we also launched the ABC Friends Defenders Project, with Julian Burnside, Rosie Batty, Father Bob Maguire, and Professor Marcia Langton leading the way. This project, designed to demonstrate the volume and quality of support the ABC attracts, is being rolled out nationwide and will be used in crowd-funding campaigns in 2018.

As a result of concerns about the future of Radio National and that current broadcasting would be entirely overtaken by Podcasts, we decided to hold a Rally outside ABC South Bank in mid-October. However, as a result of strong assurances that Radio National was “absolutely safe while I’m Chairman” from new ABC Chair, Justin Milne, to a delegation lead by National ABC Friends President, Margaret Reynolds, the Rally was called off.

As I’m sure you know, Michelle Guthrie has made recent announcements about management of the ABC: moving away from the terms Radio and TV to three management peaks, which are:

  1. News, Analysis and Investigations –  Gaven Morris
  2. Entertainment and Specialist Content (including Children’s Content) – David Anderson
  3. Regional and Local Content – Michael Mason

Michelle Guthrie also announced a “Content Ideas Lab”, led by Angela Stengel –ABC Friends will be watching very carefully what actually happens, of course. We share the concerns expressed by the CPSU about the deleterious effects of all the changes on staff health and morale and also you can be assured we will be carefully monitoring the quality, range and depth of content being broadcast to ensure it meets  our expectations. 

The untimely death of John Clarke this year, who was a great friend of the Friends, has lead to your Victorian Committee deciding, with great support from John’s Family, to design a John Clarke Calendar for 2018, featuring his exquisite photographs of birds – an activity which took him “away from it all” with family and friends.

Many of you will have seen and purchased this outstanding calendar, but if not, or if you need more copies for a lovely present, we have them here for sale today. The Calendar is a major fundraiser for next year’s campaigns and we have just taken delivery of the second imprint of 3000 copies.

In the lead up to the next election (whenever that will be) we will be preparing our campaign. We have learnt a number of lessons from our 2016 campaign – one of which is that we need to be ”on-the-ground” much earlier. The growth in number of local groups this year will help with this a great deal.

We plan to seek constituent meetings with Sitting MPs along the lines of a recent meeting with Sarah Henderson, Member for Corangamite. Sarah stated that she believes “the ABC is adequately funded; that there is no need for the Liberal Party to have a policy stance on the ABC; and that the ABC Geelong Office should be better funded and upgraded.”

I find those comments disturbing as we have been bombarded with Plans for ‘needed media reform’ from the Federal Government and a Bill is being proposed to alter the Charter without any consideration to the statutory protection from political interference as set down in the ABC Charter.

Further, there are the continuing cuts to ABC funding – with some 600 staff losing their jobs over the last four years and – according to the ABC’s Annual Report –  a nearly 30% reduction in real terms of its budget over the last 31 years.

To that we can add the further $47million cuts listed in the just released 2017 Annual Report and the cancelling of the Australia Network one year into a 10 year contract.

Yet the latest surveys indicate an 80% public satisfaction with the job the ABC is doing, with its journalistic credibility ahead of all the commercial outlets.

To sum up, I would like to repeat my gratitude to Members of the Committee for all their input and also to our growing team of volunteers who have helped in an increasing number of ways, including the giving of their time, their ideas, their suggestions and their enthusiastic support for a cause which is important for all Australians.

Our bottomline is that we want:

A strong, independent, well-run, properly-funded, transparent and politically independent ABC.

Peter Monie

President, ABC Friends Victoria

This was the President’s Report as delivered to the Victorian AGM on 23 November 2017