ABC Presenters’ Pension Paradise

nest eggA deep secret about the star players of our ABC is not what they’re paid – we know that – but the size of their taxpayer-funded pensions on retirement or redundancy from the ABC.  Take  ABC presenter Quentin Dempster, newly terminated. He was on a paypacket in 2011-12 of $291,505, according to the pay data inadvertently leaked by ABC administration in a glorious own-goal a year ago. “My salary is commensurate with my skills and abilities,” Dempster clarified.

Last  month, a little item appeared in The Australian  in Sharri  Markson’s Media Diary, under the heading “Quentin on a Good Wicket”. She remarked: “While it is very sad to see local journalism disappear from 7.30 on Friday nights, people shouldn’t be too devastated for outgoing ­experienced host Quentin Dempster. His defined benefit super ­income likely to be about $150,000 a year.”

An outraged Dempster fired back, without denying the $150,000:

“Breach of Privacy

Your publication of the calculated quantum of my employee super income income (Media Dairy [sic], 8/12) following my sacking was attributed by your reporter to “ABC Sources”. This is an invasion of my personal privacy, a breach of Clause 11 of the Journalists’ Code of Ethics. It places me  at an immediate disadvantage in any job negotiation as I seek to sustain my livelihood.

Your reporter ignored my objection on privacy grounds when she telephoned me on Sunday evening. Transparency must be consistently applied. This was selective, vicious and unfair and coated in smarm. Quentin Dempster, Ultimo.”

Still smarting, he tweeted, ” I want/need work.”

On the one hand, I do feel sorry for Quentin, aged 63, suffering what he calls an ‘industrial execution’ and now trying to sustain his 30-year ABC-type lifestyle by supplementing a $150,000 ABC lifetime-indexed pension with a new job. On  only  $300,000 a year,  it clearly wasn’t easy to save for a rainy day.

Maybe he could cut living costs in Sydney by relocating to his acclaimed beach house near Burnie, except that it’s often occupied by holiday-makers paying $2950 a week rent.[i] Quite likely, he’ll be taken to the bosom of the University of Technology’s School of Independent Journalism in Sydney. His view that Rupert Murdoch is Tony Abbott’s “puppet master” would be considered quite normal and entirely sane there. (He thinks we are governed by a “Murdoch-Abbott duumvirate”).

Dempster also thinks  the ABC’s juvenile skit by Kirsten Drysdale last November about Abbott ‘shirtfronting’ Putin was not grief-intrusive to MH17 victims but mere “satire over our prime minister’s tabloidism”. And her satire was “following a great tradition at the ABC”, he said.  So I guess Dempster, who can dish it out, can suck it up about his pension  disclosure.

Actually, anyone (including a potential employer) can get a reasonable estimate of an ABC ex-presenter’s pension from  Table 4 of the publicly-available ready reckoner for the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme (CSS) members. Someone of Dempster’s age and with  30 years at the ABC could expect 48% of final salary as a pension. Based on a 2011-12 salary of $291,000 the CSS pension would be $139,680 a year, CPI-indexed for a lifetime. Someone getting $150,000 a year pension, conversely, maybe had a final salary of $312,500.

When a Commonwealth defined-benefit pensioner dies, a  surviving spouse continues the indexed pension for his/her lifetime but at a reduced rate of 67% to 85%, or (in our hypothetical above case), $100,000-127,000 a year.

The principal’s pension figures don’t include a payout  based on an ABC staffer’s own contributions (5-10% of salary), plus an employer top-up of a 3% annual “Productivity Component” (don’t laugh!) for all CSS members, plus earnings.[ii] That separate payout can involve combinations of  lump sum and non-indexed pension.

The Commonwealth defined-benefit super scheme for ABC people involves an annual employer contribution  of about 20% of ABC members’ salary. In 2005 it was an astounding 28.2%. Too good to last, it was closed to new entrants in mid-1990. (Its defined-benefit successor the Public Service  Super Scheme – with many ABC participants —  lasted until 2005). But the ABC’s old hands could continue with the plush CSS scheme, while ABC post-2005 newcomers have had to console themselves with  relatively stingy defined-contribution (accumulation) super.

So let’s play Guess My Super! for the ABC crew’s old-timer stars, those who joined in the days of the compulsory CSS scheme.

First, some warnings.  To get a hypothetical payout, we just plug into the Commonwealth’s ready reckoner  the star’s salary, age and years of service – the latter two numbers  can involve a bit of sleuthing.[iii] The pension in the case of serving ABC stars, would be as if they retired today.  They are lifetime, indexed, and with reversionary rights to a surviving partner. To add spice, I also mention the speaker bureau fee the bigshots command, thanks to their ABC branding. Here we go:

Kerry  O’Brien. Aged 69, he joined the ABC in  1989 and continued to host Four Corners in 2014. His 2009-10 salary was  $365,000.  The reckoner shows a maximum benefit factor at age 65, so taking that age and 25 years service, the pension would be 45% of salary or  about  $164,000.  Speaker fee: $10-15,000.

Tony Jones. Tony is the ABC’s current top-paid presenter ($355,789 in 2011-12), who presides over  the  Q&A circus. Aged 57 and with 29+ years of ABC service, his pension would be $141,212. Speaker fee, $15,000+.

Jon Faine. He has been with the ABC since 1989, hosting the Melbourne  774 breakfast radio show since 1997. His age (this took some sleuthing) is 57. 2011-12 salary, $285,249 – later renegotiated to $300,000. Years of service, 25. The pension   would be $109,000.  Speaker fee:  $10-15,000.

Fran Kelly. Host of   ABC Radio National Breakfast. Age 57 and with  26 years with ABC. Salary $255,000. Pension would be $95,013. Speaker fee, $15,000-plus.

Ian Henderson. Joined the ABC in 1980. Presenter ABC    TV News Victoria weeknights since 1992. Age 61. Years of service, 34. Salary $188,533. Pension would be $88,459.

Jonathan Holmes*. Age 67. With ABC 1982-2013 – 31 years. Left the ABC’s Media Watch in mid-2013. Salary 2011-12, $187,380. Pension would be $94,158. Speaker fee, $15,000-plus, as well as whatever he pockets for regular columns in the Fairfax Press. His notes of complaint to Quadrant are submitted free of charge. (*see Jonathan Holmes latest note below)

Geraldine Doogue. Age 62. Years with ABC, 24. Salary 2011-12, $182,013. Pension would be  $75,280. Speaker fee, $5000-10,000.

It’s a long time since 1990-95, but the ABC’s total defined-benefit old-timers are still costing the ABC and taxpayers a bomb. The 2014 ABC annual report shows its defined-contribution actuarial  costs were $40m that year, compared with only $31m for its people on accumulation super. Over the past six years, ABC actuarial costs for “Defined Benefits” totalled $212m;  while “accumulation scheme” costs totalled only $150m.

What this suggests is that there are still hordes of long-serving ABC staffers looking forward to a lifetime of indexed-pension luxury. These future expenses for all the federal public service, including the ABC types,  fall on the taxpayers, hence the need for that Future Fund nest-egg which currently totals $101 billion.

Across the Commonwealth Public Service, about 16,000 are on the CSS scheme (their average salary is above $100,000), plus 115,000 ex-bureaucrats on lifetime indexed CSS pensions. Unsurprisingly, there’s an unfunded CSS liability of about $60b, close to half a million dollars per current and retired member.

Whereas normal Australian workers can’t afford retirement at 55, ABC and others in the CSS   super scheme can go out   in style at 55 with a fat super deal known as 54/11 (i.e. get out just before your 55th birthday, and do better than if you continued to work to 60 or 65).    As one official report put it, “it is not surprising that the schemes have a sharp decline in membership around age 55 and that very few PSS or CSS members work past age 60.”

About 40% of CSS members aged 50-54 typically plan to grab the 54/11 option.   A classic example was Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, who went out on 54/11, according to the Liberal’s Bronwyn Bishop. As financial planner Theo Marinis, of the Marinis Financial Group, Adelaide,  puts it, the 54/11 device “has the potential to provide as much as $200,000 or more in additional retirement benefits over the pensioner’s lifetime, with the effect that most Commonwealth Public Servants who are 54 and 11 months of age would often need to work an additional five years or more in their current job in order to be better off financially in retirement.” The 54/11 weirdness arose by accident in the scheme and has never been corrected.

For the PSS members (e.g. employees who joined the ABC between 1990 and 1995) things can also go well. Marinis writes:

“Over the last 20 years I have shown dozens of PSS member clients how under their scheme they can take a lump-sum and choose to pay off their house, go overseas on a holiday and / or make other lifestyle and recreational purchases… draw down the pension they require until they are 65 and still be eligible (effectively double dipping) for significant social security pensions!”

For a 55-year-old CSS member with $200,000 combined contributions,  the 54/11 formula generates a $46,250 lifetime indexed pension. A non-public servant going out with a $200,000 super nest-egg would be lucky for it to last five years at a $46,000 annual payout rate. The official report gives an example of a CSS member on $70,000 salary with 30 years service. The standard age-55 lifetime-indexed pension would be $26,250; the 54/11 version is given at $34,687. That member would have to work till age 59 before his pension reached the 54/11 level. Any extra member contributions above 5%, interest and Employer Productivity Component  of 3%, can be taken as a lump sum or non-indexed pension, up to a maximum of  20% of  final salary.

Another lurk is ‘Resign and Return’. The  54/11 retirees can be re-hired by their department boss on a part-time, consulting or contract basis, further boosting the retirees’ nest-egg. Some years back, when surveyed, nearly a third of the 54/11 retirees said they went back into their jobs under various arrangements.

Many ABC big-name presenters joined the ABC between 1990-95 and  were enrolled in the Public Sector Super Scheme (PSS). These members cost the ABC nearly as much  for super as a ratio of salary, as the CSS tribe. But calculating the benefits on retirement is impossibly complex for any outsider.

Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com

Quadrant reader Jonathan Holmes writes:

I see that Quadrant, which used to be quite a classy publication, interested in the championship of conservative, libertarian and free-market political philosophy, continues its descent into a snide and inaccurate gossip-sheet.
Tony Thomas’s piece about ABC Pensions has been brought to my attention.  As Tony rightly warned, his targets “age and years of service …  can involve a bit of sleuthing.” What a pity that he didn’t actually do any, at least in my case.
I have not worked continuously for the ABC since 1982.  I worked there between 1982 and 1985, when I resigned and went to work for a British commercial TV company.  I worked for the ABC again between 1987 and 1989, when I resigned and went to work for the Lowy’s Channel Ten.  When Mr Lowy’s venture into media mogulship ended in tears (his), I returned to the ABC.  In 1994 I resigned to go freelance.  At no stage before 1998 was I on the ABC’s permanent staff.  I worked on annual contracts which gave me a slightly higher salary in exchange for NOT joint the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme.  I rejoined the ABC in 1998: at that point I did join the permanent staff and the PSS.  So my pensionable service started in 1998 and my pension is nothing like $94,000 a year. 
Despite leaving the ABC four times since 1982, I have never received a penny in ABC redundancy payouts.  The only organisation that ever paid me a redundancy was the Ten Network in 1989.  So much for Tony’s bitchy little note about ABC people not being hireable elsewhere. 
All this I might have told Tony had he done the courtesy of emailing me (you have my email address).  Or I might not, but he could at least have tried.  That’s what journalists do.
Oh, and while I was at the ABC I think I only once earned a modest fee for compering an event, and I have done very little such work since I retired.  It would need to be a major event, lasting much more than a day, to justify a fee of $15,000.  
Keep up the sleuthing.

[i] Cantilevered over dramatic coastal panorama, The Winged House is an adventure in art and architecture. Designed by award winning sculptor and architect Richard Goodwin, the house has won design and innovation awards and is now an established highlight for travellers looking for a unique Tasmanian experience, with easy access to world heritage listed wilderness and the Tarkine region of north-west Tasmania. The house is luxuriously appointed with a gourmet kitchen, Japanese bath and with local support services: dial-a-cray, dial-a-massage and dial-a-chef.


[ii]  In terms of that ABC employer “Productivity Component” of 3% per annum, try this ABC slice of life from Louise Evans about the cadre of ‘lifers’ there in 2013:

“a pocket of predominantly middle-aged, Anglo-Saxon staff … who were impervious to change, unaccountable, untouchable and who harboured a deep sense of entitlement.

They didn’t have a 9-5 mentality. They had a 10-3 mentality. They planned their work day around their afternoon yoga class. They wore thongs and shorts to work, occasionally had a snooze on the couch after lunch and popped out to Paddy’s Market to buy fresh produce for dinner before going home.

They were like free-range chickens, wandering around at will, pecking at this and that, content that laying one egg constituted a hard day’s work…

 Taxi dockets were left in unlocked drawers for the taking and elephantine leave balances had been allowed to accumulate. When programs shut down for Christmas, staff would get approval from their executive producers to hang around for a week or two “to tidy things up”. One editor asked for his leave to be cut back by a week because he’d need to pop into work during the holidays to “check emails”.That constituted work.”



[iii] The longevity of ABC stars at the ABC suggests they are not deluged with private-sector bids for their media services.

6 thoughts on “ABC Presenters’ Pension Paradise

  • Jody says:

    There’s something about this kind of article which leaves a bad taste in my mouth; it’s nobody else’s business what somebody earns and I don’t like that tactic in making an argument. This is all private information and only a matter for the people concerned, not appropriate for the public domain.

    By all means attack the ABC and its ideologies, but I think there’s enough evidence provided by these turkeys and ducks in their pens to demonstrate widespread bias without having to publish details of the salaries of its high-fliers. We know they’re Chardonnay Socialists – that’s not news – but I draw the line at income revelations.

    I’m sure Quadrant can do better than this.

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    Wrong, Jody, completely wrong. Where did this idea come from that public service salaries are sacrosant? That the facts of the salaries and entitlements of people who work for our national broadcaster should be off-limits? In an era when disclosure of corporate remuneration has become more and more obligatory, why should the pay and retirement benefits of the ABC’s front-of-house staff not be out in the public domain? Tony has laid out the basis for a better understanding of where some of the ABC money goes – it turns out a sizeable chunk of it comprises part of the Commonwealth Government’s unfunded superannuation burden. That was something Peter Costello was particularly concerned about, and the reason for his founding of the Future Fund. Anyway, there is nothing to be ashamed of in this explanation – all the cases quoted merely show what people are correctly entitled to under the schemes as they are presently defined. As time goes by, the participants in the defined benefits scheme will wash out of the system. What is more insidious and reprehensible is the return in specialist contract roles of people like Kerry O’Brien who continues completely unnecessarily in an artificially manufactured job, introducing 4 Corners

    The ABC has always had its idiosyncrasies. From the inauguration of the independent news service in 1947 until the introduction of contracts some time in the ’70s, all News Division journalists were employed as Temporary Staff. They were prohibited from joining the ABC Staff Association with automatic access to all Commonwealth Public Service benefits. For example,,

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    journalists had to wait three years before they were eligible to join the superannuation scheme. And although it was a defined benefits scheme, it was not as generous as it later became. After 26 years service, and 23 years in the scheme, I got only my own contributions back – without interest – when I resigned. As it turned out, a massive sum of $12,000, which I found could not then be rolled over into a private super scheme with my new employer. Never mind, the escape from the authoritarian claustrophobia of the most ineptly managed organisation I have ever encountered freed me to succeed and surpass my ABC prospects in private enterprise.

  • Jody says:

    The defined benefits scheme for public servants is, indeed, a shocker. For example, as a self-funded retiree who earns income through dividends I’ll be paying 1.5% more tax (in short, less ‘imputation credits’ returned to me at tax time) because I’ve invested in the top 3,000 companies who will carry the burden for the PPL scheme or new childcare regime courtesy of this government. The defined benefits recipients will have NO SUCH BURDEN because the Commonwealth will pay their retirement incomes and they will be unaffected by dividend/imputation credits. This is straight discrimination.

    However, I still disagree with you about the salaries of those on the public purse being exposed dollar for dollar. I wouldn’t like it myself. I wasn’t suggesting public salaries per se should be sacrosanct – teacher’s salaries are generally known – but the explicit package for individuals should be subject to the privacy most of us enjoy. I”d have no trouble, for example, in the suggestion that so-and-so earned over $140,000 for example – but the specifics make me uncomfortable.

    I worked at the ABC in Television Features in the early to mid 1970’s so I well understand the oppressive and relentless pressure to conform. Group-think is anathema to me because it procludes the actual need to THINK for ones-self and that I eschew quite radically. It also appalled me that Chardonnay socialists preached equality and socialist principles while attending up-market functions and sipping expensive champagne. One of my friends/colleagues who worked with me referred to them as “leather-jacket-wearing 12 year olds”!! So, we are not alone!

  • Tony Thomas says:

    Hi Jody, I’m not clear if you’re complaining about publication of ‘salaries’ or ‘pensions’ or both.
    The salary details were revealed by some klutz in ABC administration unwittingly sending a copious spreadsheet of names and salaries to a non-ABC third party. From there they were published in The Australian and then by the Australia media as a whole.
    The pension details I give are just simple arithmetic from public data, i.e. age, and years of service, applied to what is now known salaries.
    Thanks for your interest and views, Tony

    • Tony Thomas says:

      Passing on a comment from Tony Wegener, Logan, Utah.
      “Based upon the experience of cities and states in the US, the pension obligations for state and federal employees which you describe, could have bankrupted Australia.

      State employee unions in Wisconsin pushed wages and pension obligations to the point that Governor Walker finally called their bluff. He publically declared the system unsustainable. Of course he had to withstand two recall elections, but the voters recognized that state employee wages and pensions would bankrupt the state eventually. Governor Walker dismantled the whole system and started over. That was better than the alternative. Walker will be a Republican candidate for President.

      There are other case studies, especially in California, where cities did go bankrupt, due to ridiculous salary and pension packages for city employees. California itself is on the edge of collapse.”

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