Both arguments are unsatisfying.
PvO’s point boils down to ‘here is an asset that the government can sell and use the money to pay down debt’ type argument.* He also points to the annual running costs of the ABC as a budget saving. He is unconcerned about the left-wing bias at the ABC. I don’t actuallt disagree with the notion that the government should privatise the ABC, or that public debt is a problem, or that the $1 billion or so the government pumps into the ABC could be better used as tax cuts, for example.
The problem with this sort of argument is that there is no mechanism is place to restrain future government debt. So selling the ABC to pay for Swan’s irresponsible spending spree may get us out of a debt and deficit hole now, but without a fiscal constitution that restrains future debt and deficit the underlying problem remains. Using privatisation proceeds to validate past consumption is a case of eating our capital. So selling the ABC having already spent the money on school halls and pink-batts (the public equivalent of wine, woman and song) doesn’t address the spending problem.
Rebecca has a far more interesting argument and, while I don’t agree with it, I suspect it will carry the day. Her point boils down to a ‘the ABC is a civilising institution of society’ type argument.* She is concerned about left-wing bias at the ABC. So while the ABC is a civilising institution it isn’t performing as it should. Rebecca’s argument is profoundly conservative (in a Burkean sense) and it will appeal to many on that basis.
So her solution to the problem of the ABC is a good hard solid dose of reform.
To my mind the problem is that this has already been tried and failed. John Howard gave this a red-hot go. He did not succeed. In my opinion he failed because the problem had been misdiagnosed. This isn’t just a problem of poor governance – although that does contribute. This is a problem of incentive structures and organisation.
Both Hayek and Schumpeter have developed theories as to why intellectuals are likely to have left-wing views. Schumpeter’s is a theory of incentives; intellectuals are forever questioning and attacking social institutions. Hayek provides a psychological argument—intellectuals are rationalist and require detailed explanations of all phenomena. It is not enough that something should work in practice; it also needs to work in theory. Hayek makes the prediction that the more intelligent an educated person is the more likely they are to hold left-wing views.
So an organisation like the ABC (like universities and the public service) is always likely to have a left-wing bias. But hang on you say – what about other media organisations or other service industries dominated by intellectuals, they aren’t all dominated by left-wing views. No they aren’t. They are dominated by consumer choice and the need to make a profit. The ABC can get away with its left-wing views because there are no market forces at work, at all, within the ABC. When there is no market consequence to people giving full expression to their own preferences why would we ever expect they would change their behaviour?
The ABC cannot be reformed from within – if you are concerned about left-wing bias then commercialisation is the answer to that problem.
* Neither of them use that terminology. That is what I understandd their arguments to be.