The Australia Network has roughly three months left on air before the federal government’s decision to axe the ABC-run overseas broadcaster comes into effect.
The government announced in the budget it would terminate the ABC’s $223 million 10-year contract to run the network, which is beamed into 44 nations across the Asia-Pacific region.
It’s been confirmed the network will go off the air by September 18.
The network is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as its primary means of public diplomacy for promoting Australia’s values and culture to the wider region.
Its end leaves Australia with about $5 million in its budget for public diplomacy initiatives, an amount even the department admits is low by international standards.
“If you ask me would I like more money for public diplomacy, you bet,” DFAT secretary Peter Varghese told a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday.
But he didn’t seem too disappointed to see the network go, expressing his long-running scepticism about the effectiveness of conducting public diplomacy through a satellite TV channel.
“In my experience it was very rare to meet someone in the countries that we were targeting who actually watched Australia Network,” he said.
The hearing was told other nations pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into their overseas networks and enjoyed considerable reach.
Labor senator Sam Dastyari suggested forking out about $23 million a year on a network reaching 44 nations was money well spent, and said Australia was now spending less on public diplomacy than the African country Chad.