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Downer faces pro-ABC campaign in Mayo


Liberal candidate Georgina Downer is facing a fierce pro-ABC campaign in the seat of Mayo despite renouncing a push from her party’s national council over the weekend to privatise the public broadcaster.

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The Liberal Party’s annual federal council voted in favour of a proposal to privatise the ABC on Saturday.

The Coalition Government immediately rejected the push and Georgina Downer has distanced herself from the proposal this morning.

“I don’t support privatisation of the ABC,” Downer told InDaily.

But the Labor Party is already planning to target Mayo with pro-ABC campaign materials, the Greens believe the vote may be enough to cost Downer the seat, incumbent MP Rebekha Sharkie is warning that selling off the ABC may yet become Coalition government policy and the SA Young Liberals are leaning in on the proposal.

SA Labor frontbencher Tom Koutsantonis said Downer’s links to conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs demonstrated her pro-privatisation values.

Downer is listed as a research fellow at the IPA, which last month released a book entitled Against Public Broadcasting: Why we should privatise the ABC and how to do it.

“Georgina Downer, as a member of the IPA, wants to see as many public services as possible privatised,” said Koutsantonis.

“These are people who don’t believe in the public sector.

“The way Georgina Downer and other conservatives in the Liberal Party are turning it onto the Tea Party like we have in the US is terrifying.”

Labor state secretary Reggie Martin told InDaily his party would produce campaign materials highlighting the issue closer to the by-election.

“Funding for the ABC is a big issue in Mayo and Labor will be campaigning on the Liberal federal council’s motion to sell off the ABC,” he said.

The Young Liberal Movement, which has been supporting Downer’s campaign in the Adelaide Hills seat, is not backing away from the proposal.

SA president Jocelyn Sutcliffe told InDaily this morning: “Taxpayers give the ABC more than $1 billion a year and many people are asking whether we are getting our money’s worth.”

“The Young Liberals are hopeful that the ABC will take these concerns into consideration following the passage of this motion, which shows a very deep level of concern from a broad cross-section of our grassroots membership who come from all walks of life.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Canberra this morning that the ABC would never be privatised.

“The ABC will always be in public hands,” he said.

“It will never be sold. That is my commitment.

“It is a public broadcaster – it always has been and it always will be.”

Turnbull made the comments minutes after he was forced to abandon a press conference to block attempts by the federal Opposition to bind parliament to keep the ABC in public hands.

He and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo deserted European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in the middle of a press conference in order to block debate on a Labor Party motion in parliament opposing any future privatisation of the ABC.

Despite the attempts by the Liberal parliamentary wing to back away from the ABC vote on the weekend, Sharkie told InDaily she was worried privatising the national broadcaster could still become Liberal policy.

The “implication” behind the federal council vote was that privatisation “could end up being a government policy”, she said.

“Like most people in my electorate, I was pretty shocked and aghast at the motion.”

She said she was concerned by reports that no Liberal member or MP had spoken against the motion (Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told the meeting that it wasn’t the Government’s policy to privatise the ABC).

“I don’t know what I’d do without the ABC … my community greatly values the ABC,” she said.

A poll of 1031 Mayo residents commissioned by left-leaning think tank the Australia Institute early this month, conducted by ReachTEL and published on Saturday, found the overwhelming majority of voters in the electorate supported maintaining or increasing funding for the ABC, including 50 per cent of Liberal voters.

SA Greens MLC Tammy Franks said the Liberal Party federal council vote could cost Downer the seat.

“It’s quite clear that it will have an impact in Mayo,” she said.

“Georgina Downer may well not be elected as a result.”

A spokesperson for Premier Steven Marshall said he voted against the motion, but did not speak to it.

Downer said she did not attend the national council, and told InDaily to refer to Fifield and Treasurer Scott Morrison for further comment.

– with AAP

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