ABC cuts run deep – over 400 jobs to go

The ABC has announced that more than 400 ABC staff could lose their jobs as the public broadcaster moves to implement the $254 million the Federal Government will cut over the next five years. That’s $254 million out of an otherwise projected budget of $5.5 billion.

I’d like someone to do an historical perspective on this. My memory is that in the 1980s the ABC had 6000 staff. There were cuts during the Hawke-Keating years. I heard yesterday that Costello’s first budget saw cuts of 12%. The Howard years were not kind to the ABC, not receiving any of the largesse distributed in the good years. The Rudd-Gillard years actually saw some improvement in the ABC budget, mostly through negotiated support for additional services. Supporting a strong and vibrant public broadcaster was part of ALP policy. At the same time the ABC did Labor no favours in its reporting.

That’s from memory. I’d like to see a proper study.

I’ll come to broken promises later. First some detail on the cuts:

  • Adelaide TV production studios to close
  • State-based 7.30 programs on Friday to be scrapped and replaced with national 7.30 program
  • Lateline moved to a new timeslot on ABC News 24
  • Foreign bureaux will be restructured to create “multiplatform hubs” in London, Washington, Jakarta and Beijing, although the number of correspondents will stay the same
  • The Auckland bureau will close down and a new Beirut post will be opened
  • Regional radio posts in Wagin, Morwell, Gladstone, Port Augusta and Nowra to close
  • ABC Local, Radio National and ABC Classic FM programming changed, with some programs scrapped
  • State-based local sports coverage scrapped
  • The creation of a new regional division and ABC Digital Network, to begin in mid-2015, and a $20 million digital investment fund.

Radio National’s Bush Telegraph will be scrapped. I used to listen to it to keep in contact with happenings in the bush. In recent years I’ve favoured Richard Fidler’s excellent and compelling Conversations, which clashes in the timeslot.

In another blow against the bush, Local Radio Afternoons programs will go state-wide. In Queensland that will likely be Kelly Higgins-Devine, who has lived in the far north and will do a good job. It’s just not the same. There is a lack of localism, evident at times when Brisbane has had to be combined on a temporary basis with the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

Apparently 100 internet sites are to be closed, which sounds like a real blow to ABC’s generally excellent internet presence. Presumably there will be fewer transcripts of radio and TV programs, which will be a loss.

Managing Director Mark Scott told Leigh Sales that at least 10% of the 10% would be administrative or support staff. As to why a 5% cut translates into a 10% staff cut, Scott didn’t answer very well but I think the story lies in fixed infrastructure costs.

As to broken promises, the only thing worse that breaking a promise is pretending that you didn’t. ABC’s FactCheck verdict is This promise is broken. It was all very clear:

During a live interview with SBS from Penrith football stadium, Mr Abbott said: “No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.”

Turnbull has been saying:

“Prior – prior to the election, I said on a number of occasions, I think possibly on this show, certainly on Lateline, that while we weren’t planning to make, you know, massive, slashing cuts to the ABC to cut their programming resources, as some people were urging us to do so, we would be looking to make… savings and cut waste right across government and ABC and SBS would not be exempt,” he said.

To be honest, unless he can provide an actual quote I think that is a flat out lie. Certainly he said something along those lines after the election.

Overwhelmingly, I think Ben Eltham is right, it’s about revenge – punishing the perceived enemies of the right.

There has been an appalling associated decision – Janet Albrechtson has been appointed to a panel to oversee the appointment of board members. There can be no clearer sign of a desire to domesticate the ABC.

Scott himself is apparently too much of a leftie. Turnbull has suggested that he relinquish the role of editor-in-chief. I think overall editorial and resource allocation roles are not usefully separated.

This attack on the ABC was of course expected. In it’s conception and execution, however, it has exceeded my expectations of brazenness and perfidy.

13 thoughts on “ABC cuts run deep – over 400 jobs to go”

  1. Thanks, BilB. In at least one news bulletin Shorten has been quoted as saying that they will give “more money” to the ABC.

    The politics are easy and the finance in the great scheme of things does not amount to all that much in a $400 billion plus budget. It’s worth noting that the phasing of the cuts is as follows:

    $20 million will be cut from the ABC’s budget in 2015-16, rising to $61 million in 2016-17, $55 million in 2017-18, and $68 million in 2018-19.

    That’s in addition to the $47 million up front in 2014-15.

    Of course the ABC has to pay for its own redundancies, so the have to sack more people so that they can afford to sack people.

  2. Abbott cut the funding ( yes, an outright broken promise ) but Scott decided who these cuts affect most.
    Anyone done the analysis for which electoral seats will be most affected by Scotts decisions?
    Looks like Nats cop it again to me.

  3. How stupid can you get?

    So the Big Banks deprived themselves of very valuable local intelligence when they closed down some very important rural and regional branches – then found out, the hard way, what were the limits of becoming utterly dependant on screen jockeys with absolutely no real-world local experience.

    They must be very slow learners down in Canberra.

    So ditching informed staff and closing strategically-important offices is going to “save money” is it? Reely trooly? Here is one example of why nobody in the present Federal Cabinet is in line for the 2015 Nobel Prize for Economics:

    The ABC in Gladstone, Queensland, is getting the chop. Mind you it has had only ghosts to haunt it for some months now. ABC Capricornia, in Rockhampton, is taking over ABC Gladstone. Yep, that does look great on paper. It will “save money”.

    Trouble is, ABC Capricornia is on a starvation diet.

    Worse yet, both Rockhampton AND Gladstone seem to be among the very few places in Australia to benefit from the FTA Betrayal and there is an imminent flood of heavy investment and frantic business activity in both places. Who is going to cover it all? ABC in Rockhampton lost its TV news people many years ago and the remaining radio staff are going to be busier than the proverbial one-armed-fiddler with the you-know-whats. Ali Baba won’t lend them his magic carpet and Dr Who is keeping his “Tardis” to himself.

    So who will gather and process all the news stories out of Central Queensland? You guessed it …. we suckers will be paying through the nose to buy the news stories about Central Queensland from NHK, Chinese Central Television, Al-Jazeera and anyone else with a bit of foresight and planning.

    Looks like Australian Economic Planning has now joined all the other ridiculous Australian oxymorons.

  4. Brian:

    This attack on the ABC was of course expected. In it’s conception and execution, however, it has exceeded my expectations of brazenness and perfidy.

    You could replace “ABC” with a whole lot of things and still be right on the nail.
    I am not sure that i have mentioned it before but Hazel (my wife) was ABC Groote Eylandt country correspondent for years.

  5. In it’s conception and execution, however, it has exceeded my expectations of brazenness and perfidy.

    For all execution issues please email Mark Scott ( previous employer Fairfax ) .

    Under Mark Scott’s leadership, the structure and operation of the ABC has been transformed and the ABC’s services and reach have been dramatically expanded.

    A 5% haircut should be easy, his ” competition ” have dealt with far bigger cuts to ” revenue “

  6. John D @ 6:

    I am not sure that i have mentioned it before but Hazel (my wife) was ABC Groote Eylandt country correspondent for years.

    Out of interest, did she get paid? I’m betting she didn’t!

  7. Just an update on Central Queensland:

    M. Landry, LNP, MHR for Capricornia based in Rockhampton, no doubt frantic about her fast-diminishing chances of re-election, has spoken out against cuts to rural services but not against the overall cuts to ABC, nor do she propose expanding ABC/SBS services.

    K.O’Dowd, LNP, MHR for Flynn, the strange salamander that stretches from the industrial and coal & gas export city of Gladstone way out into the drought country, merely followed the party line on what happened to the ABC. Good boy, good boy. He said nothing about expanding ABC/SBS services either.

    Brian @ 2: I do like your comment, “Of course the ABC has to pay for its own redundancies, so the have to sack more people so that they can afford to sack people”. Has anyone told the makers of the “Yes, Minister” TV series about this yet?

  8. Brian: Hazel did get paid depending on where what she did was used. (She managed national news from time to time.) not enough for early retirement but would have paid her coffee bill if you were able to buy coffee on Groote.
    What it did do was to allow her to find out what was going on and provide locals with local news. Get her started some time.

  9. Perhaps the Government needs to look for cut at Australis Post.
    The CEO got $4.8 million last year!
    Is he the highest payed public servant in the Nation ?

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