Sydney-centric government broadcasters means SBS should move to Melbourne

David Davis MP, Victoria's Shadow Minister for the Arts and Creative Industries, argues the case for moving SBS out of Sydney.

The ABC and SBS, Australia’s government-funded national broadcasters, have a massive presence in the Australian media landscape with all that that entails. Direct employment, procurement of basic services, commissioning and tendering of drama and other content, and news production. They also have a critical role in reflecting Australians to Australians with SBS having a critical role in reflecting Australia’s multicultural communities. 

Both government-funded national broadcasters are headquartered in Sydney and the weight in spending in both organisations is massively concentrated in Sydney. This inevitably means the organisations project, despite the best intentions of staff and even commissioning officers, a NSW and Sydney-based feel and values. The rest of the country is underrepresented in resources and wildly underrepresented in what is broadcast across the country.

The 2021-22 SBS annual report lays out its plans to move its current office from the Sydney suburb of Artarmon to possibly Fairfield in Western Sydney. This risks locking SBS, Australia’s government-funded multicultural national broadcaster, into Sydney for the long haul. This would be a mistake. 

The SBS Board and the Commonwealth Government should reassess this position and instead move the SBS to Melbourne, Australia’s largest city. Melbourne, now a city of more than five million, is as cosmopolitan and culturally diverse as Sydney – however, as a state, Victoria is more so.

Of locations with the highest proportion of population born overseas, the City of Melbourne, Dandenong and Monash, feature in the top 10 list nationally, with Dandenong ranked at number 2 on the list.

A key point is also Melbourne’s forecast population growth. Melbourne is growing faster than Sydney and expected to gain 73,100 foreign migrants this financial year, followed by 74,500 next year and more than 71,000 each year after that.

The Centre for Population report also said that Victoria would claim a disproportionately large 34% share of Australia’s annual average overseas migration intake over the next decade.

For this reason alone, Melbourne must be regarded as the prime contender for the SBS headquarters and as the major centre for SBS television production. 

In 2021-22, SBS employed a diverse permanent team of 1269, many more indirectly, and had a total annual budget of $466.85 million – $310 million being Commonwealth money. Over the next three years it will receive Commonwealth funding totalling $953.7 million.

The ABC in 2021-22 employed almost 4563, overwhelmingly based in NSW (50%) (just 17% in Victoria) and has a 2022-23 budget of $1.1 billion.

That is why the decision to relocate Insiders from Melbourne to Canberra is wrong.

Both organisations have many digital television channels and radio frequencies in addition to their significant online presence and their on demand viewing sites (ABC iview and SBS On Demand). The importance of these digital sites will only increase with the growing internationalisation of media. Paradoxically, this makes genuinely local production more important than ever.

The importance of the ABC News 24 channel cannot be overestimated; it is critical it reflects all of Australia to all of Australia, not a Sydney-centric view broadcast to the rest of Australia. The ABC morning show has a Melbourne feel, unlike the parallel morning shows on the other networks. Much more could be done to see the tone and content of other cities beyond Sydney and Canberra reflected in programming and production.

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Whatever the views held by Australians about the ABC’s political content and leaning, there is no doubting its significance as a cultural and economic institution. The ABC should review its resource distribution and move more resources to Melbourne and other cities. 

For SBS, a move to Western Sydney would be a massive mistake and deeply unfair to Victoria’s multicultural communities, especially Melbourne’s.

I have written to the Federal Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP, and to the SBS Board calling for them to move SBS to Melbourne. I have also written to many multicultural community groups across Victoria.

There are two government-funded national broadcasters. They should not both be based in Sydney. One must have its headquarters and many of its key management and commissioning resources moved to Melbourne; logically this should be SBS.

The Victorian Government should wake up and offer to assist the relocation of the SBS to Melbourne. This would build Victoria’s, and Melbourne’s, position in the commissioning of a wide range of programming. 

David Davis MP is Victoria's Shadow Minister for the Arts and Creative Industries, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council.