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Foreword from the Chair

 Orlando Sydney Event Photography
Emcee, Geraldine Doogue and ABC Chair, Ita Buttrose at the ABC’s 80 Years of International Broadcasting event. The date of the event was 29 November, 2019. Image: Orlando Sydney Event Photography
The last 12 months has been a year that we will never forget. Who could have imagined how much Australia and the world would change because of COVID-19? Where will we be in another 12 months? Will our lives have returned to normal or the “new normal” whatever that is?

Few, if anyone, know the answer but what I do know is that the ABC and its dedicated employees, who are passionate about public broadcasting, will still be doing what they do best – delivering news, entertainment and information to Australians wherever they live. They rely on us to do this because they know they can.

During the year I posed the question what would Australia look like without the ABC?

There are some who do wish that fate for Australia. They should be careful what they wish for because an Australia without the ABC would not be well informed and our country’s future would be diminished.

The ABC is part of the Australian fabric and has helped shape our nation since 1932. During that time, it has educated, informed and entertained millions of Australians.

It has delivered compelling programs that never would be shown on commercial outlets. It will continue to do so. It has produced quality investigative news and current affairs as opposed to opinion-based news programs. It will continue to do so.

Three of Australia’s most important Royal Commissions – Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and Aged Care Quality and Safety – were the result of Four Corners’ investigations. These Royal Commissions and their significant outcomes are a reminder of the value – dare I say the priceless value – that the ABC represents. I don’t think there has been enough discussion about the value of the ABC, particularly its importance to Australian democracy.

By keeping Australians informed about important issues such as irrigation’s impact on our rivers, climate change, digital transformation, the high incidence of mental health illnesses, Indigenous people’s need for a voice in our Constitution, gender and cultural equality, homelessness, the skills younger Australians will need for jobs of the future, and why our older citizens need better care, the ABC helps Australians to participate more fully in our democracy as informed citizens.

A well-informed Australia is a clever and competent Australia that bases opinion on fact.

The strength of the ABC and its relationship with the nation comes from the people who work for us. The creativity in the programs they produce, the dogged and independent journalism they pursue and the connection with Australians that they provide through conversations, are at the very heart of what the ABC delivers to its audiences. My thanks to them all for their resilience and commitment.

The ABC has a statutory requirement to operate as efficiently as possible. We have a strong track record in identifying savings and reinvesting them in services. This is how we created ABC News 24, ABC iview and a range of packages to boost services in rural and regional Australia.

It's worth remembering that the ABC serves a population just over one-third the size of the United Kingdom (over a landmass 32 times bigger), and does so with total funding of around one-seventh the size of the BBC’s budget. The BBC receives the equivalent of $6.7 billion for a population of 67 million compared to the ABC’s $1.065 billion funding for our population of 25 million.

During times of crisis Australians turn to the ABC. During the summer bushfires we played a critical role in keeping people safe, with our teams in rural and regional communities working around the clock to make sure crucial information was available to people in danger from the fires. They were on the ground in almost all the fire zones and in communities, conducting emergency broadcasting to disseminate crucial and, at times, life-saving information.

Emergency broadcasting is a high-pressure job, requiring expert filtering and prioritising of information from fire and emergency services, government authorities, community organisations and listeners, often calling in from dangerous, stressful and unpredictable situations.

There were times when the lives of our reporters were at risk and there were concerns for their safety and mental wellbeing. They witnessed heartbreaking human tragedy and while nothing compares to the anguish of people who were directly affected by the fires, covering the summer bushfires did have an impact on our teams to varying degrees. It would be impossible not to be affected in some way, just as it's impossible for any of us not to be affected by the impact of Coronavirus. At the time of writing Australians are continuing to turn to the ABC to keep up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 developments and hear the important messages from governments. They trust us to deliver the advice and information they are seeking.

COVID-19 has forced us all to pause and reflect on the way we live. It also has focused our attention on older Australians and the quality of aged care. Many Australians are questioning whether or not we value our older citizens well enough.

A little girl from Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, one of my favourite ABC programs in the past year, summed up the situation succinctly. When asked why she thought a group of older men and women in an aged care facility looked so sad she said: “They don’t have anyone to play with them”.

Out of the mouths of babes… how wise children can be.

Ita Buttrose AC, OBE
Chair, Australian Broadcasting Corporation