The ABC and the Abbott Government continue to point fingers at each other over who is to blame for defunding the disability news and opinion website Ramp Up.
The website is still hosted by the ABC, but will no longer post new content after its federal funding dried up on Monday.
Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield lay down the gauntlet to the ABC in May, issuing a press release stating the decision to save or scrap the website was entirely in Aunties’ hands.
Fifield said the ABC had known since 2012 that federal funding would cease in June 2014, and more than $1 million in federal government contributions was only “seed” funding.
Ramp Up was established in December 2010, with an initial grant of $557,000.
“This funding was extended for another two years in 2012 (with another grant of $557,000), with the clear expectation by the previous government that ABC Ramp Up would be incorporated into the ABC’s core business upon the expiry of start-up funding from the Department of Social Services in June 2014,” Fifield’s statement said.
However, the ABC has hit back at Fifield’s representation of the events, rejecting claims the money was provided as ‘seed funding’ but avoiding commenting on when it first knew funding would cease.
“The ABC has disputed assertions by the Government that the grants were allocated as ‘seed funding’,” a spokesperson for the ABC said.
“The ABC has never indicated that it would take over funding responsibility for the site. That has been the consistent position of the ABC in regard to specific projects initiated by government. The managing director of the ABC, Mark Scott, made that clear in questioning at Senate Estimates on May 28.”
But a closer look at that estimate hearing confirms that, semantics about seed funding aside, Scott was well aware federal funding for the website would end in June 2014, confirming Fifield’s assertion that the ABC had been forewarned by the Gillard government.
“Senator [Jan] McLucas, the then parliamentary secretary for disabilities, wrote to the ABC in September 2012 outlining the expectation of the former government that the ABC might be able to incorporate the work of Ramp Up into their core business,” Fifield told the May hearing.
“It was made clear that that funding was concluding at the middle of this year.”
Scott backed that version of events, telling Estimates: “The chronology is the ABC was asked to establish Ramp Up. A grant was provided. A continuation of that grant was then provided with the suggestion [by McLucas]that perhaps the ABC could take it up at the expiry of that grant. That was reinforced by the minister [Fifield, in May this year].”
In other words, the Labor Government asked Ramp Up to take over funding for the project in May 2012, but the ABC never actually agreed. But nor did it tell anyone if funding wasn’t forthcoming, the site would be closed.
Scott noted Ramp Up had been “a positive”, and described himself as a fan of editor Stella Young, but hinted at other reasons for the websites closure.
“One of the issues that we are asking from the organisation as a whole is whether we have too many standalone websites and whether, in the interests of efficiency and audience service but also to drive bigger numbers, we need fewer websites which have richer levels of information in them,” he said.
Scott said the ABC would continue to use the work of Young through other ABC outlets.
When pushed for an evaluation of the website’s success and reasons why the ABC would not find the approximately $250,000 per annum to keep it operational, a spokesperson referred New Matilda back to the May Estimates Hearing.
In 2010 the Labor Government partnered with the ABC after the Council for the National Disability Strategy identified the need for better information for people with disabilities, as well as outlets to help build community and combat feelings of isolation.
When the website was launched in December 2010, Labor Senator Jan McLucus said Ramp UP would provide a “lively community” for people living with a disability, as well as their families, friends, and co-workers.
“The site provides a forum for people with disability and their families and friends to connect, while at the same time providing a space for the wider community to learn more about disability issues,” Senator McLucas said.
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