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July 24th 2017 print

Tony Thomas

Who Earns What at Their ABC?

Unlike its British counterpart, Australia's national broadcaster insists that a right to privacy shields salary disclosure for the likes of Tony Jones, Barrie Cassidy, Jon Faine and all the well-heeled rest, not to mention their ABC partners, spouses and lovemates living well on the taxpayer dollar. Still, there are clues...

their abcThe country has Pauline Hanson to thank for winkling out some further particulars about how much the ABC’s top-20 on-air stars gets paid. ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie has now provided written replies to Hanson’s written questions from the Senate Estimates hearings of last May.

In a nutshell, she says her five top stars are paid $375,001 to $450,000;  six pocket $300,001 to $375,000, and nine get $225,001 to $300,000.

“The remuneration information of ABC staff amounts to personal information under the Privacy Act,” Guthrie or her spokesperson says. “Responses to requests for information regarding ABC staff remuneration are presented [as pay bands only] to ensure that the Corporation complies with the provisions of the Privacy Act and that any individual’s personal information is not disclosed.”

Happily, we already have a ranking of the ABC’s top-paid as at 2011-12. This  came about thanks to a dim-witted ABC staffer mistakenly providing a salary spreadsheet to SA Family First Senator Robert Brokenshire. One of the senator’s staffers leaked the list to The Australian in late 2013.

Sure, a spot or three on the rankings may have changed. But it’s virtually automatic that those top people now inhabit the current bands disclosed by Guthrie.

Take Tony Jones, uneven-handed host of the ABC’s execrably Left-biased freak show Q&A. In the original list, he was top at $356,000. Surely ex-ABC boss Mark Scott, now running NSW’s school system,  or his successor, Guthrie, haven’t dragged him from the top spot? So he must now be skating close to $450,000. It’s only reasonable to conclude that if he were on only, say, $420k, Guthrie’s upper pay band definition would have been $375-425k .

The No 2 in the  current list has to be 7.30’s  Leigh Sales, in  2011-12 ranked only sixth on $280,000. Given Sales’ far greater exposure, workload and professionalism than Jones’, it would be odd if the ABC weren’t paying her $400,000-plus. Indeed, Sales’ predecessor Kerry O’Brien was paid  more than Jones in 2009-10, namely $365k. But Sales’ experience  doesn’t compare with O’Brien’s history and faux-gravitas, so I don’t think  Sales by now would have displaced Jones as their ABC’s numero uno.

That leaves three people to fill the rest of the $375,000-$450,000 band. If there’s any ABC rationality in relativity, one slot would go to Sarah Henderson, star of Four Corners and, coincidentally, spouse of Tony Jones. It’s one helluva household pay-packet that taxpayers provide this power couple. Ferguson’s Four Corners on the Lindt siege was great viewing, even if she couldn’t bear to mention how the top coppers were fixated about hypothetical backlash against hypothetical Muslims, even while one real Muslim was wielding his real shotgun within the real café.

The last two slots would have to be the ABC’s Sydney and Melbourne radio stars Richard Glover and Jon Faine respectively,  both on near-$300,000 five years ago. Glover does the afternoon Drive and Faine does Mornings and Conversation Hour.

This list requires a de-ranking of 2011-12’s No 2, NSW TV newsreader Juanita Phillips, who was then on an anomalous-looking $316,000. Let the heavens quake, but I’m sure she’s been nudged to the middle band $300,000-375,000.

This middle band of six can be rapidly populated with workaday stars (2011-12 pay in brackets), viz long-time Radio National Breakfast host Fran Kelly ($255k), political editor Chris Uhlmann ($255k) with his new specialty of anti-Trump rants, Insiders Sunday host Barrie Cassidy ($243k) and high-profile Annabel Crabb ($217k), especially with her Kitchen Cabinet.

Numerate readers will note there’s one $300k-plus slot unfilled, and I admit there’s difficulty here. It is probably a toss-up between News Breakfast co-host and Trump clanger-dropper Virginia Trioli ($236k) and Juanita’s Victorian newsreading counterpart Ian Henderson ($188k). Sorry, Ian, but Virginia’s my pick for the taxpayers’ $300k-plus gravy-boat, if only because of her advantages in gender and overt groupthink.

Hendo would thus go down to the ABC  stars’ paupers Band 3 of $225k-300k. The other eight there are the tough ones to sort out. If the ABC pays for hard work rather than show-pony looks, first in would be US bureau chief Zoe Daniel and London-based Europe chief Lisa Millar. From the past list, sports broadcaster Gerard Whateley  ($223k) would have to be in there too.   TV finance presenter Alan Kohler doesn’t come cheap.  On profile, add in Lateline co-host Emma Alberici ($186k). The last three places would have to be drawn from the likes of all-rounder Mike Brissenden, AM and federal politics’ Sabra Lane, Melbourne Drive radio’s Rafael Epstein, Sydney Afternoons radio’s James Valentine, Radio National’s Pat Karvelas, the lovable Waleed Aly ($187k) and Julia Baird, who did last week’s 7.30 about “Christian Women Told to Endure Domestic Abuse”.

To sum up, here’s Michelle Guthrie’s pay-bands, properly populated:

$375,001-450,000

Tony Jones, Leigh Sales, Sarah Ferguson, Jon Faine, and Richard Glover.

$300,001-375,000

Juanita Philips, Fran Kelly, Chris Uhlmann, Barrie Cassidy, Annabel Crabb, and Virginia Trioli

$225,001-300,000

Ian Henderson, Zoe Daniel, Lisa Millar, Gerard Whately, Alan Kohler, and  Emma Alberici, Plus any three of Mike Brissenden, Sabra Lane, Rafael Epstein, James Valentine, Pat Karvelas, Waleed Aly, and Julia Baird.

Of course, in Britain all such stars’ pay levels at the BBC are fully disclosed. If BBC director general Tony Hall so much as claims for a £7 train ticket, it gets disclosed too. But in Australia that would never do!

Tony Thomas’ book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here.