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The federal government needs to help the ABC expand its South Pacific profile and engagement now!

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 25 March 2022

You will most likely struggle to find support for the ABC on this website! So it is an interesting challenge to set out the case for some modest additional funding for the ABC - radio and television!

Last year, the Managing Director of the ABC signalled he would be asking the Federal Government for a special allocation of $12 million to enable the ABC to expand Radio Australia's FM Pacific Service footprint and for the re-establishment of three satellite feeds for the ABC International TV service, ABC Australia.

The funding would also enable the ABC to employ more journalists in the region (much needed) and provide some technical support for the National Broadcasting Corporation of PNG, which has been really struggling through underfunding and poor resourcing.


We know from David Anderson this request was flagged with the government last year. When he appeared before a Senate Committee in February nothing had eventuated.

Someone - again - needs to put a very large rocket under DFAT and probably Treasury and Finance. This is a modest proposal - given the total ABC budget is around $1 billion a year!

The ABC's once substantial presence in our immediate region was put into reverse gear when the Abbott Government in 2014 stupidly cut funding for the ABC's overseas broadcasting operations.

This was really poor policy.  Distinguished former ABC journalists such as Sean Dorney have been campaigning for it to be restored and increased.

One would have though an "alert" DFAT would have moved swiftly to support the ABC with the proposal expansion - which amounts to a re-engagement - given that this is probably the most "consequential" year for Papua New Guinea in some time with national elections to be held in May-June.

It is also a consequential year as China is unquestionably expanding its presence and influence in PNG, and the Solomon Islands in particular. It is also no coincidence when it about the same time as the disastrous 2014-2015 Australian Budget that China really stepped up its engagement in PNG, to be followed four or five years later by the Solomon Islands.


But there is another reason why some urgency should be attached to the ABC request. The Federal Government has effectively "underwritten" the acquisition by Telstra of Digicel, which has a never substantial presence in PNG and a number of our other neighbours.

As Telstra prepares to meet the many challenges associated with the acquisition you would have hoped that DFAT would see the obvious synergy that a great ABC presence - radio and television - would do Telstra no harm whatsoever!

The Federal Government will go into "caretaker" mode with the next couple of weeks. Is it too much to ask for the $12 million sought by the ABC to be approved before then?

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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