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March 15th 2017 print

Tony Thomas

Aunty’s Spoiled Nephews and Nieces

There is no surprise that Q&A stacked its panel with groupthink luvvies going the big spit on Bill Leak's grave. It is the pay, retirement packages and perks the national broadcaster lavishes on the wretches responsible that is both shocking and, to the detriment of taxpayers, all too typical

their abcABC boss Michelle Guthrie is a whimsical lady. Last October she was  throwing comfort money at her minions — 2% p.a. compound pay rises for 2016-19, plus extra perks contrary to government guidelines. These included back-dated pay rises to July 1,  seven days “domestic violence leave” (huh?), and an extra fortnight on maternity leave (now 16 weeks) and two-to-four weeks partner leave.

But now she’s throwing between 150 and 200 management types out the door by July 1 to generate $50 million to spend on content-making.

That’s ta-ta to about 20% of ABC managers, with considerably more than 20% departing from “support areas”.

It’s high time the ABC’s make-work  management is culled. The ABC spends only half its budget on programs, compared with 80% plus spent by Sky News, for example.

But I’m a caring soul and my first reaction was human sympathy for those to be culled – their mortgages, their grocery bills, their repayments on the Prius and weekly direct debits to GetUp and the Climate Council.

But then I remembered something about the ABC’s uber-generous redundancy payout regime and my welfare concerns for these guys  evaporated.

The   2016-19 Enterprise Bargaining Agreement  says there’ll be a severance payment of four weeks’ pay for each of the first five years’ service, and then three weeks’ pay per year’s service up to a maximum of 24 years. So a 20-year manager would get a total 65 weeks pay.

In addition, there’s the issue of notice. Guthrie wants everything clinched by July 1, so she may well pay out the stipulated five-to-six weeks notice in cash. That would take our 20-year exec’s cheque to 70 weeks’ pay.

The redundancy calculator is unchanged from the ABC’s 2013-16 enterprise deal. The ABC’s union negotiators stuffed up by campaigning (successfully) for family violence leave in the EBA, instead of trying to improve the redundancy clauses. But maybe ABC staffers are plagued at home by spouse-bashers.

So what sort of screw are ABC management types on? We need that data to assess redundancy payouts. Naturally, the ABC is loathe to disclose. But in the case of the BBC, which might give us some guidance here, it is a simple exercise to discover individual managers’ pay. I’ll go into a little detail just to show how far out of line the ABC is with transparency and open governance. The BBC:

Listed below are staff whose salaries and remuneration are published quarterly by the BBC. In 2009 it was agreed with the BBC Trust that the BBC would publish the salaries, total remuneration, Declaration of Personal Interests, expenses, gifts and hospitality for all senior managers who have a full time equivalent salary £150,000 or more or who sit on a major divisional board.” [That’s about $A245,000 equivalent].

These BBC people are listed by name, about 140 of them. Just click the name and up comes the pay, the job description, the biography and most amazing of all, the expense claims and justifications thereof, along with gifts and hospitality accepted and outside roles accepted.

Here’s the first BBC chap on the list, Gavin Allen, Controller, Daily News Programmes.

Total remuneration: £144,500 ($A234,000) at September 30, 2016.

Mr Allen, despite his high pay and onerous responsibilities,[1]  always finds time to put in a  claim for the equivalent of a tram ticket. On March 3, 2016, for example, he successfully claimed a £3.10 train ride, and on March 24, he had a £4.10 “drink on flight” at the expense of BBC licence payers. His tiniest claim (Feb 25) was £2.8 for a taxi (it must have travelled all of 200 yards). But for half the month, his tummy was operating at subsistence levels – he put in 15 claims that quarter for ‘subsistence’ at about £9 a time, after having worked more than five hours, presumably in a state of meal-less famishment. As for gifts, Mr Allen lists in one quarter a dinner hosted by the Barclays chairman, another freebie dinner at the Garrick Club, and tickets to the soccer at Wembley.

The disclosures even extend to “personal interests” of managers, such as outside company roles, shareholdings and “external business interests or relationships with customers/suppliers/direct competitors of the BBC.”  It’s a wicked thought,  but in the ABC context such a clause might force disclosure of the lavish speaker fees ($5000-10,000 a time) showered on ABC talent like Tony Jones, Emma Alberici, Fran Kelly and Barrie Cassidy.

I then had a thought: surely the BBC isn’t disclosing all the intimate pay and expenses details about their very  Director General, Tony Hall? Yes indeedy, the BBC does just that! Apart from being paid £450,000, he claimed in the first quarter, 2016-17 items including a £7 train ticket, and £85 worth of whatever at the Sheraton,  Edinburgh. He takes very few gifts, but in April, 2015, accepted two tickets to a play, The Vote. He lists  close to 20 outside positions, including the House of Lords  and something called Go ON UK.[2]

So Go ON, Michelle Guthrie! Total disclosure is good enough for the BBC Director-General, let’s see you lead from the front at the ABC on manager pay and perks disclosure.

Perusing the 2016 ABC annual report rewards with only thin gruel. [3]

About 320 ABC types were all on higher than $145,000 pay. The ABC has 2856 “content makers” who are somehow looked after by 632 admin/professional helpers and no fewer than 325 “senior executives”.

We learn the bare names and titles of about 85 executives. Elsewhere the report provides the useless aggregate detail that 16 directors and officers got $4 million.

We once did get an indication of management pay from the ABC’s infamous own goal  when a staffer accidentally leaked a spreadsheet of top ABC pay in 2011-12 to Family First Senator Robert Brokenshire. Rikki Lambert, one of Brokenshire’s staffers, in turn leaked the data to The Australian in late 2013. The media’s focus then was on the ABC talent like Tony Jones ($356,000 in 20011-12) and the commercial types were ignored. So let’s take a look at a sample of them. Actually a high proportion of persons listed with those roles have since quit or retired from the ABC so I’ll delete the names.

Assuming a compound rate of increase of 2.5% p.a. for the following five years, the positions today would be paying 13% more.[4] This  list showed

  • “Director ABC International”,  on $301,000 (adding 13%, $340,000).
  • “Director Business Services”   on $260,000 ($294,000)
  • “Director ABC Resources”   on $234,000 ($264,000)
  • “General Manager Sales & Distribution” on $221,000 ($250,000)
  • “Head Entertainment”   on $219,000 ($247,000)
  • Director People and Learning, $255,000 ($288,000).

The median pay on the top 100 list was about $200,000, so let us use that figure for our redundancy doodling. In addition, we’ll assume the main ABC EBA applies, and that the person’s tenure at the ABC was (a) 10 years or (b) 20 years.

Applying our EBA formula, the redundancy payout is 35 weeks for a ten-year veteran, or $135,000; and for 20 years, $250,000. Plus, possibly, $20,000 in lieu of notice.

To further keep the wolf from the door, there’s the gorgeous super deals that ABC types wallow in. The most generous of the schemes involves an effective 20% annual contribution from our ABC, more than double the private-sector norm of 9.5 %.

The gold-plated schemes, closed off to new entrants in 2005, are the   defined-benefit schemes paying lifetime indexed pensions with reversion to spouse on death for the remainder of his or her lifetime. This generosity to the public service in general led to an abyss of a funding shortfall, hence ex-Treasurer Peter Costello’s Future Fund requiring $140 billion by 2020 to finance future payouts.

The ABC makes its own provision for the liabilities. Last year the ABC’s bill for straight salaries was $366 million. To this was added $34 million for the defined benefit liability and $33 million for the defined contribution liability. A defined-benefit employee would need to have at least a dozen years tenure, so a small number  of staffers seem to be racking up what represent very large liabilities.

From the government’s super ready reckoner, our $200,000 discharged exec, aged say 50 with 15 years service, goes out on a lifetime indexed pension of 18% ie., $36,000. On death the spouse continues the lifetime benefit, at the rate of $24,000 to $31,000 (67-85%).

The sacked guy or gal’s pension figures are supplemented by  a payout  based on his or her own contributions (5-10% of salary), plus an employer top-up of a 3% annual “productivity component” (don’t laugh!) for all CSS  super members, plus earnings.[5] That separate payout can involve combinations of  lump sum and non-indexed pension.

Despite super like that, ABC execs also enjoy the special tax breaks for government, non-profit and charity workers, via the ABC’s  flexible salary packaging arrangements.

The ABC directs its employees to  “Smart Salary”, which handles the ABC packaging. Inputting myself as a hypothetical $200,000 ABC person, I discover eligibility for a juicy array of tax-reduced goodies, including novated car leases, child care and airport lounge membership. Inputting $10,000 for child care and $510 for Qantas lounge, I find myself $4974 better off.  It’s a mystery why an ABCer deserves special tax benefits denied to private sector toilers.

As with all the public service, ABC enterprise bargains have lots of minor perks too, though even the ABC has nothing to equal the “DECA Day” leave provision at the Defence Department, “to enable an employee to be absent for a non-specified reason”.

I must say you’ve read a lot by now but aren’t much the wiser about payouts to axed ABC types. That  of course is how the ABC wants it.

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



[1] Gavin oversees all of the daily radio and television news programmes, including Radio 4′s Today programme, World at One, Victoria Derbyshire, as well as the News at Six and Ten.

[2] The BBC is also committed to disclosing the pay of its on-air stars from this year.  Theresa May’s government is amending the BBC’s charter to force the BBC to reveal the pay of all on-air talent getting more than £150,000 ($A240,000). There are about 110 of these high-fliers whose pay will  have to be disclosed in £50,000 bands; after that the bands will narrow.

[3] I was momentarily distracted by the half page glamour pic (page 116) of staffer Marieke Hardy. Ms Hardy earlier wrote in a hate-speech exercise on the ABC’s The Drum that Liberal Minister Chris Pyne was Australia’s most-loathed person globally. She opined that his appearance on Q&A  had caused the nation to “silently pray for him to get attacked by a large and libidinous dog”. After an indecent delay, the ABC (Charter: Impartial) pulled the article off The Drum and apologized to Pyne. Marieke is now not merely forgiven but lauded in the annual report.

[4] The 2013 EBA provided for pay rises of 2.5-2.6% compound p.a.

[5]  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.”

An interesting practice in 2016-17 is the ABC Media Watch team of nine departing for their holidays on November 21 last and the program not returning until February 6. The team comprises Presenter, Executive Producer, Director, Story Editor, Supervising  Producer, three researchers, and a coordinator.

 

Comments [18]

  1. en passant says:

    Tony,
    I have thought for a long time that Oz was doomed by its poor management and incompetent pollie-wafflers.
    Now I realise that I was wrong and that nothing short of a full-scale revolution will clean out these leeches.
    Roll out the Tumbrils!

  2. Ian MacDougall says:

    I must say you’ve read a lot by now but aren’t much the wiser about payouts to axed ABC types. That of course is how the ABC wants it.

    Then why did you have to go and spoil it?
    Actually, some of those ‘ABC types’ are worth their weight in gold: eg Chris Masters, whose 4 Corners (?) segment ‘The Moonlight State’ brought down the Bjelke-Petersen regime in Queensland; without which, it must be said, we would not have the present Adani government, and all the beneficial bounty it brings.

    • mags of Queensland says:

      Yes Ian but how long ago was that? I think it was back in the day when the ABC actually made quality programs. Alas, too long ago.

    • LBLoveday says:

      For goodness sake, JB-P has been out of office for 30 years. No-one I’ve discussed it with denies that the ABC was a worthwhile organization 30 years ago, but nor does even one of them deny it has deteriorated, and almost all say it has deteriorated to the stage it should be totally defunded.

      • Ian MacDougall says:

        “Totally defunded.” (!) So we can have a standard of current affairs programs as seen on the commercial channels? 4 Corners broadcast last Monday night a pretty devastating program (Philippe Levasseur, ‘America’s Broken Dreams’) about poverty in America, arising out of its economic decline; which Trump has promised to turn around. (Don’t hold your breath on that.)
        The ABC is managing to do this despite Prince-of-Liars Abbott and his sleight-of-tongue, and the unsurprising crowd of rent-seekers, urgers and bludgers within the organisation screwing it financially for every cent they can get.

        http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2013/02/06/3684714.htm

        • LBLoveday says:

          Either that or pay for it yourself – why anyone but yourself should pay for your TV enjoyment escapes me; should we also have to buy a daily newspaper for you? A weekly movie pass? I have not watched ABC or FTA current affairs programs (or any of their programs) other than incidentally (eg in a pub) for years, but I don’t expect you, or anyone but myself to pay for what I do watch (nor buy my newspapers). Can’t afford it? Well I can’t afford champagne and caviar, stiff.
          There was a case for government broadcasting way back (but it wasn’t free, remember licence fees?), especially in country areas, but with the internet available almost everywhere, that’s well past its time, and yet we have the vast majority paying for the entertainment of a minority. And no spin can make that fair.
          If a commercial enterprise wants to take a risk on advertising revenue outweighing costs and thus turn a profit, good on them, that’s their right, but for the government to take from others to pay for your enjoyment is beyond the pale.

          • LBLoveday says:

            Oops, just remembered I watched a mate’s grandson make his AFL debut via an ABC telecast in 2015, but that was pay-tv (as part of a package, I would not pay for it as a stand-alone).

          • Ian MacDougall says:

            Then how about roads?
            Why should I pay for roads that you drive on, but I never do?
            NB: The technology is already here that would enable the public or private authorities to monitor every movement of every car, and bill the owners accordingly.
            BUT there are such things as public goods, and public assets.
            And if you would like to explore further inside this can, no 44 gallon drum, no reservoir, of worms I am always happy to assist.
            (Washes down a caviar burger with a schooner of Bolly. Collapses, exhausted but happy.)

          • Tricone says:

            Roads are a common good, of the kind taxpayers pay taxes for. Net taxpayers, not leeches.

            If you don’t think you use the roads, how long do you think you would last in an isolated place with no road access?

            How did your phone or computer or anything in your house get there?

            How does a tradie get to your house/cave/humpy?

            How would you get to hospital?

            Public broadcasters are an anachronism since the war.
            That’s partially why they’ve been captured by activist groups.

          • LBLoveday says:

            Yes, Tricone and further there is no non-government alternative to the essential roads, either in rational theory or in contemporary practice, whereas there is a plethora of non-essential broadcasts available from non-government sources.

          • Tricone says:

            If the “roads” argument wasn’t so common among the “other people should pay for everything I want” crowd, it wouldn’t​ deserve a reply.

            Unfortunately, we have a couple of generations now who don’t understand how things are made, how technology evolves, how mechanical technology advancement differs from software development, and how important road freight is to their peace, nutrition, pleasure and security.

  3. LBLoveday says:

    Quote: “..lifetime indexed pensions with reversion to spouse on death for the remainder of his or her lifetime”
    I’m not going to the effort TT has to get exact details of the ABC scheme, but likely it is similar to another public service scheme (also now closed, but with many still being paid under it, and others yet to retire) with which I am familiar, where a man “on his deathbed” married his 20yo niece, thereby gifting her 67% of his pension amount for her expected 60 years of remaining life; indexed of course.

  4. Jody says:

    Stop worrying about the ABC. It’s dead in the water.

  5. Geoffrey Luck says:

    Let me put things in perspective for you. It will emphasise the value of Tony’s analysis of salary accretion, value depletion in the ABC in recent years. I was an ABC journalisst for 26 years. When I resigned in 1976, I was the highest-paid journalist on the staff, an A+ Grade with a top-level personal loading (at the Editor in Chief’s discretion), totalling $324.80 per week ($16,889.60 p.a.). I was the only person in the whole Commission reporting financial and economic news, for both radio and television bulletins five nights a week. In addition I collected actuality and interviews during my round, using a tape recorder I bought myself. On Friday nights I worked until 11pm writing and recording The Week in Business for broadcast on Saturday morning (and Sunday morning repeat). I was paid four hours overtime for that extension to my day’s shift. I recognise that salary has to be scaled up to reflect the inflationary effect of the last forty years, but today there is a plethora of so-called finance or economic reporters who cover the same ground. There is no weekly programme reviewing the economic scene, asnd much financial reporting is from a political stance. There was nothing particularly surprising about my situation – ABC News ran very lean and hungry and always had done so. Where News began to suffer was that funds and resources for expansion of coverage or into explanatory or analytical reporting, were denied as money was poured into the ‘pop” programmes of TDT, AM and PM. Thus began the inter-departmental warfare between News and Current Affairs which was resolved ultimately by the union of the two, but whose uneasy relationship has never been settled. Perhaps that is what Michelle Guthrie has hinted at with her reference to applying the Catalyst approach to the 7pm News – removing the ridiculous formulaic stultification of news and the too-frequent repetition of the same stories in 7.30. Anyway, after 26 years, I could not longer afford to live and bring up my family (with one at university) on my ABC salary, so after fitting in a part-time MBA to prepare myself, I left for where my abilities could be rewarded, and never regretted the escape.

  6. en passant says:

    I see no reason for the the existence of the much unwatched ABC. It breaches every convention of fairness and is so biased that, like the Ian MacD Bot, it would capsize if not funded by the taxpayer. The only watchable stuff it broadcasts was made overseas (and I can get all those series on Netflix anyway).

    So, let’s try a budget-balancing experiment and cut its taxpayer funding to zero and open it to the ‘free’ market so it can be as biased as it likes.