So while I’m down you want to kick me.
It is personal.
Because I have dared to be vocal in defence of the ABC as Prime Minister Tony Abbott dishonoured his unequivocal and unconditional election commitment not to cut the broadcaster, the Murdoch Press (sic), and now Quadrant, have personally targeted me over my ABC salary and superannuation.
You do not address the substantive issues I have publicly raised: the vandalism of the ABC’s international reporting capacity particularly in the Asia Pacific; the loss of localism in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, SA, WA, the ACT and NT; the risk of 24/7 news resourcing priorities turning the ABC’s output into ‘churnalism’; the gutting of religion and specialisation on Radio National; cuts to Classic FM, more Sydney-centrism through the loss of regional TV production.
You play the man and not the ball.
The clear imputation from ‘ABC Presenters’ Pension Paradise’ (Quadrant Jan 6th by Tony Thomas) is that I and my former colleagues whom you also selectively name — Kerry O’Brien, Tony Jones, Jon Faine, Fran Kelly, Ian Henderson, Jonathan Holmes and Geraldine Doogue — are spongers on the taxpayer. This is unjust and unfair to these broadcasters. They are taxed on their salaries and any employee superannuation benefits. They have become household names because of their skill in engagement with audiences over decades. They do not deserve Quadrant’s personalised vilification in what reads like an incitement to prejudice.
Any outside work done by ABC employees must be with the employer’s permission . The $10,000 or $15,000 speakers’ fees quoted by Thomas and sourced from a website obviously are ambit.
My objection to The Australian’s publication of a leak from ‘ABC sources’ of the calculated quantum of super on termination of my employment (after 30 years of contributions) was over privacy. I’m all for transparency but it must be consistently applied — public and private sector. The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, had the decency to acknowledge the unfairness when he published my letter ‘breach of privacy’ after I protested.
Privacy is an issue which the Murdoch culture does not understand. In its systematic breach through either cheque book journalism or phone hacking in pursuit of commercially exploitable celebrity voyeurism, the Murdoch Press’ abuse of power has put at risk the very concept of freedom of the press, particularly in the UK. The Murdoch Press has given the enemies of press freedom a reason to constrain it by imposing more prescriptive privacy laws. As we all know the public interest and benefit will suffer if the corrupt seize on privacy as a protective device from any scrutiny from any publisher.
I want and need work and have a right to have my personal affairs kept private as I seek to sustain my livelihood. The publication of the leaked figure under the guise of sympathy over my sacking was selective, vicious and unethical. Clause 11 of the journalists’ code of ethics requires a respect for privacy. To see Quadrant regurgitate this unpleasantness after it had been resolved with The Australian only added to my distress after having suffered reputational damage through this form of vilification.
The pre-2005 CSS and PSS defined benefit super schemes were compulsory. Their rules, annual audits and governance are on transparent websites.
Their benefits are no ‘deep secret’ as Tony Thomas contends. You can Google this information in a second. The costs of the public sector defined benefit schemes, like defence services and parliamentary pensions, have been a constant issue for media attention and debate particularly in these deficit times.
ABC salaries paid to presenters are below current market rates for commercial presenters. That is why the leak of ABC salaries in 2013 raised no scandal beyond that contrived by the Murdoch Press.
The Australian chose to target me over my presentation of a weekly 30 minute local show implying that my salary could not be justified. The work involved the research, writing, interviewing, production and compilation of an investigative or analytical piece, live studio or field interviews as required, text articles for ABC online, appearances on News 24’s The Drum and State to State and sometimes daily radio interviews for ABC outlets around Australia. Like all ABC employees, including O’Brien, Jones, Faine, Kelly, Henderson, Holmes and Doogue, I have been subject to annual performance reviews at which I had to match or exceed performance criteria including a knowledge of and adherence to ABC editorial policies set down by the ABC Board. (These policies are promulgated under the supervision of ABC directors including, in their time on the board, Janet Albrechtsen and one, Keith Windshuttle (sic), now editor of Quadrant).
I have had an unblemished career at the ABC and have felt honoured to work with such a great, unique and trusted institution. I believe my contributions have helped to build and sustain that trust. My journalistic focus has been in exposing corruption in Her Majesty’s institutions — the parliament and the police — in Queensland and New South Wales. That is not left wing. There could be nothing more conservative. Yet I am made to look like a bludger or sponger on the taxpayer by the Murdoch Press and Quadrant.
To be sure the ABC is a flawed institution. I have always acknowledged that and publicly and internally advocated for high standards through editorial leadership, training and mentoring.
If Quadrant and the Murdoch Press want the ABC to be abolished just say so outright. We need a public debate about the future of Australia’s public broadcasting system (ABC and SBS) particularly now all commercial domestic original content and program making and the advertising which financially supports it is being undermined by aggressive global players with immediate and growing access to all Australian households.
And, like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, they use tax havens!
PS: Tony Thomas derided my so called Tasmanian ‘holiday home’ to further put me down in his article. As was published by the Sydney Daily Telegraph some years ago we downsized our Sydney home in 2006 to release funds for a tourism, art and architecture investment at Table Cape. It was geo-technically and financially risky but has contributed to local employment in the job-depressed north west region and the Tasmanian economy through attracting visitors from the US, Europe, Asia and the Australian mainland. This pecuniary interest was declared to my employer.
Quentin Dempster, a public broadcasting advocate, is a former presenter of the ABC 7.30 NSW program. His employment was terminated in 2014.