Mainstream political parties are letting voters down by their lack of support for the ABC and the arts, according to speakers at a public forum held in the Sydney electorate of Wentworth last week.

The event was organized by Federal independent MP Kerryn Phelps, in response to community concerns about the future of public broadcasting, and ABC and arts funding.

Renowned arts administrator Michael Lynch told the forum the ABC is Australia’s prime cultural institution.

Mr Lynch said he’d examined current Liberal Party policies and found no mention of the ABC, or arts and culture issues.

“At the last election, neither party had a properly articulated arts policy. I just feel it’s not been taken seriously.”

Mr Lynch is a prominent ABC alumnus, who ran the Sydney Theatre Company, the Sydney Opera House and the Australia Council. He was chief executive of London’s Southbank Centre and oversaw the successful renovation of Royal Festival Hall

Michael Lynch and Kerryn Phelps at Wentworth forum. Pic Vivien Altman


ABC Friends NSW president Ed Davis told the forum 2018 had been a year of hell for the ABC, with budget cuts, management turmoil, and political attacks on the organisation and individual staff.

The events are detailed in the ABC Alumni submission to the Senate Inquiry and in On Aunty, a new book by ABC Alumnus Jonathan Holmes.

Professor Davis reminded the audience that last June, the Liberal Party Federal conference voted overwhelmingly to sell off the ABC. Some Federal party members have stated this will not happen, but the privatization policy has not been rescinded.

Professor Davis said the ALP conference in Adelaide last year voted to never sell off the ABC, and promised to reinstate the $84 million “indexation pause” announced in the 2018 budget.

But ABC Alumni and ABC Friends want funding to be restored to 2013 levels, before the now notorious breach of promise by then Liberal leader Tony Abbott that there would be no budget cuts to the ABC.

ABC Alumni says the Coalition has cut about $600 million from the ABC since Mr Abbott made that promise.


Local member Kerryn Phelps told the event the ABC is critical to the health of Australian democracy.

“The ABC’s future is on my agenda, and I’ll be fighting for its future,” she said.

“I can’t overstate the importance of it being properly funded, securely funded into the future.”

Dr Phelps and Mr Lynch both have strong links to the ABC. Dr Phelps presented ABC-TV health program “EveryBody” in the 1980s, and Michael Lynch was the first director to be appointed to the ABC Board under a new independent appointments process in 2009.

Alumnus Sue Spencer speaks at the forum. pic Vivien Altman

The Wentworth meeting was also attended by former ABC Deputy Chair Wendy McCarthy, who gave an insightful view of Board responsibilities.

ABC Alumni election campaign co-ordinators Sue Spencer and Vivien Altman also attended, together with director Helen Grasswill.

Ms Spencer gave a graphic account of the impact of funding cuts on ABC programming.

These included the demise of the ABC in-house documentary production, savage reductions in first-run Australian factual and drama programming, reductions in news department output such as Foreign Correspondent, the demise of state-based television current affairs and the paltry budget of Australian Story over many years.

Mr Lynch said it was particularly disappointing the ABC had lacked commitment to arts programming over the past decade, not necessarily because of budget cuts.

He was critical of the removal of funding for the ABC’s Australia Network TV service into Asia and the Pacific in 2014, calling it “the dumbest decision, a reprehensible decision” that cost Australia its regional voice at a critical time.

Mr Lynch called for a return to the Creative Nation policy - introduced in 1994 by then prime minister Paul Keating, recognising the importance of culture to national identity and to economic success.

Paul and Annita Keating with members of Bangarra Dance Theatre at the launch of Creative Nation


His point was powerfully reinforced by a woman who told the meeting how important the ABC was to her.

“I came to Australia as a refugee from eastern Europe in 1980. I learnt to be an Australian from the ABC. Thank you, ABC.”