In rising to speak in this debate, I also take note of answers given to my question today. My question was about the production of a new drama program and public statements that were linked to one of the government senators. I then went on to particular questions about the role in history that the particular drama program was covering . I thanked the minister for her responses. In fact, in her first round of responses, which did not refer to the program-nor to any parts of the question I asked-she raised a very strong defence of the independence of the ABC and the grievance and complaint handling mechanisms currently in place in the ABC, which are intended to be strengthened. Indeed, in a way we have all acknowledged that the ABC belongs to all of us, to our community, and we remind the government that the ABC has never been-and was never intended to be-a government broadcaster. It is a national broadcaster. We know, from years of Senate estimates questions, from years of questions in this place and from years of comments made throughout the community, that no organisation is subject to more scrutiny, more questions or more allegations than the ABC.
Senator Vanstone-No, actually that's the immigration department.
Senator MOORE-I acknowledge that interjection, Minister, because, as with good public sectors everywhere, including the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the ABC must also be subject to scrutiny-and, indeed, the ABC is. My question specifically asked the minister whether the same kind of defence that she made-the statements about independent scrutiny and the complaints mechanisms that are in place-could be made to the community and, in fact, whether the ABC could be defended. I ask whether her defence could also be directed to her colleagues who comment through other media outlets. I thank Senator McGauran because he clarified the role that Senator Fierravanti-Wells took. It was not a complaint, according to Senator McGauran, but a warning. So the role of government senators now, before having seen any product and before having any discussion, is to go into the public media and warn the national broadcaster that they have a strong history of left-wing bias, so they are being watched.
We have not only an established complaints mechanism, scrutiny within the Senate estimates process and an understanding by all employees of the ABC of their clear role to have independent coverage of events but also a role for government members of the parliament, including the Senate! In this piece of Weekend Australian journalism, a government member is proudly described as an 'ABC critic'. I have not had a chance to check that with Senator Fierravanti-Wells. I know that Senator Fierravanti-Wells has criticised the ABC in this place, but I am interested to see that the role of a government senator is to go into the public arena, to be proclaimed as an ABC critic and to warn the national broadcaster about their role. I also thank Senator Parry for clarifying, again, the role of the ABC and its charter-which is something I think all Australians understand, Senator Parry. I know that the people who work in the ABC understand the charter; it is an integral part of their job to know what their role must be.
Sometimes it is important to remind the people in this place that there is a relationship between the community and the ABC. The Howard government was genuinely taken aback after it established the Mansfield review in its first term. It is a good thing to review any agency; no-one argues with that. But the number of Australian community members who wanted to have a say about their ABC genuinely took members of the government by surprise. The overwhelming volume and content of responses and the deep sense of trust with which so many members of the community viewed the ABC took them by surprise. That does not mean that organisations should not be subject to review and to genuine scrutiny about bias, but I question strongly whether we need to go out and warn them.
I am also overwhelmed, as Senator Wortley mentioned, by the response to a part of the question about historical fact-maybe the minister did not hear the specifics of the question-and whether the minister could tell her colleagues that the ABC cannot be asked to rewrite history just because the government is feeling political heat over its extreme industrial relations changes. The answer from the minister was, 'No,' so I thought that perhaps the opportunity could be taken again. (Time expired)
17 August, 2006