As a society we have never had it better. Sadly, but inevitably, poverty and unemployment are still with us; however, for the most part, Australians live in comfort and security. And, from this perspective of well-being, people are beginning to look beyond the dollar and to value other, more intangible, experiences.
During my travels over the last year I have become aware of two local communities where a decision has been made to support agricultural projects which could not survive unaided. In these communities – one, a small community outside Portland Oregon, and the other an historic village, Ootmarsum, in the Netherlands – people have voted against development of the local farmland, setting the value of the existing environment above economic progress. These small-scale farms are no longer economically viable, but they are maintained through subsidies from local councils. The pay-off for the citizens is a feeling of involvement and they are willing to pay premium prices for the resulting farm produce.
Another example of community responsibility is the New South Wales Convict Trail Project, of which I am chairman. This project oversees the restoration, maintenance and promotion of the convict-built road between Sydney and Newcastle. The road was built in 1831 but its historical significance had been virtually ignored until the mid-1990s, when the communities of Bucketty and Wollombi took on a caretaker role. Today, close to 1,000 volunteers are involved. The seven local councils concerned, as well as the RTA, NPWS and three Ministers, support the project. And the NPWS have now attached a figure of more than $13 million in tourism and heritage value to a 40Km stretch of that 220Km road.
I have taken a rather circuitous approach to the question of the ABC but, in my view, the Australian Broadcasting Commission is much more than a simple media operation – it is part of the Australian way of life – an icon – and it is something that we can’t afford to lose. In the 18 years that I have lived in this country I have never met an Australian, apart from certain self-interested politicians, who did not consider the ABC to be an intrinsic part of the Australian way of life. Some people prefer the radio; others enjoy the special TV programs; everybody trusts the ABC news. A large proportion of our community regularly watch or listen to the ABC.
So, what is this worth? Isn’t it about time we made the economic rationalists aware of the value of the ABC? We, as a nation, need and can afford the luxury of a well-funded ABC – an ABC that surprises and stimulates us with new programs, that challenges our senses, involves us in controversial issues – an ABC that dares to challenge politicians and the vested interests in our country.
The people in Portland and Ootmarsum had to stand up and be counted to achieve their subsidised farms. The people in Bucketty and Wollombi didn’t get the Convict Trail Project off the ground without a battle. So let us take a stand and fight for the ABC in its traditional form, or, even better, compel the government to inject more money into the ABC. Our country can afford to do this. By all means make sure that the organisation conducts itself efficiently, but leave room for creativity and innovation. We, the people of Australia, apparently value these things much more than our politicians – isn’t it about time we told them how we feel?
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