CONSEQUENCES OF THE CLOSURE OF RADIO AUSTRALIA AND/OR
9.1 Term of reference (c) requires the Committee to consider the 'consequences
of the closure of Radio Australia and/or Australia Television'.
9.2 A number of media reports in recent weeks have indicated various
proposals under consideration by the Expenditure Review Committee and
Cabinet in relation to the future of RA. In the earlier reports, it
appeared that RA would be reduced to a satellite service in English
only, but more recent reports have indicated that this would be supplemented
by short-wave services to the Pacific in English and Tok Pisin.
9.3 Notwithstanding the Government's decision to restrict funding for
RA, which would reduce RA to a minimal service, the ABC Board decided
on 30 April 1997 to supplement funding by $1.6 million to enable the
Mandarin, Vietnamese, Khmer and Indonesian language services to continue
operating on a reduced basis. No funding was provided for the Thai,
Cantonese and French language services. Whilst the Committee welcomes
the Board's decision as fas it went, it still believes that the substantial
reduction in current services will be a serious loss to Australia's
and the ABC's international services and reputation. At least the ABC
Board's decision recognises the importance of broadcasting to Asia in
Asian languages. This is something that the Government wrongly dismisses
9.4 As it appears from media reports that Radio Australia's Pacific
services will be maintained with the support of the Government, the
Committee considers below only the consequences of closure of RA's non-Pacific
services. Notwithstanding the ABC's recent decision to continue four
Asian language services, they are continuing without government support
and three foreign language services will be closed. In the circumstances,
the Committee believes that it should still put on the record the consequences
of closing Asian language services. The Committee also considers the
consequences of the closure of ATV or its privatisation, whereby it
is driven only by commercial imperatives.
9.5 The Committee believes that the consequences of the closure of
RA Asian services, and/or ATV or ATV's privatisation, would seriously
damage Australian interests.
9.6 A more immediate consequence of the discontinuation of the service
would be the loss of employment and a reduction in local ABC television
production. The Community and Public Sector Union advised the Committee
that close to 20 television staff would be directly affected. In addition,
'the closure or relocation of Australia Television would decimate local
ABC television production and mean the loss of Darwin as anything other
than a Regional bureau of ABC Television. 
9.7 In addition, probably more than half the staff of RA, including
many long-term language specialists, would lose their jobs. It is a
resource that is virtually irreplaceable.
9.8 If the Cox Peninsula (near Darwin) short-wave transmitters were
to close, it is estimated that the Darwin Power Authority would lose
revenue of $2.1 million a year. In addition, there would be loss of
maintenance work on the transmitters which would affect a number of
contractors in the Territory.
9.9 The Committee was warned by many submitters living in the region
that the closure of ATV or RA would send a strong signal to the region
that Australia is not interested in Asia. Such a decision, coming within
twelve months of the termination of the Development Import Finance Facility
(DIFF), which caused considerable diplomatic problems for the Australian
Government, and the more recent race debate, which received much bad
media coverage in Asia, would only confirm the doubts already held by
many Asians about Australia's commitment to Asia. It would also confirm
suspicions that Australia is only concerned about what it can get out
of Asia through trade without making an investment in forging ties with
the region. As Australia is regarded as a relatively wealthy developed
nation, the fact that closures of its highly successful and respected
international broadcasting services could occur for small budgetary
savings is incomprehensible to Asians who made submissions to the Committee.
It must also be said that even consideration of their closure or sale
is incomprehensible to the Committee.
9.10 Moreover, how will Australia explain to the region the cessation
of its services on cost grounds when nearly all Asian countries operate
short-wave services? It seems incredible to the Committee that even
countries in the region which are struggling with social and economic
problems far greater than Australia's problems see the benefit of operating
international short-wave services.
9.11 The tone of many of the submissions coming from abroad is one
of shock, anger and sadness. For the tens of millions of devoted listeners
to RA, some for dozens of years, particularly from countries where there
is not a free media, all the goodwill for Australia built up through
years of avid listening will turn to bewilderment and anger. Trust and
reliability are the key qualities in any relationship in Asia. If that
trust is broken, the relationship disintegrates. This was told to the
Committee time and time again during our inquiry into the abolition
of the DIFF scheme in 1996 and also during the Committee's earlier inquiry
into relations with China. There will be tens of millions of Asians
who will feel very hurt and let down by Australia. That will not be
good for our image. It will also hurt Australia in many ways.
9.12 Many Asians listen to RA and ATV because the services are friendly
and the presenters not only understand Australia but also the cultures
and countries to which they are broadcasting. The services, including
news and current affairs, are about Australia and the region. No other
international broadcaster dedicates itself to regional affairs in the
same way as RA and ATV. That is why, in the case of RA, it receives
so much mail, far more than any other international broadcaster. This
is loyalty which money cannot buy.
9.13 If RA and ATV are closed, who will project Australia's image to
the region? The new generations in the region will not know anything
about Australia. There will be no feeling of warmth towards Australia
that has been built up among listeners of RA and more recently viewers
of ATV. When future events occur which unfairly get bad media coverage
in the region, who will provide a counter view? Without RA and ATV,
no-one. How will the Australian side of the story get told. It won't
without RA and ATV.
9.14 It appears from the submissions and other sources that RA, and
more particularly ATV, encourage tourism to Australia. Is Australia
in the future going to spend millions of dollars more in Asia to promote
tourism to Australia? It would be more effectively done by showing tourism
programs on ATV at a fraction of the cost and using tourism advertising
9.15 ATV and RA portray Australia as a clean, healthy and safe country
for Asians to send their children for their education. This type of
portrayal is far more effective than spending considerable sums of money
through education centres in Asia and other recruitment strategies.
How much will it cost to replace this benefit should RA and ATV be closed?
9.16 Without RA and ATV, who will inform business and industry in the
region about the advantages of doing business with Australians and Australian
companies? Who will tell the region about our advances and developments
in science and technology? Who will tell the region that Australia is
really a very clever country? There are other ways but at what cost?
9.17 How much will it cost to replace the promotion of the Olympic
Games in Sydney which RA and ATV would have done and would the alternatives
be more successful?
9.18 Who will keep the tens of thousands of Australian expatriates
living in the region informed about Australian affairs? Without RA and
ATV, it will be very difficult for many of them to keep abreast of what
is happening in Australia and the region.
9.19 As Australia has been a strong advocate of universal human rights
for a long time, and human rights organisations in the region have depended
on RA's accurate reporting of human rights matters, who will replace
this invaluable service if RA's Asian language services are closed.
9.20 If you feel some affinity with a country, you will be disposed
to buy its products, enter into business arrangements with it, attend
visiting cultural or sporting events involving people from that country,
or visit the country. Tens of millions of Asians have developed that
affinity through listening or viewing our broadcasting services. We
don't have to persuade them that we are a friendly neighbour. Without
RA and ATV, how will Australia establish that affinity with our Asian
neighbours? It won't.
9.21 RA and ATV have been the only independent news services broadcasting
to the region which focus on Australian and regional news and current
affairs. The BBC may be independent but does not provide the coverage
of Asia Pacific news that RA and ATV provide. The region will be poorer
for the absence of RA and ATV.
9.22 The Committee has posed a number of questions above. Mr Mansfield
did not consider them. There is no evidence that the Minister for Communications
and the Arts or the Government has considered them. If the Government
goes ahead with the closure or reduction of RA or the closure or privatisation
of ATV, the Government has a duty to the nation and the region to answer
Senator Michael Forshaw
 Community and Public Sector Union, submission