Quentin Dempster, Victim

dempsterI’ve just lost my job.

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.

  • Jody

    I absolutely agree with Quentin Dempster on his right to privacy!! It was completely unnecessary to go after him in this way and I agree with him when he asserts that you have played the man and not the ball.

    As to his statement about the journalism code of ethics and the entitlement to privacy, this remark is entirely risible and I don’t agree with his comments that the organization is a great one. Any organization which is mired in prejudice and bias, particularly one on the public purse, needs to be exposed as such with hard evidence and not ad hominems.

  • Keith Kennelly

    Oh dear Quinten,
    You just don’t get it do you?
    I’d like you to tell me, do an analysis of you and your mates reporting over the last 30 odd years using some research of the sort you claim you are an expert, and show me numerically 4 things.
    1. Positive reports pertaining to ‘progressives’.
    2. Negative reports pertaining to ‘progressives’.
    3. Positive reports pertaining to liberal/ conservatives.
    4. Negatives reports pertaining to liberal/conservatives.

    Then Quentin quote me the charter of the ABC pertaining to balance.

    Then we who have paid your salary and your superannuation will tell you whether you have acted, in our employ, as we expected you to act.

    Pious words and grizzling just won’t do.

  • a.crooks@internode.on.net

    Quentin Dempster seems to have projected the activities of a single British newspaper into the Australian media scene, and forgotten the actual examples of the snooping into the private doings of Tony Abbott’s daughter and the Fairfax Press’s “hacking” of the ALP’s membership records, neither of which involved Murdoch’s Australian newspapers. This sort of selective bias is exactly what the ABC is notorious for. Thank you Quentin for yet another example.

  • Geoffrey Luck

    Quentin lost his job because of choices that management made, not because of the government’s decisions. To suggest otherwise is to imply that the ABC is holy ground, to be exempt from economic rationality while the rest of the community pays. The pre-election promise is a red herring; raising it simply diverts attention from how irrationally the ABC is run. Quentin should ask how the ABC sets its priorities – for example, why were the NSW 7.30 programme and his services less important than the facile Fact Check? (Could it be that its presenter and his wife Virginia Trioli have more friends with political clout?) Why, when it employs one thousand journalists, the ABC finds it necessary to cut international offices and deploy its domestic reporters on the crime trivia that we see often leading news bulletins? The answer is that this is the ABC that Mark Scott, a journalistic philistine wants. Because, for him, the process, especially the fascination with digital tomfoolery, is not a means of delivering quality reporting, but an end in itself.

  • gerardbarry@ozemail.com.au

    Quentin, whatever happens to you in life and/or business,9 times out of 10 is usually thoroughly deserved. The fact that you received the DCM (don’t come Monday) is due to the fact that you failed the assessment test set by Mark Scott and his management team. Move on mate and don’t spend too much time on Murdoch conspiracy theories. And please don’t blame Tony Abbott, he and his government have a massive task ahead in trying to make our welfare system and the ABC economically sustainable or otherwise we will go broke. In fact, if you are going to blame an entity, why not the Labor-Greens Alliance because they caused it. Good luck with your job hunting, but beware nobody owes you a living.

  • Hoppy

    I’m with Gerard. Quentin deserves his privacy, and encouragement in getting out there to find a new role. I once received a DCM (of course I didn’t think I deserved it!) and was ultimately liberated in my career. Hope the job search is successful, Quentin, and you too find something better to do than lament the state of the ABC.
    Really, I thought the original article in Quadrant Online was rather petty, beneath Quadrant’s normal standards. On this site, let’s all steer clear of creating the sort of on-line garbage so freely available on the ABC website, especially in their “Have Your Say” comments.

  • aporter@afi.com.au

    Mr Dempster does not pay tax on his salary. This is an error which public servants are prone to. He cannot pay tax because he does not produce anything – his salary comes out of the taxes that others have paid. This tax-payer largesse is then reduced by a ‘nominal’ amount that equates to the taxes that the private-sector pays, but cannot be actually called ‘tax.’ It is these (private sector) tax-payers that are also paying for his pension.

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