Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has defended not passing on a request from the ABC’s managing director for extra regional funding during last summer’s bushfire season.
“Agencies within a minister’s portfolio routinely put proposals,” Fletcher told ABC television’s Insiders program on June 28.
“That’s as it should be. Not every proposal that comes forward gets supported.”
Insider Host David Speers said he had obtained a letter from the NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro to the prime minister and deputy prime minister saying ignoring this funding request for regional areas was “incomprehensible”.
“I would say two things. There is no cut … funding is stable,” Fletcher replied.
“The second point … we’ve got the $50 million public interest news gathering program in regional Australia for television, radio and newspapers.”
The so-called PING program provides grants to support newspaper businesses and commercial broadcasters across regional and remote Australia.
Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, announced 250 jobs losses last week because operational funding would be more than 10 percent lower in 2021/22 than it was in 2013 when the coalition government first came to power.
The government has repeatedly denied there are any cuts.
Labor’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said Fletcher’s response on the ABC funding cuts was incomprehensible and an insult to the ABC chair, the National Party and regional Australia.
“Empty words and false assertions do nothing to address the crisis facing regional media, exacerbated by COVID-19 and the recession, and do nothing to ensure the safety of Australians in the face of natural disasters,” Rowland said in a statement.