28 March 2014
Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Trade and Investment
The Hon Andrew Robb AO MP
Minister for Communications
The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP
Review of Australia Network
ANZCHAM (the Australia New Zealand Chamber of Commerce) in the Philippines fully supports the review of Australia Network. With over 320 members, ANZCHAM is the primary business organization representing small, medium and large Australian businesses in the Philippines and through the unique Joint Foreign Chambers (a group comprising the Australia-New Zealand, American, Japanese, European, Canadian and Korean Chambers of Commerce) is the primary foreign business advocacy group operating in the Philippines.
It is ANZCHAM’s opinion that the current review of Australia Network be undertaken with the interests of the major Australian stakeholders in the Asia Pacific region in mind: the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian business sector with interests right across the region and the Australian “diaspora” now in relatively large numbers all over Asia. The Australia Broadcasting Company’s contract to provide the Australia Network international television service should not be terminated as a consequence of either National Government budgetary concerns or as a reaction to recent news stories which may cause political embarrassment, but rather as a consequence of pursuing the best interests of the key stakeholders.
We see an opportunity for Government and private sector collaboration to build a unique major communication network to achieve the aims of all stakeholders as Australia implements its policies and strategies in recognition of Australia’s obviously increasing engagement and positioning in the region, and highlighted in the White Paper, “Australia in the Asian Century.” Australia is inextricably linked to Asia and there is an opportunity to create a significantly enhanced network if the public and private sector collaborate. We would suggest that the concept of an advisory board with representatives from DFAT, the broadcasting industry and the private sector with major engagement in the region would be a very positive development. Indeed, we would advocate that the Board of Australia Network be re-constituted with a significant representation of Australian business in Asia.
We note that Australia Network, as part of ABC International, was established in 2001 and is Australia’s international television service transmitted to 46 countries across Asia, the Pacific and the Indian subcontinent. Its programming aim was to facilitate cross cultural communication, build regional partnerships and to connect Australia to the world, illustrating Australian values. The Government more recently initiated a competitive tender for the right to produce the service. The request for tender documents were issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which described the service as “enhancing the Government’s ability to pursue its broader foreign and trade objectives.” The tender document further stated that DFAT is responsible for advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally, and this responsibility guides all of DFAT’s work. Accordingly, DFAT is a major stakeholder in the Australia Network or any potential replacement of it. We strongly endorse advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally in any review of Australia Network and the role played by DFAT. But we would also sound a note of caution that attempts to turn the Network into a major public diplomacy vehicle may result in damage to Australia’s reputation through perceived bias and the belief that the Network is a “propaganda” weapon at the disposal of any government which comes to power. In this light it would be at great cost if the widely respected documentaries, news and current affairs programs currently shown on the network were no longer a large part of the viewing menu.
It is obvious to us, Australian businesses operating in Asia, that Australian messages and presence must grow
exponentially to take advantage of growth opportunities and expansion. Australian business sees a highly
interconnected future with Asia that goes well beyond free trade agreements. Moreover, business sees billions and
billions of dollars of additional future value as Asian operations become core to Australian businesses. Indeed, Australian businesses are becoming regional rather than Australian. In parallel with this growth, a significantly enhanced Australia Network, with private participation, has an opportunity to position Australia as a major credible competitor in news and business programming, something not overlooked by other major news and business channels operating in the region. Why can’t Australia position itself accordingly, we ask? As Australia’s long term interests lie in firmly in the Asian sphere, there is an opportunity to create and develop a much stronger, multi-platform network to support and match, if not lead the growing value expected to be generated through trade and investment.
Just as Australian business increasingly focuses on the Asian region, so are Australians. As mentioned, there are large numbers working and living in Asia, and this will only increase as Australia engages further in business, trade, through education linkages, services and other private initiatives, aside from the growing presence of DFAT and other Government and Institutional bodies. Notwithstanding the immersion of Australians into the region, their connection to Australia remains to them critically important. The need for Australian content, be it news, sport and other Australian programming in addition to increased regional programming is evident to us. This demand will grow and will be expected to be delivered on all digital platforms. Moreover, as cultural and sport content is core to Australian programming and should be delivered to the region to illustrate Australian culture, timely sport content for Australian consumption offshore is in high demand by Australians and non-Australians alike. This enables continuous contact between Australia and offshore Australians, therefore maintaining an important connection to Australian society. In addition, however, Australians use these programs to introduce people from their host countries to the Australian way of life with benefits that then accrue to Australia through closer business engagement, tourism and other people to people relations.
For the reasons raised, we suggest that the Review Group not take immediate cost cutting reactive decisions without critically reviewing and evaluating again, a productive solution to Australia’s committed immersion into the region. Collectively, we must enhance the projection of Australia to Asia, not diminish it; otherwise Australia in the long term will be the loser.