humble comment

What would we go without to properly fund the ABC? Try one less submarine

This article was written by Warwick McFadyen, desk editor for The Age, Melbourne, Australia – 27 June 2020 

Perhaps only someone of a fair degree of accounting naivety can ask this question, so here goes: why can’t we – as in we’re all in this together, Australia – do with one less submarine so that we can properly fund the ABC?

No one is going to miss one fewer sub in the nation’s fleet. Really, what difference does it make going from 12 to 11? Perhaps we’ll have to stop patrolling the Southern Ocean for renegade penguins plotting to invade Phillip Island, but I’m sure we can live with that. The penguins have enough to worry about with their melting homes. Actually, that might propel them to invade, but I digress.

The point is the new fleet of attack submarines is likely to cost $225 billion to build and then maintain – and given that’s the latest estimate, it will more than likely rise. It’s an unalterable law of nature with subs: the first estimate isn’t the last. So, that’s about $18 billion per sub.

The cuts to the ABC are $84 million. This will see about 250 jobs go, and multiple wounds inflicted on programming. It will, and I’m not being flippant about this, destroy the morning habits of thousands who set their routine by the glorious barrage of music that is the 7.45 am radio news. It’s simply un-Australian to sweep that time and cultural icon into the dustbin of history.

Managing director David Anderson says there’s been a 20 per cent drop in people listening to it. I’m sure he has figures for that, but there’s (unintentional) lies, (unintentional) damn lies and statistics. No one asked me or my mates. It’s an anchor in the sea of Australian life that looks doomed to be hauled up and our lives cast adrift.

Again, as a naive accounting bloke I don’t understand why the navy chaps can’t see how poor the country will be by the ABC cuts, have a chat among themselves, and say: ‘look, we’re all in this together, we don’t really need 12 new subs at $18 billion each. Lord, we can’t even find enough submariners to drive them – why don’t we give the ABC the equivalent of one sub and we’ll just get by?’ It won’t be a dozen, but there you are.

Perhaps they should just have a quiet meeting with the head of ABC accounting, ignore the politics. Amazing what you can get done without ideology.

 Anderson said, in announcing the cuts, that the organisation was moving to become more relevant to Australians and wanted to reflect the diversity in the community better than it had been doing.

It’s hard to see how baking a smaller pie then makes it better able to provide more. Sure, you can make the pieces smaller and hope no one notices, but this is the national broadcaster. Its defence and its mission are as important, and some might argue heaven forfend, more important than a few subs – that is if they ever arrive, if they ever get enough crew – are to the nation.

And if there were anything left over from the $18 billion, perhaps they could fling it to the universities. Oh, the humanity there would be in that.